in Writing, Spirituality/

Requiem For Bennet Mermel

bennet vassar[1]Odd that I remain disbelieving that Bennet is gone, died, finished, caput. Oh, I intellectually understand it, the idea of it. But the emotional reality; How could it be that he is no more, that you are no more? No more phone calls, no more visits. No more Bennet to be with. Where are you, dear friend? Where have you gone? It seems you slipped away, right outside the worn out body, into the ethers. It seems strange you are no longer on the planet. How can it continue to spin?

Your children, and grandchildren, relatives, and many friends, all, flung far and wide across the planet although mostly in the U.S. How many lives you touched, from school children who learned of your experiences in the Holocaust, to singing Jewish songs as a cantor for decades; from those you worked with over the years as a pioneer in Los Angeles’s garment district to your card-playing buddies. I have no doubt you even impacted total strangers; I have no doubt!

And the family, always the family, moved as they were by your personal participation in a larger historical event—the Holocaust—resulting in not just survival but something bigger, more significant. What was it? A fierce insistence on living, a determined will to make it as good as you could make your life be so, a purpose in being alive. You knew its worth! You knew about living, and you knew what lay at the core of it. You knew about living by heart. You depended on it, at least until you couldn’t.

For the physical heart gave out. Not the ethereal heart. The physical heart quite simply, had had enough, it had beat long enough. It finally gave way, that heart, along with a few other critical body parts. Remarkably, though, it had served you well for 93 years, as had the ethereal heart, the one with spirit, the one that beat for the pleasure of survival and living. That heart was huge, robust even, giving of yourself whenever and however you could, both in treasure and your time. And while not necessarily ready for sainthood quite, you were a stunning model of kindness and compassion just the same, a stunning model, an inspiration to many, an inspiration certainly, to me!

And that personality, shaped by a razor-sharp intellect and quick wit. Wow! How many times those who held court took pleasure (or pain) in your opinions, from politics to water desalinization. You rarely held back. You knew what freedom of expression really meant from those years in the camps. You knew freedom and would not be denied.

You were generous, too. And thrifty; unbelievably, when not shopping at Whole Foods you saved money at Elat Market and the 99 cent store; an incredibly generous man on one hand and a sparing, frugal man on the other. How well you took care of personal economics, which along with your brothers’ success in the garment industry, served you well. And even if opera was your ‘first love’ (and it was,) business success was your second. Not only that, it suited you, yet you were never ostentatious or showy, at least not that I ever observed.

For at the heart of things, you were a humble man. Yes, prone to episodes of braggadocio, but they only camouflaged a more modest, simple heart. And while it was the literal heart that took you out, it was the ethereal heart that not only kept you alive for all your years, saved you and Kalvin during the war, sheltered your children and raised them up, giving to others all the while, it was the heart that defined you, made you, expressed you so magnificently well. I saw that when we worked together, what a privilege, the witnessing of so much vulnerability, fragility, underneath it all. It is the heart that was you, and you were at the heart of all you touched, until the other heart couldn’t beat any longer, simply worn out from a well-lived life.

We will miss you, dear Bennet. Yes, I will be so bold as to speak for others. We will miss you! We will miss your presence, your sometimes opinionated, stubborn insistence at times, along with your quick wit, astonishing energy, and gifted mind. We will miss you! But most of all we will miss your heart, that inexplicable part of you that overcame everything that came before, triumphant and fierce, kind and thoughtful.

We will miss you! Oh God, how we will miss you!

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