Tribute by Steve Hochman
Thanks Rick and Diana. This day could not have gone on without all the work you did. And thanks Nichole – wonderful, just wonderful.
This is Sarah Mehaffey. Mary knew Sarah since, well, before Sarah was born.
This is Rebecca Glade. She’s one of a group of New Orleans friends who Mary took under her wings back when the girls were, what 11? 8?
I know there are a number of other women and girls here who were still children or teens when they first met Mary. Would all of you stand up and come join me here.
To me, Mary was the most MARY when she spotted – and saw a chance to nourish – a kindred spirit in one of these people. She reveled, thrived in the role of friend, mentor, confidante – an adult these young girls could tell anything and know that they’d get supportive responses, if not always exactly what they wanted to hear. And of course there would be books exchanged and discussed, issues both social and personal detailed and food consumed, whether exotic fare that Mary would encourage her young friends to at least give a try – you can always spit it out. Just take a bite, you can spit it out! And of course the bags of junk food fueling the lively gab-fests they had.
Mary would joke that she cultivated these relationships so that we’d have someone to take care of us when we got old. You’re not off the hook!
But she really did it because she saw herself in each and everyone of these women. She saw something that she could draw out, help flourish and bloom, help them find their paths and see their possibilities. And seeing that in them, watching them grow, helped her see more in herself. Yes, she inspired them. But they inspired her – and that’s not just a platitude. I saw it happen, time after time.
Some of them wrote Mary letters in the last weeks and days, words that moved both her and me. I’d like to ask Sarah and Becca to read some of what they wrote.
Sarah wrote this note in January, after Mary let people know that there was to be no more treatment:
I was so sorry to read your last email. I am just so sad that you and Steve have to go through this. I’m so glad that I got to see you this summer. Seeing you is certainly the highlight of my summer, in turn, making the summers the highlight of my year. What I’m trying to tell you is you are a truly important person in my life and even 3,000 miles away, you knew when to be there for me and when I needed it. I have always felt that you understand me more than most of my immediate relatives, and I have always, and will always consider you family. Friends are the family you choose, and thank you for always being my friend, and not just because you’re a friend of my parents. Thank you for being in my life. You have taught me more than you know. You, alone, encompass more positive human qualities than any other single person that I know. I don’t know how you can do that, but it’s really amazing. I love you Mary, I have loved you so much since I was a little girl. I hope we can come out to see you in March.
And Becca wrote her letter just days before Mary passed.
First: Congratulations on getting your masters in theology! It sounds like it was a great ceremony, and the work you’ve done on it is amazing. I still remember you sending me theology books right after Katrina. Your studies have always blown me away.
I love you. You already know that, which is good, but isn’t enough. You’ve always lived pretty far away, so when I was younger, everything about you was made of legend. This was particularly easy, since you’re interesting, and we always did exciting things. I still love the time that we went into the projects to follow the Mardi Gras Indians. And the time you gave Yasmin, Caitlyn, Rachel, and me money to buy junk food and we stayed up late talking and goofing off. And every crawfish boil at the Abbyads. When I was younger though, it was even more than that. When we would chat on AIM–that really mattered. You were this amazing adult who seemed to know basically everything and who encouraged me to read new things and apply for programs that would help me. You were one of the major reasons I applied to volunteer at both the zoo and to study creative writing at NOCCA.
More importantly, you shaped my ideas on so many things, particularly right and wrong. When I’m not sure what to do or nervous about something, I try to think of what you would approve of or what I’d want to be be able to tell you later. I don’t always do that thing, but when I don’t do it, I feel like I’m doing the wrong thing. Please don’t think I’m exaggerating. Most of my important decisions are made that way.
I still pretty much think you’re magical, or at least more interesting, energetic, and knowledgeable than basically every other person I’ve met (which is basically the closest thing you can be to magical until someone is able to fly). The fact that you spent time with me when I was younger, and that you still do today really makes me feel special.
I’m not really good at affectionate statements most of the time. It’s a big deal for me that you are so good at them, because they’re simple but are really really brave. I try to imitate you in that way these days.
I love you,
In her last days, as her incredible brain and amazing mind – and in the course of her philosophy studies we had some arguments, well, discussions about the difference between brain and mind – anyway, it they to betray her and she increasingly couldn’t put together the right words to express herself, she’d sometimes when wanting to show pleasure or agreement just give a little smile, eyes sparkling and say, “Yay.” That’s really the essence of so much she did and said anyway, that it was enough. So I ask all of you who knew her, all who were touched by her, to for a fraction of a second put aside your sorrow and for my amazing, loving, embracing Mary join me in saying a simple, “Yay!”