We do have to reflect every once in a while about death, as much as we avoid it, that biggest elephant in the room.
What brings this on? Two instances from the last two days. Yesterday at a shiva house; today at a funeral. Yesterday, mourning a young woman, well, too young to go this early. She had said to her siblings, “What difference does it make? I’d be sad to die in 20 years, too. So I’m not sad about that.”
I’m sad because the world needs her wisdom and we will not benefit from her in that way. We will have to benefit from her memory. And about her, we can easily say “May her memory be for a blessing.”
She was the kind of person who was always smiling. Even when you look at a photo of her and you know she’s already sick, she’s still got the biggest smile of everyone in the photo. Her enthusiasm for life was catchy, but I guess she gave so much of herself that she gave herself away.
And the woman today was very old, by everyone’s standards. She was almost 100 years old. And she was a survivor. She survived the Holocaust, living in the nascent state of Israel, and then surviving three husbands with children to support.
And I realized there is something that we miss about the word survivor, and, accordingly, about the nature of surviving. So I went to see what the derivation of the word is.
1473, originally in the legal (inheritance) sense, from Anglo-Fr. survivre, from O.Fr. souvivre, from L. supervivere “live beyond, live longer than,” from super “over, beyond” + vivere “to live” . Survival is attested from 1598; phrase survival of the fittest was used by Spencer in place of Darwin’s natural selection. Survivable “capable of being survived” is attested from 1961. Survivalist “one who practices outdoor survival skills” (often in anticipation of apocalypse or in fear of the government) is recorded from 1985.
When we usually label someone a survivor, it means barely surviving. We have downgraded the word to Darwinian theory and fake reality shows.
This woman didn’t just barely survive; she surpassed surviving. Super-living. Supervivere.
Her grandson told a story about how she did not allow them to label Germans as bad. She was able to survive a death camp and keep her young son alive only by the help of a German officer who told her to take her sick son off of a truck that would have taken him to a mass grave.
“It is better for him to die in your arms,” he said to her.
But she nursed him back to health and back to a reunion with her husband and on to having two more children with him. And surviving as a true Eishet Chayil.
And indeed, these women have surpassed us all.
|כט רַבּוֹת בָּנוֹת, עָשׂוּ חָיִל; וְאַתְּ, עָלִית עַל-כֻּלָּנָה.||29 “Bien des femmes se sont montrées vaillantestu leur es supérieure à toutes!”|