The Questions Appear in Rabbi Cohen's New Book
The book is *What will they say about you when you are gone: Creating a Life of Legacy - Live Your Best Life Now* and the questions are ones that -- since my parents (z"l) are gone and I'm 50+ -- I'm especially in the mood to consider these days:
From pp. 13 and 15-17:
- Who are you? A Jewish-American lesbian writer, as well as a music, fiction and global museum lover, and a solvent home owner and healthy eater, who has enjoyed the companionship of my wife for nearly 25 years so far, who has parented up to two precious cats at a time for close to a decade, who has been grateful for the siblinghood of my two older sisters Deb and Kayla for nearly 52 years and who comes from fascinating parents (z"l), who loved me and wanted a good life for me. I'm also an aunt, a cousin, a friend and an IBMer, who manages a team of premier instructional designers and who is earnest, loyal and reliable, with occasional lapses into worry that are mostly unfounded, and with flashes of creativity and humor.
- Who do you want to be? The same, minus the worry, and plus more discipline, practice and personal success with my writing.
- How do you want to be remembered? For everything in #1 and #2 plus for being kind, inclusive and for being of service.
By your family:
As supportive and loving.
By your community:
As engaged and valued.
By the world:
As someone whose writing helped people appreciate their lives more and whose writing and work helped people excel and advance. And as someone with a capacity for joy.
- Pick one person, place or event in your life that brings you happiness and satisfaction, and write down in a journal the various ways it might not have happened: Easily, I could never have gotten together with my wife Pat, since she lived in DeKalb, Illinois and I lived in Chicago, and since I could have not been at Shabbat services when she first visited Or Chadash, the LGBT shul in Chicago at the time, and since we were 15 years apart in age, and since initially, I was afraid to get involved with anyone as amazing as Pat, since I felt still unmoored and still was searching in most ways throughout my twenties to that point, and if Pat hadn't been more self-possessed, patient and clever in drawing me in. :-)
- Then imagine your life without that person/place/event and write that down, too: If Pat & I had not gotten together, I might still be living alone in an apartment, whether in Chicago or Queens/Brooklyn/Bronx and searching for without ever finding any peace. Probably, I'd never have a deeper pet relationship than with a Siamese fighting fish if not for Pat, as she showed me the wonder of cat parenthood. Also, I would not be as solvent as I am, since Pat made me save the maximum in my 401K from 27 onward. And assuredly, I would be twice the worrier that I am; Pat's self-assurance rubs off on me.
- Choose the final words you'll ever speak: Thank you, God, and everyone.
"If you had to write your own eulogy, what would it say? Use the following questions as inspiration, and then craft a eulogy for your own funeral."
- What would you do if you had twenty-four hours to live? Why? I'd spend it with my wife, cats, sisters, nieces and nephews and cousins and friends in my home and yard if the weather were warm enough and my favorite music would be playing in the background, say, the George Michael and Sade channels of Pandora. I would serve Indian, Middle-Eastern, Mexican and French food that was catered from favorite restaurants. I would invite one of my congregation's rabbis and some congregants and friends to come over and sing favorite liturgical songs and I'd set up a Hebrew University scholarship for an LGBT student for however many years I could afford to do so without making Pat insolvent. Why: I want the people and pets I love to surround me, along with my favorite music and food, as well as to cover the spiritual element and the g'milut chassadim (acts of loving kindness) angle.
- What is worth fighting for? Dignity, love, art, humanity, beauty, truth, freedom, creative expression, inclusion.
- In your life so far, what have you taken a risk for or gone out of your comfort zone for? Living my life as a lesbian; whenever I've needed to learn something new; every time I've taken a new job at work, including a six-month assignment in India with Pat accompanying me ... homosexual activity is illegal in India and necessarily, my employer told me that it could not protect me if I were jailed; any time I need to go to a party or a meeting, where practically everyone is a stranger initially.
- You have five words to write on your headstone. What are they? A dignity and love champion.
- When you're feeling low, what song do you play to lift your mood and inspire you? Why? Two come to mind: "The Right Track" from Pippin and "Gesher Tsar Meod". Why: The "Pippin" song is cheerful and helps me remember that I'm doing my best to lead a meaningful life, and that I'm not alone in my worry that I want it to be as meaningful as possible. "Gesher Tsar Meod" encourages me not to be fearful and when I'm not fearful, everything goes better.
- Is there a phrase that you find yourself saying frequently when you're under stress? When you're happy or grateful? When I'm under stress, I say to myself the first sentence of the Shema, the central prayer of Judaism. And I hear my mother (z"l) saying, "Sarah, why don't you let yourself live?" (as in, relax, everything will be Ok). And also, if it has to do with gathering courage to deliver a difficult but necessary message, I tell myself: "Sarah, pull yourself together! He/she/they need you!" When I'm grateful, I tend to say, "Thank God!" and simply, "Yay!"
- Describe your best day or your best self: My best self is humble, of service, kind, loving, self-possessed, reliable, present, creative, experimental, funny, stylish, fit, attentive, receptive, friendly, organized, on time, lucid, persuasive, inviting, encouraging and productive.
- What is your favorite Bible verse, poem, or motto? "Al tifrosh min hatsibur"/ "Don't isolate yourself from the community," *Pirkei Avot* / *Ethics of the Fathers*.
- Why are you here? What is your life mission? What do you hope to achieve? I'm here to model dignity from the margins was the first thing I thought of, but why focus on my marginal status? Because if I can demonstrate dignity as someone in society whose sexual minority status if not also religion and gender can be marginalizing, then anyone can. I get that I have all sorts of privilege in my education level and solvency, and citizenship, by accident of birth, but still, I also know from being an outsider. Why is dignity so key to me? Because it's the opposite of shame to me. Shame paralyzes while dignity makes anything and everything good possible.
What is my life mission? To create something artful that uplifts someone else or many people.
What do I hope to achieve? I hope to achieve peace and unconditional acceptance within myself while remaining loved and loving, and grateful, and amused, and expanded by art of all sorts and while having fun and other vivid experiences.
- What are your dreams? How can you realize them? My dreams are to write a popular book that helps others, and me, feel less alone; to stay solvent; for Pat & me to remain healthy mentally and physically till we're at least 95 and then to die in a way that is least painful to us and our loved ones.
I can realize these dreams by starting to practice writing more routinely, including enrolling in adult writing classes; by revising what I've written .... I can keep working full-time in my stimulating and relatively lucrative role at IBM .... I can keep rowing for 20 minutes daily and reading books every night pre-bed and encouraging Pat to stay active with pruning, gardening and golfing along with reading and working on crossword puzzles as she loves to do.
Page 43: Give thanks every day to one important person in your life. Today, I thanked my friend Mindy for inviting me to her fun birthday party and for providing an orange to me when I didn't prefer cake.