Patterico's Pontifications


Book Recommendation: Dear Elena: Hope and Sadness

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:59 am

Happy birthday to Elena, who should have turned 20 today, but was taken from her family when she was six. I first mentioned the blog Dear Elena on February 27, 2006, five days after the untimely passing of Daniel Steinberg’s little girl. He had begun the blog as a way to deal with the tragedy that had just befallen his family. I’ll quote again the first passage from the blog I ever quoted, because it gives you a sense of the writing you can find there:

Yesterday, Kim and I were making corrections to the program for Elena’s funeral. Kim decided that she didn’t want a quote on the front page. Just her name and a picture. Oh and the dates.

I wrote “March 3, 1999 -” and then I stopped. How do you complete that thought. How does a father write on paper the date that his daughter died. It was a crippling writer’s block. My hand shook, the tears flowed, others in the room offered to write it for me but I knew that I had to.

Finally, I wrote “February 22, 2006″.

Since that time I signed up for updates from the blog and visited it over the years. I checked in when Elena would have turned 12 to find this passage:

If you’ve looked at your placemat in most neighborhood Chinese restaurants then you’ve probably looked up the year you were born to figure out your animal in the Chinese zodiac. Of course it can be used the other way around. Once you know someone is the year of the dog then they are either twenty-eight or some multiple of twelve older or younger.

Kim and Maggie are both the year of the rat. I’m the year of the boar.

Elena was a rabbit. Along with her Chinese name we have an image of a rabbit on her gravestone.

On the new year I was thinking of my little rabbit running across a field with her head tipped back so her hair flowed behind her. Most of my memories of Elena have her embracing life and doing something with abandon.

If you’re going to do the hokey-pokey you might as well skip to the part where you put your whole self in and you shake it all about. No need to be coy and just put an arm or a leg in.

With those memories of Elena, I headed off to the cemetery to spend some time at her grave. There was snow everywhere. Deep snow. The only footprints in her section were animals. I walked across the snow covered graves towards hers. There was a solid crust on top of the snow. I stomped down near where her headstone should be and my foot broke through and sunk way down. I was up to my knee in snow with no real chance of finding her stone.

I pulled my foot out of the hole I’d made and stood for a minute. If this were a movie, a rabbit would appear from behind a bush and wink at me. It wasn’t a movie. And it was getting a bit cold. I brushed off the snow and headed back to my car. It will be the year of the rabbit all year. I can come visit her another time.

I’d never thought about it but the Chinese New Year is yet another axis for memories. We have stories of friends and families that come up each year when we celebrate different holidays. Telling and retelling these stories become part of our tradition. We have stories we tell on Christmas Eve’s and Passover Seder’s and Fourth of July’s. We remember where we were for those holidays and people who are no longer with us by telling of the year that something happened..

For the Chinese New Year in addition to these memories of celebrating the holiday each year there are these extra leaps backwards of twelve years. We ring in the year of the rabbit — do you say “ring in” for Chinese New Year — and you remember. You remember other rabbits or you remember the last time it was the year of the rabbit. I also think ahead to next time.

Twelve years is too long. Who can predict where they’ll be twelve years from now or what they’ll be doing? What will the world be like the next time we celebrate the year of the rabbit?

Silly to ask.

I checked in again when Mr. Steinberg’s wife tragically passed away in a traffic accident.

We made the tough decision to honor Kim’s wishes and allow them to turn off the machine.

On the one hand, it was explicitly what she wanted. On the other hand, it was the hardest words I’ve ever had to say.

I invited Kim’s family and friends to come in and say goodbye. My friend Mark also said a blessing over Kim that was familiar and comforting.

Right now the hospital is waiting to line up organ recipients. Once they have done so, Kim will be taken to the operating room and the doctors will will turn off the respirator.

If she is able to breathe on her own for an hour then they will bring her back to her room.

The expectation is that she will not be able to expel the carbon dioxide and it will be a painless death. They will then intubate her, restart her heart and begin to harvest the organs.

The hospital will call us four hours before they take her down to the operating room.

We’re waiting for the call.

I followed his travails in dealing with the legal system that failed to hold his wife’s killer properly accountable.

All the while, I kept wondering if he would ever compile his writing into a book. His writing is so beautiful, I knew it would make a wonderful volume. I think I probably left comments to that effect on his blog over the years. The parallels between his daughter and mine at the age of six struck me immediately, and often as my daughter has developed into the 19-year-old mature adult she is today, I would think of Elena, and how she should be making her father happy in the same way.

Well, it hasn’t been quite 12 years since Elena’s twelfth birthday, but it has been eight, and she would have turned 20 today. And Mr. Steinberg has chosen today as the day to release the book I always hoped he would publish. In a post from February 22 of this year he explains:

Why now?

I don’t know that it matters, but on March 3, 2019, Elena would have turned twenty.


She never even turned seven.

I’m releasing the book on her twentieth birthday.

I can’t give her a gift.

I thought I’d give her as a gift to you.

The book covers the first four months of posts from the blog. I just bought it, and I recommend it to you. You can buy the book here.

[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]

Sunday Music: Bach Choral Movement BWV 50

Filed under: Bach Cantatas,General,Music — Patterico @ 12:01 am

It is Transfiguration Sunday. Today’s Bach piece is a choral movement thought to be part of a lost cantata, called “Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft” (Now is come salvation and strength).

Today’s Gospel reading is Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a):

The Transfiguration

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

The text of today’s piece is available here. It contains these words:

Now is the salvation and the power and the kingdom and the might of our God and of His Christ come, since he is cast down who accused them day and night before God.

Happy listening! Soli Deo gloria.

[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]

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