Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Judith Glasser, 1936-2015

For decades, comics in search of easy laughs have fallen back on the mother-in-law joke.  Apparently enough people have difficult relationships with their mothers-in-law that they're a reliable way to get a few laughs out of even the toughest crowds.

For over 40 years, however, my response to such jokes has been to thank my lucky stars.  My mother-in-law, Judith Glasser, was one of the finest people I've ever known.  Her compassion, her patience, and her willingness to do whatever it takes to help those around her have been an inspiration to me and to almost everyone lucky enough to known her.

The Talmud teaches that some of our moral obligations are absolute, but others are more contingent:  if you are walking through the woods and find a baby bird that has fallen out of its nest, you have a responsibility to try to help it if you can, but you have no responsibility to comb the woods in search of distressed birds.  In other words, as a finite being in a specific time and place, you can't do everything, and you have the greatest and deepest responsibility to those nearest you.  A refugee on the other side of the planet deserves what support and assistance you can provide, but a troubled person in your own community demands your time and attention.

Judith's patience and compassion seemed infinite to me.  Wherever she lived, she attracted people who needed her, and she would spend long hours talking through their problems, encouraging them, and often assisting them in more concrete ways.  Often these were difficult people with difficult problems, for whom few others had the patience, but Judith always did.  She never brokered a peace deal across an ocean, or otherwise drew the attention of the wider world.  She simply transformed the lives, one at a time, of the baby birds she found in her path.  And by both words and example she encouraged everyone around her to make better choices, to do the right thing, to be better people.

In recent years, Judith and Larry spent their winters in Spain, where  Judith saw something special in a shy Spanish high school girl,  beyond the constrained brightness permitted by the Spanish school system, and spent three winters tutoring and encouraging her.  This very month, she is applying to go to university in America, another life changed by Judith, this time across a gulf of culture and sixty years of age.

Alas, she was the last baby bird.  Last month Judith died suddenly, while she and Larry were in Valladolid, distant from all their relatives.  Having lost both my parents, I thought myself somwhat hardened, but have been surprised at the depth of my grief.  The world without Judith seems a harsher, less caring place.  It seems to me that the only appropriate tribute is for those of us who loved her to find a way to ourselves be more caring, compassionate, and patient.  I doubt that I can live up to her example, but in her memory I will try to come a bit closer.

[Donations in honor of Judith Glasser may be made to: Planned Parenthood, 160 Stone St., Watertown, NY 13601-3250, or to the local animal shelter in Potsdam - 17 Madrid Ave, Potsdam, NY 13676.]