Sisterhood Blog

Memorializing a Friend in 'The Lives They Lived'

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images

I’ve always loved “The Lives They Lived,” the year-end issue of The New York Times Magazine profiling famous and not-so-famous people who made an impact on the world and died during the previous 12 months.

No, let me correct that. I should say that I’ve loved the issue until now.

This difference is not attributable to the design of this year’s issue (though I can undoubtedly say that it is not my favorite). Rather, it’s because reading “The Lives They Lived” is no longer an edifying coda to my year, a comforting annual tradition allowing me to deepen and broaden my knowledge about the influence of individuals on history.

This year, I knew someone personally in the magazine. And that changed everything.

To be sure, many of those profiled in this year’s issue touched my life in some way. Loops of Whitney Houston songs play in my head when I think of my college and grad school years. Neil Armstrong’s moon landing is my first memory of watching TV. I cannot read the name Vidal Sassoon without recalling the scent of the shampoo I used for years. A worn copy of Maurice Sendak’s “In The Night Kitchen” is one of the only books I made sure to save from my childhood and pass on to my kids.

But memories of how a famous person affected my life are different from memories of a person who was actually in my life. I speak of author David Rakoff, who died of cancer at age 47 this past August. I knew David when we were both pre-teens at a Toronto day school. Then we reconnected after many years when I interviewed him for a couple of recent articles, including a short piece I wrote for the Forward about his winning the Thurber Prize for American Humor.

New York Times reporter Ariel Kaminer, whose letter to David shortly before he died was published with his family’s permission in “The Lives They Lived,” surely knew David far better than I. However, it occurred to me that in the several phone conversations and email exchanges I had with David, I observed the same key things about his character as did Kaminer over presumably many years of friendship. She expressed these things as three key life lessons David had taught her:

1) Don’t trade up.

2) As fun…as it might seem to be…witty and cutting, it’s probably better in the long run to be kind.

3) Be grateful and humble and mean it.

For David’s family and close friends, his untimely death leaves grief and an unfillable void. For the world, it constitutes a premature loss of an immense talent. For me, it produces a deep sadness — for the fact that David is no more, but also for the fact that our youthful invincibility is now truly over.

“Keep reminding yourself you’re a grown-up,” David, who always hated being a kid and longed to finally reach middle age, wrote me in one email. If only I could reply to him now, I’d tell him that the problem with being an adult, though, is your having to face your mortality. Especially when a childhood friend dies.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: David Rakoff, magazine, new york times, obituary, the lives they lived

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.