Wednesday, January 23, 2013
(*) A Eulogy for Lynda Chiu by Rabbi Rachel Kobrin of the Congregation Agudas Achim, Austin, Texas
It is with deep sadness that we gather to remember Lynda Chiu. Lynda was taken from us at the age of 87. She is remembered by her beloved family –her husband Charles, her son David and his wife , her stepchildren Minerva and Elbert. She is also rembembered today by her grandchildren and step grandchildren – Laurie, Carrie, Marla, and Irena, and by her 9 beloved great grandchildren – Ziad, Jad, Breandon, Maggie, Bryson, Devan, Ryleigh, Garret, and Gayle. In addition, she is remembered by extended family who have traveled from far away to be with us today, as well as the many members of her Austin community who’s lives she touched with her focused and caring presence, her intellect and wisdom, her passion and her humor. During the next hour, we will dance through the stories of Lynda’s life, the remarkable narratives that will continue to shape our lives as we carry Lynda’s memory with us for years to come.
Lynda Handman Chiu was Born in the Bronx, NY in 1925. Lynda was the oldest of three siblings – Janet, Herbie and Eddie. She was a child of the depression, and despite a deep desire to learn, she left HS and went to work for Cohn Hall Marks Clothing Manufacturer in order to support her family.
Lynda was an incredibly beautiful young woman – In fact, at the age of 18 she became Miss Turnstyle, and for one month her picture was displayed in subway stations throughout NY.
At the age of 18, Lynda also got married to her first husband, Although she realized rather early on that he was not her soul mate, they did have two beloved children together – David and Gail. Lynda was a determined woman. David remembers how “she had an incredible appetite for everything.” He recalls how she often held down two or more jobs at a time while trying to finish High School, and then going on to finish college and even a masters degree. When she began learning Spanish, she began teaching David Spanish, even though he was only 4. David teased her about how she was never the best cook – After all, how could she possibly master the role of family chef while she was both working and going to school?
Lynda earned a master’s degree and became a 6th teacher and language specialist. Her first job was in one of the roughest neighborhoods in NY, and Lynda, a petite lady, quickly learned how to be firm and authoritative. Lynda's true love for literature was contagious and inspirational, and her strict demeanor encouraged her students to rise above their struggles and take their education seriously.
At home in Brooklyn, Lynda's love for learning and philosophy could be seen on her bookshelves – David remembers The Evergreen Review paperback series that was displayed for all to see, with peace signs and articles on multiculturalism and civil rights. Although Lynda’s politics shifted to the right later in her adult life, her commitment to multiculturalism continued to play a major role in her life -- Family and friends recall how her seder tables were always filled with guests from different religions and cultural backgrounds.
Friends and family knew that Lynda was the person to go to if they needed good counsel. David shared: "she wasn’t always right, but she was always honest.” She was also deeply committed to the value of justice and treating people with fairness. In fact, when David was just 7 years old he vividly remembers being struck by this characteristic in his mother. As a young boy, David knew clearly that he was forbidden from playing with matches, but as all 7 year old boys sometimes do, he had a rebelious moment. David's classmate sydney then blackmailed him for weeks. Sydney told David that he would tell his mother that he played with matches if he didn't do little chores for him. Finally, David became so debilitated by the blackmailing that he went to his mother and fessed up. He feared Lynda would be furious. Instead she spoke to him calmly, saying “You know David, you’re not supposed to do that.” And then told him there would be no punishment, because he had already suffered enough from Stanley’s blackmailing. At that moment, David realized what the quality of fairness really meant. He also learned that he could really talk to his mother about anything, and although she might correct his grammar, she was there to listen.
Lynda would often tell her children "flourish where you are planted." David recalls taking this to heart -- these words of wisdom inspired him to excel in all that he did. And when David was nervous that he wouldn't succeed Lynda would say "Well, David, if you don't have the confidence, fake it, and then you'll gain the confidence."
Lynda not only instilled tremendous wisdom and values in her children -- she also taught and modeled important values for her grandchildren -- Carrie, Laurie, and Marla. Carrie says that her grandmother was “truly the matriarch of the family, and a strong force in all of our lives. She could be tough and unyielding at times, especially when it came to upholding her personal values, but she loved us all fiercely and was always so proud of us. She was a parent and a teacher as well as a grandmother, and she provided a valuable consistency in our lives that we could always count on.” Lynda showed her love for her grandchildren in many little ways –she often addressed them as “gorgeous”, straightened and smoothed their bobby socks, and provided them with sweets to eat. Laurie shares that when their mom, Gail, divorced her husband, Gail and the kids moved in with Lynda. Carrie remembers how Her grandmother had more clothes and shoes in her closet than anybody they knew, and how the girls loved to dress up in her things. Lynda herself always looked beutifllu coiffed and dressed – never appearing sloppy,, even when she was just lounging around at home. Carrie remembers how she would always insist that the girls make their beds, and would say ‘there are no hooks on the floor." Lynda would take them out to run errands and inevitably get lost – Lynda would refer to this as ‘bumbling around.’ Carrie says "She always kept gum and Kleenex in her purse and now as an adult, so do I."
Laurie shared how Lynda played a key role in her grandchildren’s Jewish education – making it financially possible for them to go to camp, Hebrew School, and celebrate becoming bnot mitzvah. When Laurie was 14, Lynda took her on a grandmother granddaughter trip toIsrael. Laurie remembers how moved they both were to stand together at the Western Wall. Lynda shared her love for traveling with Laurie later in life as well, taking Laurie on a trip to spain when Laurie was 26.
Lynda traveled many roads in her life, some of which were marked by difficult terrain. She survived two bouts of cancer and the premature death of her second husband, Louigie, and her beloved daughter Gail. Laurie shares that the death of Gail was devastating to Lynda. And yet, she was a fighter and a survivor. She joined a support group –For the love of Christy, and forged ahead. Laurie shares that her grandmother had an amazing ability to be practical about her emotions. She would feel pain deeply, and then put it in its place and move on, never forgetting the pain, but focusing on what it meant to continue to live.
Part of living meant laughing for Lynda -- she had a good appreciation of humor, especially jokes that were made by David. He had a talent for being able to make her roar with laughter -- this is one of the connections to his mother that he will miss most.
It was after Gail and Louigie died, when she was in a very low place, that she began taking ballroom dance classes and met the love of her life, Charles. During this time, David was coming to Lynda’s house everyday, and they were sorting through lougie’s many collections. One day, Lynda began telling David about “this guy" she had met. She began plotting a plan with David of how she might ask him on a date.
Meanwhile, Charles was also falling for Lynda. As Charles put it, they began to do more talking than dancing and Charles began to realize that this was "really a woman who understands me.". At some point, Lynda was telling Charles about her love for travel, and he asked her the key question “Do you always travel alone?” She responded “well it’s better than not traveling at all.” At which point Charles asked if she thought they might be able to travel together sometime. Lynda responded. “well of course – travel together is always more fun.”
When they first began dating, Lynda thought she would scope Charles out by going to one of his lectures. Lynda's dear friend Judi remembers how impressed she was, not only with his brilliance, but also by how much his students loved him. Charles really fulfilled her dream of being with somebody who challenged her intellectually.
During Charles and Lynda's courtship, he went to China and returned with a gift for Lynda -- two wax seals, inscripted with her first and last names. Lynda took one look at them and was crushed. She thought "If he has any plans of marrying me, why would he buy me a seal featuring my current last name?" And so Lynda came to the conclusion that this must have been his subtle Chinese way of ending the relationship. But breaking off the relationship had never crossed Charles mind-- he was very much in love with her And so he said "I want to marry you. It could be sooner or it could be later -- your choice. but I want to marry you" Two months later they were husband and wife.
Charles and Lynda’s extraordinary love was characterized by deep spiritual discussions, a commitment to learning and intellectual growth, and experiential discovery through travel. Charles and Lynda loved to travel, but it wasn't simply the journey itself that was so amazing. They enjoyed planning the trip beforehand, and then afterwards they would bask in the experience of reminiscing for a long while. They loved to see movies together for the same reason -- the conversations that followed were always enlightening and exhilarating.
As a couple, they journeyed to Oxford and Canterbury for summer school classes, and attended a number of elderhostiles here in the united States – many at Camp Ramah and the Brandies Bardin Institute in California. In recent years, Charles was invited to lecture at 4 universities in China. Lynda didn’t think her health would enable her to sit on a plane for that long, but Charles made it happen – buying her two seats so she could sleep on the plane. They had a wonderful trip together, although Charles remembers how the food in china was not quite to Lynda’s liking. In one of Lynda’s very favorite movies “The Best Exotic Merigold Hotel” the character of Douglas asks “Would you like some of this food? I believe it’s called aloo ka paratha. Murial responds “No, if I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want to eat it.” This seemed to be Lynda’s motto when it came to food, and so white rice was a real blessing for her palette on this particular trip.
Even after Charles and Lynda retired from formal dance classes, they still had a passion for dancing together. In fact, they used to travel down to San Antonio to go to the Roaring 20’s Dance Hall. The weekend before Lynda’s stroke, they celebrated their 17th anniversary together with a trip to San Antonio. As they passed the spot where the dance hall used to be, they reminisced about those special dates.
One of the key pieces that characterized Charles and Lynda's relationship was their passion and yearning for spiritual connection. Although they came from two distinct religious backgrounds, they were able to search for God together. They were entranced by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's books including God in Search of Man, Depth Theology, and Shabbat and they also adored the writing of Rabbi Harold Shulweis. Together, they explored the commonality of God between different faiths, instead of focussng on the differences. Their life together was marked by daily prayers. even though Charles was Christian and Lynda was Jewish, they were able to unite in their common love for prayer and God. The foundation of this was found in the shema -- a prayer that declares Gods oneness, and also the oneness of all humanity -- all of us, who carry within us the spark of the Divine.
As noted by John in his beautiful eulogy, The Chiu family saw the profound affect that Lynda had on Charles. Charles's daughter, Minerva, remembers how Lynda was able to lighten and refocus her father. Rather than spending endless hours consumed by his work, Charles allowed himself to live life a little more freely when he was with Lynda. In fact, Lynda had a bell that she would often ring, alerting Charles that the hour had arrived for dinner, and that it was time for him to put aside his work and focus on being together.
With Lynda's marriage to Charles also came a new family, and when Minerva gave birth to Irena, Lynda was ready to become a grandma once again. She loved sharing time with Irena -- picking her up from preschool and taking her for outings. as she got older, Lynda shared her love for movies and plays with Irena -- In fact, Irena still has the wand that Grandma Lynda bought her at the Wizard of Oz. As Irena grew, she began performing in shows herself, which gave Lynda great pride.
David had teased his mother about her skills in the kitchen, but she took great joy in the fact that he surpassed her in this arena, becoming somewhat of a gourmet chef. She loved David and Patti's product line -- "Jake's natural fine food" and shared with him how impressed she was with his tenacity and commitment to making this dream a reality. Lynda also spotted Patti's great talent for design and David's skill in real estate, and she and Charles took the plunge and went into business with them. Charles and Lynda provided the financing, and David and Patti provided the onsite visioning. Together they made a great team. Lynda was the consistent voice of encouragement, helping Charles and David as they learned how to work in a professional capacity with one other. As they continue this partnership, Lynda's voice will continue to be in their hearts and minds.
Lynda was dedicated to many causes. She gave to numerous charities each year, and was particularly passionate about Zionism and the survival of the State of Israel, as well as Christian-Jewish relations and the Jewish foundation for the Righteous Gentiles. In her daily prayers, she always concluded with a prayer for the state of Israel. Lynda was deeply committed to her Jewish heritage, lighting Shabbat candles every Friday night, and investing in the Jewish education of her children and grandchildren. She was committed to the Jewish value of repairing the world -- both in the grand sense and also, as David puts it "our little world" When there were family disagreements, Lynda remained the voice of calm and reason.
This past Fall and Winter had been physically difficult for Lynda, but she was a fighter. In fact, in December she was thrilled that she no longer needed to use a walker. On the weekend of January 4th Charles and Lynda took what would be their last vacation together, in honor of their upcoming anniversary. earlier that week, Lynda had insisted that Judi see one of her all time favorite movies, the Hedghog. in the film, one of the characters says "Planning to die doesn't mean I let myself go like a rotten vegetable. What matters isn't the fact of dying or when you die. It's what you're doing at that precious moment."
On Monday, January 7, Lynda was having a great day. David spoke with her, and he recalls great joy in her voice. And it was on that day that Lynda had a stroke. She remained alive, even without life support, for five days, passing away on January 13th, the day that marked her 17th wedding anniversary to her beloved husband Charles.
When I sat with family and friends of Lynda on Tues night, Judi shared a line from another of Lynda's favorite movies -- "Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not, then it's not the end." Judi shared that the loss of Lynda simply doesn't feel alright. There is a huge gaping hole in the lives of so many. And so, Judi, said, since it is not alright, we also must not let this be the end -- we must enable Lynda to live on in our lives -- through stories, through memories, through photographs. When we repeat her sayings, when we live her values, when we learn, when we teach. When we allow ourselves to dance. When we venture to see the world through new eyes. When we are firm and yet fair. When we explore the depths of our spirituality. When we engage in intense intellectual discourse. When we evolve. When we give of ourselves because we are committed to changing the world. when we love deeply. When we laugh. When we do all of these things, we say "it is not the end. Lynda continues to live within us."
zichronah Livrachah. May Lynda's memory be for an eternal blessing.