Thank you all for coming this afternoon to help us celebrate the life of our mother.
Among the many gifts my mother gave me is music. It started really with a simple birthday present: a record of an Arab lute player. Because of her, today among other things I serve at the Kennedy Center on their community advisory board.
I would like to read to you the words of one of my good friends, Angel Gil-Ordonez, musical director of the Post-Classical Ensemble in Washington, DC. Talking to The Washington Post just a few days ago, Angel said:
A human being has the same essence as Music. They are the same… Music is not a being, not something you can touch… Where is Mahler’s Fifth Symphony? Nowhere! In a score? But you cannot touch it! When the last note is played, it is gone!… And actually this is the essence of the life of a human being. We are “born,” so to say, from silence… You start… You grow to the point where you cannot grow anymore… There is tension – we get even a high point in our lives. Decline… Silence… – This is life!
When I read Angel’s words, the first thing I thought is: Mama would really love this! That was how far beyond a simple mother-child relationship we had gone: we simply loved to share things with each other that we thought were beautiful, that the other would like.
But Angel’s interview came out only four days before Mama died, and she was in no condition to listen. Her brain tumor seemed to let her think consciously for only a few moments at a time. The day before she died, when I told her about fresh blueberries picked by my wife Juliette, my son Raphael, and me, she fluttered back a moment with a smile and croaked, “That sounds real good!”
Next day, my brother and I were sitting by her side as she lay comatose, blood pressure 50 over 38, breathing intermittent. In moments alone with her, I tried to sing her a lullaby she used to sing me – one I have sung to my own children many times myself. Just before noon that Sunday, July 15, I finally steadied my voice… I sang to her strong and clear… She died in the second verse… And there it was, just like Angel had said, about Music and Life… Silence, Living… and Silence.
Of course, in one important respect my friend Angel is dead wrong about Music and Life. We humans have a special capacity that sets us apart from all other animals. We can remember. We can store our memories: in our minds, in books, even on electronic discs.
In fact, Angel is even wrong about Music. Mahler‘s Fifth Symphony does live, during each performance — especially when someone like Angel conducts it — and when people like us listen to it. And just as we can listen to Music written by geniuses a century, even a millennium before, so we can read stories, share information, and teach our children about the past and for the future.
So, we have come to share our memories of Patricia Murray Chambers, to create together a greater memory of her, here at Rose Hill Manor, where she gave so much of the last part of her life – given so gladly.
People do live on in our memories.
Countless times, Mama told me stories of our family, some going back 200 years, about her childhood, about my childhood. A few days ago, I finished reading my son Raphael a wonderful book, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, which Mama had read to my brother Joe and me as children. As much as the story itself, I remembered the story about reading it. How nearly every neighborhood kid our age would come around to play and wind up sitting in our living room with us while Mama read it aloud! So, when it came time for me to read that book to my son, I also told the story about Mama reading the story. And Mama was right there with us.
Many if not all of you are here today for the same reason. True, we can no longer share stories or music or beautiful things with Mama like Angel’s words, but we can [share] her memory together.
Please let me take this opportunity to thank you who came today and those who wished to come but could not – by telling you that, as of today, donations to the Rose Hill Manor Children’s Museum in Mama’s memory are just shy of two thousand dollars. Thank you!
Thanks to my sister and sister-in-law for making arrangements for this memorial.
To close, here is an acrostic poem written by my six-year-old son Raphael which spells “Gramma”:
Great stories about Papa
Running through the sprinkler around her garden
Around the world
Mixing up bulgur wheat for couscous
Mixing blueberries and ice cream
Always attacking me with kisses