Heather had an amazing variety of friends and it is good to see so many of you today. We all knew and felt attached to Heather and we all know different things about her. I am going to share a little that I knew. The screensaver on Heather’s PC was one of these rolling marquees with the words: “es iz nito kein farfal’n”. Translated into english this means: “Nothing is ever lost”.
This is an interesting principle—and it hits us hard—because we have just lost Heather—who was close to many of our hearts. Can this principle really be true? What does it really mean?
Heather learned this principle from the Jewish tradition. I learned this same principle from a different tradition—the tradition of revolutionary politics. But what is the meaning of this principle? Surely things are lost. We lose things all the time. And we lose people we love. So how can it be true that nothing is ever lost?
I’ll tell you a little story about Heather. Many of her friends know this story but many do not. Heather once found a pigeon whose chest had been torn open by barbed wire. The pigeon was struggling for life. Without hesitation Heather picked up the pigeon, took it home and sewed it together with needle and thread. The pigeon recovered and became Heather’s pampered pet for a while before she returned it to its fellow outdoor pigeons.
Now most people would never have had the stomach to pick up an injured bird and simply sew it back together. But to Heather this was a natural and instinctive action. I was amazed when I first heard this story—but what I did not think about—until I knew Heather much better—was what experiences in her life had shaped Heather so that such an action would be so natural to her—what pain she must have gone through herself—to have developed such a primal determination to survive and be healthy and embrace life.
Heather was that way with people also. What struck me, as I got to know Heather, was that she had many friends who were like that pigeon—people who had suffered terrible injury and who trusted Heather and instinctively knew that she would help them heal.
Heather many times told me a story about the rabbi Hillel—who once was challenged to teach the entire Torah while standing on one foot. In response, he smiled, stood on one foot, and said: “Do not act on your fellow man in ways that would be hurtful if done to you. The rest is only commentary”. Heather always had a gift for focusing on what was essential.
This principle taught by rabbi Hillel is well-known to many traditions and religions and is embodied in the street phrase: “what goes around comes around”.
We exist on this earth for only an instant—but our actions (particularly our actions to help others) once released into the world like a bird that has been repaired and allowed to rejoin its flock—have thereafter a life of their own—as they are transmitted from one person to the next—and are reflected from one human heart to another—and circulate endlessly as long as men and women are alive. And this, I believe, is what is meant by the principle that “nothing is ever lost”. We are here for an instant, but our actions, which represent our real character, are eternal.
There is an analogy here to a principle in physics that energy can never be created or destroyed. Energy can be released, it can be transformed, it can even be frozen into the form of matter. The analogy is that conscious human energy, manifested through conscious human actions, also circulates endlessly.
Of course we must be realistic. Conscious human energy can be dissipated and diminished and degraded. This is the meaning of tragedy and this is the meaning of war and every other terrible thing that happens to communities of men and women. And this is the meaning, on the smaller scale of individuals, of arrogance and ignorance and stupidity.
We sometimes make every effort to make the world a better place—only to see our actions seemingly reduced to insignificance and lost in the noise. So again—how can we say that nothing is ever lost?
But the answer to this question is easy to see if only we look at it from the other side—not from the perspective of an individual action and the billion paths it may take as it echoes from one human mind and heart to another—-but from the result of all human actions taken in total. Everything that is important to us—-our language, all the good parts of our culture—everything in our civilization that has lifted us from a state of fighting one another for a scrap of dead animal on the grasslands—-all of the principles we hold dear—all of the love we have for one another in our hearts—-is the product of the actions of billions of people whose names we will never know but whose actions have made us everything we are.
And this, I believe, is the meaning of the principle that nothing is ever lost.
The universe gave Heather to me to treasure and protect and learn from. How well I did these things I will wonder about as long as I live and will never really know. But as long as I remember that nothing is ever lost, a part of Heather will live forever in my heart. And as long as you remember it a part of Heather will also live forever in yours.
Bruce – July 5, 2009