John Podhoretz’s sister Rachel died of cancer earlier this month. His essay eulogizing her is, to my mind, the most beautiful and powerful thing he’s ever written, or probably ever will. It is a remarkable piece of work. He writes about how brilliant and creative she was, and how she lavished her love and creative energy not on being a professional of any sort — a decision that earned her some social scorn in career-obsessed Washington — but on being a mother:
She befriended [her children] and she watched over them and, yes, how she worried over them. And there was no greater joy in her life, even in the worst of her cancer-stricken days, than seeing them find their loves, and being present at the marriages that give off every sign of following in her uniquely happy path with Elliott, and liking their loves, loving their loves, and knowing deeply within her that her love, her bottomless and endless and enriching and revivifying and ennobling love, was what made possible their ability to love so well and so wisely.
So maybe this explains it:
The world would be a better place if it knew of Rachel’s marvels, if her extraordinary wall-length carvings based on biblical themes—drawn in pencil, grooved into the wood with awl and burned with soldering iron, and then stained meticulously by hand—had gotten the attention they deserved. Everyone who sees one gasps at it. She only made a few. I have two, and I expect they will be passed down in my family for hundreds of years.
The culture would be better if she had focused her energies on producing writing of length that would have assembled all her gifts in one place and allowed her puckish, brash, saucy, sizzling, wise, unforgiving, harsh, gimlet-eyed sensibility the space to roam across the literary landscape.But the thing is, Rachel might not have been the better for it. Maybe she didn’t reach for it because, in the end, she didn’t need it. Maybe she didn’t need it because she ended up with more than she ever thought she would have during those days when she was spending too much money on taxis and making foolish romantic choices and playing at being a kibbutznik (that was the 1970s) and later feeling invisible at stupid dinner parties unworthy of her (that was the 1980s).
She found what was most important.
What an extraordinary woman. May her memory be eternal, and a comfort to all those who mourn her.