Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, all of the good f-words - food, family, friends - and none of the obscene g-words - guilt, greed - that crop up at Christmas. This Thanksgiving, however, will be a bittersweet event, a celebration of a life that ended too early.
Susan Jordan, the older sister of my wife, Lois, died last May in the crash of a small, experimental plane in Utah. She was a pre-boomer, 67, but she epitomized the vital r-words of Life (Part 2) - running, relationships, reinvention.
Running, of course, is our short-hand for working out, staying fit in body and mind (connected, as you know). Susan ran, hiked, climbed, lifted, did yoga, swam. Something intense every day, sometimes twice.
As the matriarch on Lois' side of the family, she brought friends and family together for Thanksgiving at the Berkeley house she shared with her daughter, Jenny, and her husband, Ronnie Wong. It was a joyous Jewish-Chinese pilgrim festival of food and love, of relationships that were fostered and strengthened for the year. Jenny and Ronnie will host this one, which could be the last as they move on.
Susan's reinventions were epic. Chicago-born, she was a school teacher before she became a lawyer. And what a lawyer! One of her most famous cases was the defense of Inez Garcia, who killed the man who raped her. For the first time, the Battered Woman Syndrome was recognized as an affirmative self-defense.
And then a terrible set-back in her late forties. A medical malpractice left her unable to talk for long periods without pain, a crippling impediment for a trial lawyer. Another reinvention or two or three. While she continued to participate in major cases, she also became a yoga teacher and a practicing Buddhist in the Theravada tradition, sharing the benefits of her spiritual practice by organizing meditation retreats for lawyers and others. Above all, in more ways than one, she pursued her passion for flying, often on missions to protect the environment. She was the passenger in her friend John Austin's plane when it crashed in the Utah desert.
The summer before she died, Susan took me up in her own plane for a couple of hours over northern California. I had never seen this restless, willful dynamo at such peace, and so happy. Her joy and my pleasure in the flight is a vivid memory, a gift for all my holiday seasons to come.