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Thursday, August 20, 2009

In Memoriam

Miriam Luby Wolfe

Theodora Cohen
The quality of mercy is not strained . . . . We have to admit, we've never exactly understood that phrase. Oh, sure, we get the gist of it: Be merciful. It's a good thing. But what does it mean to not be "strained"--that you should be merciful easily? The next line--"It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven / Upon the place beneath--suggests that mercy is something that should come lightly, easily. . . .

It doesn't.
Back in 1988, just before Christmas, a Pan Am flight out of Heathrow blew up over the previously unknown town of Lockerbie, Scotland. Today, the Scottish government released Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the only man ever convicted for participation in the bombing (who didn't even have the decency to be a suicide bomber), on compassionate grounds. He's dying of prostate cancer, and he was returned to his homeland, Libya, to die. Many of the victims' friends and families are understandably upset.

We have no compassion for Megrahi, but who cares--he'll be dead soon enough anyway, and he'll feel a lot more pain along the way than any of his victims. We give a big "thumbs up" to the Libyan people, who showed real class and dignity by giving this guy a hero's welcome. Hope you never need American help for anything.
We should mention here that the Solipsist knew some of the people on that plane. Among the 270 passengers on that flight were 35 students from Syracuse University--our partial alma mater--who were returning from their study abroad semester. Watching the Facebook commentary of our Syracuse classmates brings back the shock and fear of that December night. When the phone rang around 11:00 that night, we knew the news wasn't going to be good.
We knew two of the students in particular. Theodora (Theo) Cohen was one of the first people we met at SU, one of the first to befriend us. A real free spirit, who will live forever in our memory as a Midummer Night's Dream fairy, who--in her interpretation at least--was something of a cross between a spider and a cat, slitherbouncing across the stage, making a variety of chirping noises. RIP, Theo.
And then there was Miriam Wolfe--a scene partner, an "enemy," and, finally, a very dear friend. At first, she came across as a typical "theater geek"--someone desperate to prove that she belonged among her creative classmates. And since the Solipsist himself was just as insecure (though more wallflower than theater geek), we did NOT get along. But then, sophomore year, she returned to campus so joyous, so much more at ease with herself, so much more willing to have fun! YNSHC was determined to hold onto his grudge against her, until his roommate pointed out that he--the Solipsist--was being a shmuck. Miriam and YNSHC held an informal summit at Burger King and decided we could be friends.
And we were.

Miriam was actually quite the goofball--and we say that with nothing but immense affection--the world needs more goofballs. Once, when we were doing a scene with another classmate--a scene from As You Like It between Touchstone and the Goatherdess, Audrey--Miriam gamely volunteered to play a goat. She thoroughly upstaged the Solipsist, for which we still have not quite forgiven her, but what could we do? Talent won out.
But she still had insecurities. Once, after YNSHC had decided to leave Syracuse and turn his attention to more "reasonable" pursuits than acting, we had a long conversation with Miriam about dreams and goals. She actually said she envied--envied--us for the fact that we were not sticking with an acting major. She was apprehensive about the future--about what it would mean to devote her life to performing. But the fact is, she had no choice.
Several acting teachers, in one way or another, constantly gave us advice of this nature: If you can do anything--anything--other than act, do it. Because it's a hard life. But Miriam could only do that. Not that she wasn't intelligent or passionate enough to do other things, but that--acting, singing, dancing--was what she was born to do. She would have been out of place anywhere else.
On this day, it does no good to dwell on injustice. Remember the people who deserve to be remembered.

RIP, Miriam.


  1. Thank you for this, Solip. It's difficult to not dwell on injustice, especially when overly idealistic friends of mine who didn't lose their friends far too young are crowing about the fearless compassion of the Justice Minister, so I thank you for the reality check, as well as the vivid Miriam memory.

    And I assume it was I who called you a shmuck back then. Well, it took one to know one, I suppose. Happy we two shmucks are back in touch.

  2. And forgive me, I should have mentioned Theo as well. I got unfortunately caught up in the Miriam memory and my own anger with my McAskill-loving friends. Can you merge my two comments, maybe?

  3. I don't think you could have captured the strange, painful vibe of those dark days better, Solip, nor could your impressionist dots of 2 people whose memories I cherish evoke such a vivid image of them. Thank you. Our old roommate-in-common-but-in-sequence captured it well, too, so Richard, my thanks to you, too.

    Today, I've found myself struggling with the limits of my capacity for compassion. Revisiting this place with double the years in perspective, and relating to old friends in a way that says that it's not in isolation, has been clarifying. There's a good argument saying the internet creates alienation... but it seems it can do the opposite. And yes, glad you two schmucks are around!