Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In Remembrance of Mr. Bill Kushner

Today I had the privilege to experience something extraordinary. It wasn’t a celebrity encounter, and I didn't win the lottery (because I don’t play). I didn’t witness a miracle, or maybe I did. Yes, now that I think of it I will call it a miracle. People inspire and touch our lives daily, some intentionally and others accidentally. I said people and didn’t specify those living because what I experienced today happened at a funeral, and furthermore by the deceased.

Many people of Lake Charles knew Mr. Bill Kushner. I should rephrase and say many folks in the music and arts knew him, since he was the Conductor of the Lake Charles Symphony for years according to yesterday’s Lake Charles American Press. Not only was today his birthday, but it was also his funeral. “What is extraordinary about a funeral?” you may be thinking.

Although a few strangers sat several feet to my right, I felt alone and somewhat out of place at the end of the pew. Yet, as Rabbi Barry Weinstein began the service, my feelings of being alone and awkwardness quickly disappeared and were replaced by wings of comfort, inspiration, encouragement, sincerity, humility, and love which enveloped me.

For the first time in my life, I heard Hebrew spoken live (not on television or radio), followed by Dr. Charles Isbell singing in Hebrew. The language is beautiful even though I did not understand their words at times. Mayor Randy Roach quoted yesterday’s newspaper headline by saying, “Kushner ‘made Lake Charles a better place.’” His eloquent words of comfort, sympathy, and genuine concern came from his heart. Then, Mark Harris read words from William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize speech and made the attendees laugh despite heavy hearts. Following Mark Harris was Charles St. Dizier, who added to the Mayor’s remarks and ended by saying, “Bill not only made Lake Charles a better place, he made his friends better people.” What a testimony to someone’s life.

His son Eric Kushner delivered the eulogy. As Eric spoke for his brother, sister, and himself, my heart went out to him. He had an enormous load to carry and he carried out his task with perfection, humility, comedy, and compassion. Although others spoke and we heard beautiful, moving music by Mozart and Beethoven, a simple wooden casket stood at the front of the chapel while hundreds sat in quiet respect. What a sign of humility. Simplicity may be part of the Jewish religion I don’t know. What I do know is how viewing it as it passed down the aisle touched me. My heart cried out to hear him answer the phone one last time, with his distinct “HELLOOO!”

As I returned to work, I told my co-workers, “it was the most perfect service I had ever been to.” Sadly, I never knew Mr. Bill professionally or personally, and only saw a glimmer of what others spoke about in his life. Luckily, I still saw the glimmer, the sheen, the fine mist that surrounded him. I wish I could have met him before May 2011 when I was a guest in his home, but am so proud I met him when I did. He was a sweet man. After hearing stories of his life, education, career, causes, feelings, family, and inspirations, he makes me want to be a better person. That is the miracle and I am so glad I experienced it. Thank you, Mr. Bill for touching me beyond the grave. I won’t forget you.

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