This is what I said at the memorial in honor of my grandfather Sam Seifter at the Albert Einstein College Of Medicine in December of 2009, ten months after he died. I was speaking to his colleagues and distinguished faculty and lots of extremely intelligent people I otherwise had no business addressing. It was a supreme honor.
My grandfather instilled in me the ultimate importance of family. That’s far from the only thing I learned from that great man, but it’s one of the lessons that has stayed with me most consistently. So when I stand in front of you today representing my grandfather’s grandchildren, I feel a little less uncomfortable speaking on behalf of four distinct and vibrant personalities than I might otherwise. My sister Rebecca is a shining light to me, a legitimately heroic social worker and an amazingly sensitive young mother. My cousin Andrew is one of the most brilliant writers I have ever read, and a remarkably adept thinker and conversationalist. My cousin Charlie is one of the most emotionally perceptive people I have ever known, and one of the funniest and most charming. I consider my sister to be the closest person to me in the world, and I consider my two cousins more like my brothers. So while I would never presume to speak for any of them, I hope that I can adequately approximate their feelings.
I have to be honest with you, because that’s all I know for sure how to be. This has been an impossibly terrible year for my family. Losing my grandfather is losing something incalculable and really, unexplainable. My grandparents together are the hub of the wheel that makes our family go, and that structure has been irrevocably altered. To mix a metaphor, it’s like someone turned the lights out on us, and we’re all trying to try to learn how to stumble around in the dark. No one has suffered a greater loss than my grandmother, who has lost the love of her life. Think about that: So many people search for true love and my grandparents actually found it. It hardly ever happens and the only reason I can believe in the concept is that I’ve seen it in action. As far as I could tell, my grandpa and my grandma appreciated every moment they had together, but now he’s gone and my grandma is left without. My mother, no ordinary achiever herself, has done her best to shoulder the weight that my grandpa’s loss represents, but that’s one considerable weight. My father has lost a mentor. My sister and I have lost our moral compass. My niece, Jessica, remembers her great-grandfather but doesn’t understand yet why she doesn’t see him anymore. These are things you don’t understand until you’re in it. As soon as I was old enough to comprehend the fact of death, I knew this year would come, but there was nothing to prepare me for it. It’s been hard. But don’t worry, I’m getting to the more uplifting parts.
Firstly: On behalf of myself, my sister, and my cousins Andrew and Charlie, we want to thank the committee at Einstein for memorializing our grandfather today, and we want to thank everyone who is here today out of love and support for my grandfather. As you all probably know, there is no more worthy man to celebrate. There is no doubt in my mind that my grandfather deserves the stature of presidents and kings. The only reason why the whole world didn’t stop to mourn his passing this year is that he was so resolutely humble. Of all the literally countless deeds of goodness and generosity that he committed, of all the people that he taught and inspired and saved, of all the tangible positive acts he was responsible for, of all the brilliant minds he encouraged and facilitated, he did none of that in order to be recognized. Frankly, he would have hated all this attention.
But he deserved it, and then some. He was a thoroughly astounding person, a legitimate genius with a heart in scope as unparalleled as his intellect. He had a profound effect on anyone who knew him, as you have heard and will hear more about today. There have been few people who more directly benefitted from my grandfather’s influence than myself. I grew up two blocks from his house, and I was over there all the time, right up until the end. Even my relocation to Los Angeles couldn’t keep us apart for very long. He taught me how to be a good person, to be thoughtful and sincere and searching and intellectually inquisitive. He put me through college and supported my creative and artistic aspirations. So much of everything that is good and worth knowing about my personality comes out of knowing and wanting to be more like him. Honestly, I usually feel somewhat unworthy of having been the lucky recipient of all that time with such a remarkable human being. I feel somewhat unworthy of speaking about him today, being on the same program with so many of his accomplished colleagues and students. I feel unworthy of being on the same program with my mother and my uncle, brilliant teachers and generous souls who have gone on to be such effective advocates of my grandfather’s philosophies in the world. Standing amongst all of these people today, all I feel is humble. The only thing that makes me special, the only thing that makes me worthy of speaking here I guess, is that my grandfather loved me. That doesn’t make me unique in this room, because there are so many people here today whom he loved, but it makes me unique to the rest of the world. Because I knew him so well for so long, I can’t help but carry him with me everywhere I go. It is my most sincere hope that I can in some small way be able to impart something of Sam Seifter to the rest of the world, because the world needs Sam Seifter now as much as it ever did.
I don’t know where my grandfather is now. I don’t have those kind of big answers and wouldn’t presume to launch into that endless discussion here. I did have some rare and brief conversations with my grandfather about spirituality, and his words on the subject then certainly informed my views on the subject now. I know that my grandfather was a man of science, and I know that he loved this institution. I know that the people here are doing the work that matters. I am thankful to all of you, his colleagues and students and fellows. Whether you knew my grandfather well or not at all, I am personally thankful to you for continuing the kind of work that my grandfather did. My grandfather believed in science, both as a way of knowing, and as a way to improve the world we live in. Whether or not this life is all we have, then I can think of no more noble calling. The spirit of my grandfather is alive in all of us today, in the walls of these buildings and in our souls, and to me at least, that is a profoundly inspiring thought. We love you forever, grandpa.
One last thing: There has been a lot of interest in my grandfather’s book of poetry, called To Every Truth Its Season – I would love to accommodate everyone’s request for a copy, so please contact me if you have been looking for the book. Thank you very much.