Eulogy for my father Nathan Steinfeld by Alan Steinfeld
Delivered on June 20, 1998
I want to thank everyone for being here. I think this is a great testimony to my father’s humanity, that even after being out of commission-- basically (ill) and away from any social gatherings for ten years, that so many people have come to pay their respects.
My father was a beautiful man. I don't know how many people can or would sincerely say that about their father. He taught my brothers and I many things, just in his being; his generosity, his hard work, his strong determination and most of all his great capacity for love of his family and beyond that to everyone he met. In his high school year book they wrote:
Nathan Steinfeld, liked by all,
smart, cute, but not so tall.
Maybe it is because he always felt short and coming from a very poor childhood, growing up in the Depression, that drove him into a business at 16, where he never quit working until he was no longer able to work.
He always said his happiest days were those when he was a boy back in the school yard in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, playing basketball; where he loved using his size to his advantage, to steal the ball and make a driving lay-up to the basket! That was his Glory! And it was what he would often think about in his final years when he sat alone for so long.
I think it was that training, on the basketball court, that made him so successful in business. Because it was that same determination that kept him going even after being diagnosed with a terminal illness and having 3 major strokes. He was a fighter. Here is some of his philosophy about fighting to stay alive, that I recently found among his writings.
".....the beauty of it is that in the fight is the victory.
It's not at the end.
It's not at the beginning.
It's in the fight, the involvement, the concern, concentration.
A fight, a fight--That's how we win.
We fight until we die. We have no choice.
If we don't fight we die. If we do fight we die.
The difference is: --The fight breathes life into us all.
So even when death comes, at least we lived and didn't live death."
Yet at times he still doubted himself, but everyone who met him saw what a good loving person he was. He used to complain though about business, that the business world were a bunch of crooks. He would say, "everyone thinks they are a genius with money, if they have a contract with you and don't pay their bills." I think that is some of what contributed to his illness. This frustration at work, because he was a decent man.
This was evident even away from business. I remember, one time, when someone came to our door, whose car had broken down outside the house. In suburban Long Island you would never let a stranger in your home. But my father welcomed him and made sure he was taken care of.
As I said before, he was very successful in business. His Taurus nature loved making money, but he didn't care so much about spending it (he had my mother to do that) because he was more than a businessman. He was someone interested in the deeper questions of life. He was a seeker of truth and inspired me greatly in my own spiritual search. He saw through the veil of the society we live in and the way you are suppose to behave.
It's All A Farce
"It's all a farce
Force a smile
The enemy within
If you can. If not
Without will do
For a while
And with your smile affixed
And play your little game of
Charm and disarm
Dance to the tune of
Interest, passion and lust.
Whistle to the song of
Silly, merry and content
Rock to the rhythm of
Excel, applause and acclaim
Do all you must.
But - never - I say never
Suffice it to say - 'why' begs Reduction.
Reduce - reduce - reduce it bellows.
The smile comes down
And the cellos cease.
Your dance and whistle loose
And you begin to think
It's all a farce.
He investigated many various disciplines: Group therapy, transactional analysis, Arica training and Zazen Buddhist meditation practice. I use to like telling people, before it was fashionable, like the Jewish American Princesses I went to high school with that my father was a Buddhist.
But beyond that practice he did have his own mystical experiences, which I think initially did lead him to look beyond his orthodox Jewish upbringing and into other spiritual disciplines. I remember, he told me about this dream he had, where he felt a powerful force was after him. And he felt a lot of fear and was trying to resist and fight this thing, Then he got the idea to stop fighting and just surrender, just give in. When he did that he said he felt himself being lifted out of his body and into a euphoric state, where he felt like he was floating. He said he was having a great time flying around, but it was only when he reflected on what was happening and said to himself , "Wow, this is great," that he then found himself back in his body
In that experience I feel the fear that he ran away from then turned around and embraced, was the great lesson.
Sometime after that experience he wrote this poem:
Look at Fear as the Great Preventer
Try to circumvent her
No matter what her face.
And all space
Will be yours.
And Earth's shores
Will give you her oars.
And this freedom
Will not succumb.
He was also a great artist. He would often sit at work and turn his doodles into the most interesting, intricate mandalas of form and color, sometimes with little hidden faces in them.
And he as you can see he was an inspired poet. His writings was something he was very proud of. He worked at trying to give the sublte meaingings he wanted to express:
I'm not jok'n,
Written or spoken
If it's not succinct
chances are it stinks.
Poetry can not be forced
The feeling must be sourced
And if you try to force it
Just turn away and toss it.
It won't fly
Just lie low for a while
And the stuff will come
… to suit your style.
As you can see in his poetry he loved his ability to rhyme, always coming up with a deeper message. Like a modern day rap artist he wrote things like:
But many of his poems were about self investigation. Like this one:
"Ego, Ego shining bright,
Won't you let me go at least once tonight.
Out of your vice I'd like to be
Wouldn't it be nice to once simply be free
And surely feel safe just to be me."
Complaining and blaming
seems to be our forte'.
Isn't it better to be wooing and doing,
day by day.
The following poem especially demonstrates his desire to look at his own nature and dark side:
"A score ago-who could know
But a battle left undone can never
Be won, and I must begin a new
To view the forbidden road I closed
upon myself as I chose to be meek
and afraid. Delayed as might it be
I choose now to fight, and I set
My site upon the worst in me, so
That the thirst in me can finally
be quenched. And I can get off
The bench and take a healthy
Cut, as I look at my guts."
But even more than his poetry, I think what he probably liked to be remembered for most is his great sense of humor. He loved joking around. He never actually told jokes, but his quick wit always added an extra depth to any situation. I remember once he said to me, knowing my taste for travel and exotic adventure:
"Do me a favor, just marry someone from our own species."
Another time, this is a story my mother tells: He had just had his second stroke and was laying on the floor in the living room when the Para-medics showed up. They asked his medical history and my mother said, "Well, he had a previous stroke, he has cancer and he has a pacemaker."
They said," Is there anything else?."
And my father laying almost unconscious on the floor looks up and says," Isn't that enough?"
But it was his belief in me and my brothers that I think most effected my life. I remembered when I wanted to buy my first video camera and I thought maybe it was too expensive and I was standing around in the store deciding if I really deserved it. And he just bought it anyway.
One time when I felt his belief in me the strongest was when my 7th grade Spanish teacher called up to tell him I was cheating on a test.
My father got very angry and he said, "My son doesn't cheat!" and he hung up the phone.
A little later I said, "Dad, you know I was cheating."
He said, "It doesn't matter." At first I didn’t know what he meant and then I got the message of his love.
And it was that belief and encouragement in me that I tried to give back to him when he became ill and I presented him with alternatives to chemotherapy. And I felt proud and honored when he embraced macrobiotics totally, which I think kept him alive ten years longer than any doctor expected. He loved Michio Kushi (the founder of macrobiotics, in this country) and went with him on atrip to Japan. In a sincere and humorous reference to his name he often called him "the Meshiac of the new Kosher."
He also wrote:
Macro food is not only good
it keeps you from turning to wood
or even becoming a hood.
On this my case stood.
“Macrobiotics is Dispotic”, cry the doctors
As they mix their chemical solutions
Disregarding the body's pollution.
As they search--
Rice and beans, rice and beans
are the means
To getting well.
You might think that's not too swell
Chemo could get you right to hell.
Where your radiated palate would not smell.
While sitting and waiting to eat
I sit and think of something sweet
But since sugar is not on my diet,
My expectation is rather quiet.
in lieu of a chemo beating.
An alternative approach
to forestall the cockroach
From knocking you out.
A very tuff bout.
For fighting the gout
try doing without."
I also took him to every kind of healer I could get my hands on. And he went willing and openly and it was that trust in me that I feel very honored by. We tried Chinese Chi Kung masters, Filipino psychic surgeons, Indian gurus, Baptist faith healers, Native American shamans, psychic healers, hands on healers. Actually he said that the Baptist minister healed him. I don't know what worked, but I do know it was his openness to everything that kept him alive.
Here, I also want to acknowledge my mother, whose heroic efforts kept my father vital and happy for so long and she sacrificed so much keeping him at home when so many other people would have done something else a long time a go. This equaled my father's heroic will to live despite all adversity. This is because the love between them was heroic and very beautiful. In 1990, my father wrote this to my mother:
"Of all the choices
a man may make in his life
The most important of all
is the proper choice of a wife.
Blessed am I 'cause
I chose right.
And everyday my love grows
with all my might."
He also wrote once a Valentine Days card that said,
"You are more than my wife, you're my life!
and you'll always be mine
However, what is most interesting is that as he got sicker and sicker, and as his personality started to slip away more and more there was still that essential part of him that remained, his essence, was very much there. Like the intelligent look in his eyes, that mischievous humor and wisdom and that same loving kind presence.
I remember once taking him out after he could no longer speak and he could only write as a means of communication. I took him outside the apartment building in front of a pond where with a beutiful fountain in the middle and begged him to write something in a poetic form. He came up with this simple haiku, that and that same irony of perception:
"The fountain flows
The birds fly.
I always forget."
However it is only now after he is gone, that I realize more what he meant, in probably his greatest poem; the one he liked the best and would always have me recite whenever I came to visit.
You see, he was really very much alone the last 6 years of his life, except for the daily visit of best friend Ira. But my mother was working during the day and he would just sit home mostly alone. He always said he was just there for his wife and kids. But I also think he must had a very rich interior life to have kept going for so long. I bet a lot of people looking at his condition would probably say that he had a lot of problems and pain----but he said: (this is the long version of Problems and Pain
"Humanity,let me remind you
Problems and Pain,
Ain't the only game in town,
Didja ever look around?
Didja ever see a tree-figure,
Green or brown?
Didja ever see 'em frown?
Didja ever see grass smirk
or flowers pout.
And what about a grunt
from a grove,
or a scare from a pear?
And, didja ever wonder
Would an apple ever grapple
with a grape,
or a peach preach.
Humankind, does your mind
make sense of nonsense
or do you:--
Figure this folly from
a clown & you frown.
You smirk at this jerk
whose work is a quirk.
You pout at this tout, pushing
a point out.
I say: Its okay.
by your scare
you do not dare.
Humankind, does your mind
make sense of nonsense
or does it not:
Leaving Problems and Pain
as your lot.
I guess, there had to be more going on for him than what most people would logically concluded as the apparent external circumstances of an isolated life. You see somewhere in that Zen mind of his, he believed and wrote:
"Logic is finite, only the illogical is infinite & this is man's quest."
He goes on to say, "but man is frustrated in his attempts to deal with illogic, especially if approaching it with a logical hand. The two concepts exclude each other even though they need each other--one defining the other."
And so it is with the seemingly contradictions of any person's life. My father liked making money, but he wasn't materialistic. He loved being with people, but was always very much of a loner. And he was someone who thought about the deeper meanings of existence, but also thoroughly enjoyed acting silly and never took things too seriously. Like most of us, these irreconcilable features of a personality produce a multiple aspect of being that can never be summed up, defined nor fully expressed to another. Therefore, all this makes it really impossible to truly grok the totality of someone, no matter how close they have been to us.
You can't say that , "Nathan Steinfeld was this or that type of person." Because he was, (like everyone), many different things to many different people. But we can sense, in the eulogies given here today, the essential nature of this simple, complex, dear man.
And within that spectrum of his particular being I think that the peace he sought for so long was ultimately found. So despite what his outer conditions appeared to have been he had a beautiful and lucky life. Actually he always felt he was lucky, (one more story), because ever since he was a child his mother told him he, "was born in a whale". Up until ten years old, he could never figure out how he was born in a whale. Then he realized it was just his mother's heavy Jewish accent that had her say "whale" instead of "veil". You see my father was born in a veil, which means that he was born with the embryonic sack still intact covering him when he came out of the womb. Jewish tradition feels this is a lucky omen, because the new born baby looks like it is gift wrapped from God. And I feel he was a gift from God, because look at all the people he touched and made their lives more enriched. You can see all the people here that loved him and that he loved. Could there be a more precious life removed from this kind of love?
And I will remember him most for that unconditional loving presence, that marvelous wit and humor and his undying determination. And this will live on. Thank you.
Love you Dad.
PS: On my father’s grave stone we have engraved the opening of his poem “Problem and Pain”. So ironically when people go to the cemetery they see the lines:
Problems and Pain,
Ain't the only game in town,
Didja ever look around?