Archive for October, 2009|Monthly archive page

A Heart for Lebanon

In blogging, family life, Lebanon on October 19, 2009 at 5:41 pm

I just received an email about Leila’s passing from someone who went to the American Community School in Beirut. I did not know her first hand but we had corresponded back in 2005 and a few occasions after that, most recently in early 2008. When we first corresponded I learned that her father had been a student of my father in Sidon at Gerard when dad taught there in the late 40s. She gave her dad my dad’s phone number and they spoke on the phone.

Leila also told me that when she was eight and living in Mieh Mieh, after I had left Sidon she would go to our house and read our books. In particular she remembers The Three Musketeers. I read her blogs from time to time.

My condolences on her passing to her family. She was a special person with a heart for Lebanon, the Middle East and its many peoples.

Phil Hanna
Columbia, Kentucky



In family life, food, in the neighborhood on October 18, 2009 at 8:52 pm

I’d been reading Leila’s writing for a while before I realized that her family had become part of the Sequoia community. Because I’d decided that we were like-minded after reading what she’d had to say, I thought it was pretty lucky for me that now our kids were going to be at the same school. So, I figured out who she was and introduced myself. She was open and cheerful and joked about her changing look due to hats and wigs, instantly putting me at ease. We had many friendly encounters during the year.

At the school’s pancake breakfast last spring I took this photo and sent it to her. She wrote back right away with not just a quick thanks, but with this message:

“I love it! There’s something about the pancake breakfast that just makes me really happy. School kitchen with working stove, real dishes & cutlery, Dads busy – and that the club is seventy years old! It’s the best of American community life. I was a childless bohemian for so long that this sort of thing feels like a buried part of our past recovered and refurbished. My kids just adore these school events, too. It’s old-fashioned fun at bargain prices.”

I didn’t know Leila very well, or for very long, but I wanted to. I am very sorry for her family’s loss.

Dashed off and Not Literature But Heartfelt

In Brooklyn days, Oberlin on October 17, 2009 at 7:47 pm

Leila Abu-Saba was ten feet tall, and had the sinewy limbs of a lioness. She blew into our freshman dorm, Noah Hall, at Oberlin College, like a tornado. My mother remembers her first words to me, that first day of college. She bounded into our room, yards of bouncing black curls, and flopped down on MY bed, hollering out, “I’m here.”  She from Greensboro, me from Durham, North Carolina.

And “here” she stayed. From learning to belly-dance with Leila (on our opposing beds), to taping a line down the middle of the room to demarcate her dust-bunnies and disorder from my pernsnickety neatness, to duets played on her violin and my oboe, to crazy plans to raise Palestinian and German flags in the middle of the quad, and thus irritate our Jewish friends and fellow students, to Krullers at the bakery, and late-night chats about men, friendship, parents, and what to do in life. To the easy swap we made with each other’s roommates, the safer ones (me and Peggy) going off together, while the wild Leila and Eva forged their friendship, never replacing what Leila and I had with each other, just digging deeper into issues that Peggy and I tended to view with the eyes of tourists.

Eva.  Our Pied Piper, whose music, darkness, and irony, lured us all, in the end, I truly think, to choose New York.

And there Leila and I saw each other again…after losing each other sometime after freshman year…and picked right up where we had left off.  She on East 3rd, me on East 7th, and then Queens. It was just natural. Her anecdotes, and life on the edge always seemed to outdo mine (and I was no slouch).  I remember a steady diet of Kraft noodles, and other crap, hoofing it first from Astor Place, and then Astoria, to work in tony places that knew nothing of my real life.

I had a crazy plan to make money with Leila, buying antique scarves in large lots, at auction, and then selling them for more. Leila wisely backed out, leaving me, rather irritated, to carry through this project (and never pick it up again, after weeks of lugging bags of scarves around Manhattan).    There were lots of other adventures; they kept going, through our first marriages, to Mo and Joseph, people we both admired for artistry, to children, and second lives, real lives, not virtual, and what we proudly thought was a rather settled existence, for self-made scrappy souls like ourselves.

Look, let me tell you, Leila is here now. I am sure of it. The first days, I cried often, in parks in Rome, on the head of my dog, on the shoulder of my daughter, into the door of my closet, on the telephone, in bed, on the back of my mate. But now I am more peaceful, because I feel Leila here with me. She has always been with me, like a sister. I talked to her a few times, long, this summer. Her last email, September 23–I want to kiss it. Her grace and mirth and generosity, her belly laugh, and shriek when something was just too outrageous, ring in my ears. She must be here. I think of her, and always have, with such immediacy. She is me, you see, like my mother, my father, my sister, my children, are me. Leila and I became people together…we had silent and raucous friendship for thirty years. This, even death cannot erase.

My family and I are here for Leila’s sons, and for her wonderful husband, and would like to let them know they’ll always have a home in Rome.

Love always, and eternally,


A Passionate Advocate for Her Kids

In family life on October 17, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Above all, I remember Leila as a warrior for her kids.

I first met her four years ago, when she brought her younger son to my first kindergarten classroom.  She was such a blessing to our classroom community–a strong, loving presence that all children responded to, and a dedicated helper when help was needed.  Throughout the year, Leila challenged me to become a better teacher through the conversations we had: she impressed me with her commitment to learning and doing everything that could be done to help her son thrive.

Leila was a passionate advocate for my classroom and my school.  She understood the inclusion model, in which children with disabilities learn in the same classroom as their typically developing peers, and she worked tirelessly to help other parents understand and appreciate it as well.  The qualities she wanted her son to develop in such a classroom–empathy, understanding, initiative, respect–were qualities she herself exemplified and brought out in others.  Even in the throes of her struggle with cancer, Leila made the time to speak for inclusion, and to speak for Tilden school, because she wanted for her sons in particular what she also wanted for our general world.  A community.  A place to grow together.

Leila’s littlest boy grows every day, and I feel blessed to still know him.  He has his mother’s beautiful curly hair and the same fierce intelligence; there are so many perfect parts of Leila still moving through the world in the bodies of her sons.  As I grieve her loss, I take comfort in knowing that Leila’s shown me exactly what she’d want me to do–to join with my community in making the world a better and more welcoming place for her children and all children.

-Sonia Thacher

I Walk the Beach with You in My Heart

In family life, poem on October 17, 2009 at 4:10 am


By Mary Edith Bentley Abu-Saba

I meander on the beach, remembering your curls
The softness of your hair, the bounce in your step
Your stride that thrusts you way past me
Your unceasing flow of words, words, words….

I ache to see you today on the beach
To hear your streaming sentences
Your laughter at the boys chasing the sand pigeons
Your stream of opinions about the Middle East
The World, Politics, Whose In-Whose Out.

How could it happen so quickly—moving from a
Formidable force of joy, hopes, dreams and stories
To a still and somber body gasping for breath
Refusing to go quietly into The Other World?

I fantasized pulling you back, fighting to keep you here
“But her children need her!” was my argument with Fate
“She has much to say to so many people” was another
“Simply, we can’t do without her….so there!”

I walk in a dream-like state, trying to bargain still
Trying to think of just the exact thing I could have done
To twist your route toward continued abundant living
While walking with me on my path to the terrestrial garden

I wanted forty-seven more years of earthly encounters for you,
To read scores of books, and write fiercely
To argue with the obvious, To ask for the impossible
To shout your joy “Look! I am Alive!”

Silence overtook me, and finally…. I accepted.
Not easily, mind you, but with determination
To hold fast to our memories of your gleaming lights,
To love and care for those little ones you left behind.

And So Let It Be.

October 16, 2009

A Symphony of Grey Curls — To Leila

In poem on October 17, 2009 at 2:23 am


By Mary Edith Bentley Abu-Saba
January 15, 2007
Monterey, California: Home of Eva and Michel Nicola

Grey black curls bounce and spring
On the top of your 6-foot spire
Catching the wind and the sun
Flouncing their sassy gaity—a spectator sport.

I plunged my hand into the nest
Felt the strength of luxurious satin ribbons wind into my fingers
Sensed your life-giving affirmation:
“Yes I lost every hair in my cancer battle
Now—see here, I have prevailed
And I will survive…and yes, I have a bushel basket of Grey Curls!”

No time for lingering tears of regret
For past angst, nor future uncertainties
Too many present realities of a child’s finger to bandage
A book to be read for tomorrow’s class
A paper to be finished,
Life’s present deadlines to be met.

Laughter and streams of words build into complicated ideas
Thrown out for others to digest
Filling the spaces of Inter-being
No need for contrieved plans for entertainment
Your curls, brain, energy, laughter, tears
Nurture our Present with rich sustenance.

The genes of my body and your father’s have joined and exploded,
Becoming a modern original symphony of your making—
With big ingenious strokes from the Goddess.
You direct that symphony with well-chosen rhythms and harmonies/disharmonies
Resounding wake-up cacophonies and glowing melodies
The soft, thick tanglie curls beckon your life’s musicians to join the chorus
To form the orchestra—each of us plays our part.

So Let It Be.

Condolence Thought

In poem on October 17, 2009 at 1:13 am

Greetings to MARY and to all,

The EARTH herself sends to us ambassadors,

Rumi’s “human beings” whose beauty beckons,

inviting, welcoming, reassuring to us all.

Not concerned with delineating boundaries,

these special emissaries gently remind us

of our common parentage, of our oneness

beneath the passing appearances of difference.

What a relief they bring us with their glance,

which is saying to us, “Yes, you can really

rely on me, my heart is deep, steady, loving”.

Leila, Leila, may the Laila, the night, be

filled with starry light for you.  You have

fulfilled your mission so beautifully.

Lynn Feinerman

An Occasional Crossing of Ways

In blogging, food on October 15, 2009 at 8:35 pm

Words, pictures, stories, recipes and hyperlinks were our connection. No human touch. No sounds or voice recordings. No emails but for a few comments. No non-verbal gestures or body language. And no clues to secret places. But I was pleased to be numbered her buddies.

This new universe, this Internet, this Cyber Highway through history and the stars provided an occasional crossing of ways. And like a memory of the touch of a butterfly, or distant sound of a whippoorwill (in this case, a Dove) or frisson of a fresh insight, something we shared survives her passing. And someday we will meet again. Eventually will get to know one another better, sharing the immortalities we left behind by blogging, building in eternity a project we began years before.

Leila’s Love for Life Was Not a Gift She Held But Rather a Gesture She Made

In blogging, Brooklyn days, family life, politics on October 15, 2009 at 5:52 pm

I am Leila’s friend from her Brooklyn days in the 1980’s. Her first husband was my husband’s childhood friend. Through that acquaintance, Leila and I forged a friendship based on a certain tendency towards emotional heat, a similar quest to define ourselves as young artists (she, a writer and me, an actress), and a shared vision that life itself was a confusing, astonishing, magnificent journey. We lost contact when I became a young mother and moved to Connecticut and Leila moved west to seek a new life and study in her chosen field.

When I knew her then, Leila was (as you may imagine) all she was in recent years – beautiful, exuberant, vibrant, inquisitive, generous, engaged, and intelligent – but she navigated her days with an edge of anger and confusion that she assiduously worked to shed as she matured into her marriage to David and her motherhood of Joseph and Jacob.

She and I reconnected two years ago when she saw a comment I’d written on DailyKos, a political website, and she contacted me. We picked up our relationship where we’d left off. I was delighted to have Leila back in my life again. Her friendship with me made me feel like a rich woman! I was moved to read of her life with her family and how happy, secure, and privileged she felt to be where she was now, notwithstanding her cancer and all the vicissitudes of her treatment. Simply, she exuded love in what she wrote to me.

Leila’s love for life was not a gift she held but rather a gesture she made, an action she took; a home she built for herself, her family, and her friends – for all of us. She embraced us all, and carried us with her into the face of whatever storm or joy life might fling up for us. Whatever it was, we were there in it, together. Leila embraced even her illness, facing it as she did everything – by looking it squarely in the face, holding it close, and standing tall. She was so strong, with her open heart and hungry mind.

I will miss her lion’s heart.

My deep condolences to David and their sons, Jacob and Joseph. She was proudest of the life and love that she shared with you. It was her greatest achievement. You are her deepest love.

Leila, Always Engaging with Her World

In family life, food on October 15, 2009 at 3:33 am
Ten years ago I attended my soon-to-be husband Ken’s high school reunion at Lawrence Hall of Science, that beautiful location overlooking the SF Bay. In a hall full of strangers Leila came over to me and greeted me with such warmth, as if we were old friends. She knew Ken as David’s old buddy from high school-and I was Ken’s new girlfriend. It seemed to me that Leila had this ability to put people at ease. I immediately felt comfortable with her-and we were soon talking about our mutual experiences living in New York, and how great it was to be in the Bay Area.

Over the next few years Leila came to our wedding, invited us to dinner, shared picnics and parties and political gatherings with us. She and David went out to one of the last Star Wars films with us-a time before the cancer. She came to our son’s baby shower with a knitted cap on her bald head and she was beautiful that day, not morose but celebratory. On other occasions we spent time discussing writing, walking along the Alameda waterfront after a lunch of avocados, tomatoes, sandwiches and other sundries on the meadow at Crab Cove. Leila began writing her novel while in remission-sharing her prose with me. She encouraged me to get back to writing-something I’d given up for too many reasons. Her enthusiasm-her vitality-her will to live and write and explore the things that mattered to her spread and inspired me.

We spent some time journaling together and emailing. Her love of books and the group of writers who surrounded her seemed to carry her towards renewal even in the face of something as all encompassing as the metastatic cancer she lived with for years.

When we last spent time with her alone, we went to a planetarium viewing at Chabot Space & Science Center. We were there with Joseph and Jacob and our son Ethan. Just before the show, the kids ran about while we walked to the telescopes that overlooked the Bay. Leila gazed out at the view, mentioning that she thought it was so beautiful as the fog flowed over the hills across the way and the ocean air caught the douglas fir, cedar and eucalyptus just below where we stood. She seemed to see it with a freshness that is rare. On the walk back inside the museum, Leila told me that she was tired of the drive to UCSF for chemo. She was going to try something new, something a bit experimental, a new way of receiving chemo-had that been what she said? And she was going to be monitored closely by her doctors. I listened, expressed my thoughts as we walked towards the planetarium theater. The boys ran ahead, excited as we climbed the stairs to our seats under the magenta rose dome. As the lights dimmed, Leila watched with awe-the universe opened up to us. And she kept saying that it was so amazing, how incredible that there were so many stars-“magnificent”. This seemed new to her, the immensity of space. She sat next to Joseph and kept saying that it was incredible. We were all amazed by that simulated journey to the outer reaches of the universe. I had hoped to see her again soon after that. But our last chance to see her was brief-We had a few words, a few warm embraces-Her last phrase to me: “Go take that beautiful boy of yours home,” gesturing to Ethan. We will miss her and send all her family our love and condolences.