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Eulogy for Barbara Bunny

Of little lambs and shepherds

Barbara, my wife and little angel, told me early on in our relationship that I was her “second favorite Jew,” which I took as a high compliment indeed.

Barbara, who grew up in Detroit, was of German and Swedish descent.

Even before she complimented me, even before she linked me to my co-religionist, who rode into Jerusalem on an ass, Barbara apologized to me shortly after we met in 1996.

She apologized to me for the Holocaust.

I told her that she had nothing to do with the tragedy. 

But I understood why she apologized.

Like Barbara, I have often felt guilty about many things, even when I have had nothing to do with the issue involved.

Such feelings of guilt undoubtedly stem from a mixture of causes, including childhood trauma.

Leaving aside any trauma that had been inflicted on Barbara, she had nothing but love for people, including, and maybe especially, Jews.

She revered Jesus, whom I sometimes told Barbara was the nicest Jewish boy of all, the greatest Bar Mitzvah boy in history.

Barbara did not mind my saying these things.  She said to me that Jesus was a man, at least as much as he was a God, or God.

Barbara would often tell me about one of her earliest memories that occurred when she was in Sunday school.

She was just three years old, when she would paste illustrations of a lamb on an image of Jesus, holding a shepherd’s crook, on a hill.

As she pasted the images, she would sing the song, “I am Jesus’ little lamb,” a song that she had been taught in Sunday school.

Barbara told me how good and how “safe” it made her feel to know that Jesus was looking out for her.

Barbara was not a so-called “holy roller.”

In fact, for many years, she gave up religion.

She took down the crosses that she had in her condominium.  She stopped going to church.

But in recent times, in particular, she wanted to talk to me about that beautiful childhood memory she had of pasting little lambs on an image of Jesus, the shepherd, and of singing, “I am Jesus’ little lamb.”

There are a lot of people, who disparage religion; and there are some in the religious world, who behave badly.

Barbara encountered individuals from both ranks.

She dealt with her share of abusive men and vicious women, hypocrites and sadists.

But Barbara always knew that she was stronger than those hatemongers.

And I knew she was right.

Barbara had the highest form of courage.  She did not posture or talk about it.

With the utmost sweetness and modesty, she moved out to Los Angeles by herself in 1959.

She had no money other than that which she had earned from sewing and babysitting back in Detroit.

Yet she was thrilled to be coming to Southern California.  It was liberating for her, and it was an adventure.  That was how Barbara viewed it.

Moving to Southern California not only freed her from a toxic stew with her mother in Detroit; it enabled Barbara to get the best education anyone could buy, a public-school education set up by Gov. Pat Brown.

That did not mean that Barbara did not run into cruelty out here.

But when she did, she always knew that she could handle it.

Barbara had a level of love within her that could not be touched, that could not be compromised no matter how much people savaged her.

I told Barbara that the men, as well as the women, who had harmed her in differing acts of sadism, had disgraced themselves; they had not disgraced Barbara.

She wholeheartedly agreed.

Barbara and I understood each other so well because we shared and always will share an extremely similar psychic and spiritual profile.

Barbara and I frequently talked about the idiosyncratic nature of creative artists.

Both of us were and are idiosyncratic, but we overlap so much that it is almost as if we really were and are the same person.

She is just better looking, much better looking.

Barbara used to talk about her father, who would greet boys downstairs in their home when they came to take her out on a date.

He would talk to them, as Barbara got dressed upstairs.

Of course, no matter what he discussed with the boys–whether it was about World War II, where he served in the Pacific; or about constructing houses (he built them on weekends, when he was not working as an electrician at the Detroit Edison Company); or about sports (he was a hockey fan)—what he was really doing was signaling to the boys that they were to behave well.

He was protecting Barbara.

Barbara’s father, Floyd Sundquist, was taken out of school by his own mother when he was about 12 years old so that he could earn a living and support their family.

Even though he had only a sixth or seventh grade education, he loved to write, and he loved to compose upstairs at his desk at night.

Barbara’s father would enter writing contests and submit essays.  He often won those writing contests and received various home products for Barbara’s family. 

One of Barbara’s cherished memories from her childhood was when she used to hear her father typing away at night on his manual typewriter, as she would go to sleep in the canopy bed that he had built for her.

Hearing her father patter away on the keys at night made Barbara feel safe, perhaps not unlike the way she felt when she pasted the images of little lambs on the image of Jesus, the shepherd.

Barbara told me that she always dreamed that she would marry a writer.

And when she met me, she did.

In recent months, Barbara asked me to have an image of her father framed.

It was a photograph that Barbara had taken when she was a little girl.

She and her family were visiting a beach at Lake Huron.

And she took a photo that shows her father smiling at her, while he leans back in the sand.

We had to crop the picture, but we indeed got it framed.

Then we placed the photo on top of a towering rectangular bin, next to Barbara’s side of our bed.

In recent months, Barbara started to refer to him as daddy.

The interesting thing is that, in recent months, Barbara also started to refer to me on occasion as daddy.

She knew that, like her father, I too protected her.

But it is also true that Barbara protected me and always will. 

She cocoons me with her love, with her wit, with her beauty and with her strength.

Bob Dylan once sang, “You mistake my kindness for weakness.”

Barbara and I liked to talk about that line from one of Dylan’s Christian songs.

She and I agreed that so many people had mistaken Barbara, just as they had mistaken me, for being weak.

But Barbara had a strength that is extremely rare.  It was and is a strength that is fueled by love, a strength and a love that are unlimited.

As I wrote in my tribute to Barbara in Thrive Global, Barbara and I sometimes talked about the joy shown by King David, when the Levites carried the Ark of the Covenant, which had been stolen by the Philistines, back into Jerusalem.

David leaped with joy, as the Ark returned to Jerusalem with the original tablets brought by Moses down from Mount Sinai.

David, as Barbara knew well and as she sometimes pointed out, was a precursor to Jesus.

They came from the same tribe of Israelites, the tribe of Judah, if I am not mistaken; and David, like Jesus, was famously a shepherd boy.

Many years ago, in 1998, when I was between my two psychotic episodes, Barbara joined me at a temple on the Westside near Venice, where I lived at the time.

It was right around Yom Kippur in 1998, when I walked to the pulpit for the first time since I had been Bar Mitzvahed and confirmed as a teenager.

The rabbi said a prayer, as I changed my name in Hebrew, just as I did in English, and added the name of David to my existing name.

Barbara sat in the first pew and smiled at me with her characteristic sweetness.

She bought me a Star of David pendant, and, more recently, she bought me a tiny bell engraved with the Star of David.

I have both of those sacred objects with me right now.

Barbara did not feel threatened at being in a synagogue, just as I did not feel threatened when I accompanied Barbara to the chapel at St. Marks Episcopal church in Glendale, where Barbara recently received two very special Communions from Reverend Susie.

The first occurred the day before Barbara had surgery in July to remove a carcinoma from her right breast.

On that occasion, I sat to Barbara’s immediate left in a pew, as Reverend Susie anointed Barbara with holy oil and made the sign of the cross on Barbara’s forehead.

Barbara would later tell me that she, who had grown up a Lutheran, had never received such an anointment, nor had she ever received the sign of the cross on her forehead before.

The experience was very moving, as it was a week or two later, after Barbara’s surgery, when we came back to St. Marks for a 10 a.m. Sunday service.

As Barbara could not walk that well, Reverend Susie came to our seats in the back pew and gave Barbara another beautiful Communion, while I sat to Barbara’s immediate right.

This experience too was extremely moving for Barbara, as it was for me.

Barbara had not been to church on a regular basis in years.

But whenever we traveled to San Francisco, as we did recently on Barbara’s 80th birthday, we would visit Peter & Paul’s Cathedral in North Beach.

We also went inside Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill on Barbara’s birthday.

Barbara enjoyed the serenity of these moments, as I pushed her in a wheelchair inside these churches, and she took in the beauty of the arches and the stained-glass windows with images of Jesus and other figures from the Bible.

Barbara and I agreed that Judaism and Christianity are in reality the same religion–“intrafaith,” as Pope Francis has said.

Similarly, Barbara and I were, are and always will be a hybrid form.

I am a man, and she is my goddess, but we are the same person, filled with love and strength, imagination and light.

We have played some Bob Dylan music today, and we will play some more.

But I would like to conclude my eulogy to Barbara, my baby, my goddess, by quoting from the song that Barbara used to sing as a little girl, while she ran with joy on a hillside field, not unlike the one here outside the chapel, and pasted images of little lambs on an image of Jesus, the shepherd.

I am Jesus’ little lamb,
Ever glad at heart I am;
For my Shepherd gently guides me,
Knows my need, and well provides me,
Loves me every day the same,
Even calls me by my name.

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