Thursday, August 29, 2013

Reading the Final Chapter



Today was a sad day at the Center for Court Innovation: we formally said goodbye to Sharon Bryant, who served for the last decade as an administrative assistant in our central office in Manhattan.  Sharon left us way too soon -- she was only 47 years old when she passed, although she had been ill for some time.

Despite our collective grief, I found the funeral service comforting.  There was a good contingent of Sharon's colleagues from across the various projects that the Center runs -- Midtown Community Court, Crown Heights Community Mediation Center, Newark Community Solutions, Brownsville Community Justice Center, Bronx Community Solutions were just some of the projects that were represented.  Even several former Center staffers came back to pay their respects (thanks so much Mia, Aeli, Fertia!).  It felt good to see the Center come together to support one of its own.  

I also enjoyed the eulogy by Rev. Tabiri Chukunta of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens. He built his remarks around the metaphor of life as a book and the importance of "reading the final chapter."  He encouraged the congregation to prepare for our final day and figure out how we were going to make the most out of the time we had left.

I am not a minister, of course.  I don't know how to comfort a family that has lost a daughter, a sister, a friend.  The best I can do is offer a version of the email that I sent around to staff at the Center when we found out about Sharon's passing last week:

It's A Wonderful Life is one of my all-time favorite movies.  For me, the most important line in that film is uttered by the angel Gabriel who tells George Bailey, "Each man's life touches so many other lives.  When he isn't around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"  

Sharon's passing reminds me of the wisdom of this line.  While she was in many respects a private person who never sought the limelight, she had a significant impact on the culture of our office.  She was the first point of contact for many of the people who work here or who visit the Center.  

Over the years, she helped arrange dozens of staff meetings, parties, lunches, roundtables and other events, taking enormous care that everything was done right and that we presented a professional face to the world.  She struggled mightily with her health, particularly over the last six months, but she was unfailingly kind to me, asking about my kids, offering me a piece of chocolate when she thought I looked low on energy, talking about our shared interest in hip-hop and R&B from the 80s and 90s, etc.  

I saw her basically every working day for a decade or more.  While, like me, she was occasionally prickly, we figured out a way to work together happily and productively.  I am glad to have known her.  She made my life better.   She leaves an awful hole.