Monday, May 7, 2007

Tribute to my Aunt Zal

May 7th, 2007

Dear beloved family, and treasured friends and colleagues of Auntie Zal,

My tribute to my Aunt comes from thousands of miles away where I now sit in my garden here in Switzerland. The roses are already blooming, much too early for this time of year, as everyone is saying. And I am reminded of how time plays tricks on you. Once you think you know when flowers should bloom, leaves should fall, babies should be born and souls should pass – something like this happens.

Just three weeks ago I was at Aunt Zal’s bedside laughing about one of her favorite movies, showing her a picture I had just taken of the Wrigley Building on a beautiful spring morning downtown. And now here you all are.

The last memory of my aunt is of when I said goodbye to her before I headed back to Switzerland. As may be imagined, it was quite emotional for both of us. Heavy tears filled our eyes and hearts. Tears for the time we wouldn’t get to spend together. Tears for the pain we both felt. Tears of loss. And just at the moment when I was sure our tears would turn into sobs – we laughed - deep hardy Zalazar laughs.

It was then that I realized she was teaching me something, teaching me how life is full of extremes. And that one secret to happiness is not being afraid to explore those extremes. It was a lesson she had taught me my whole life.

My Auntie Zal knew a lot.

She knew how to appreciate an ice-cold beer at the ballpark as much as a dry martini made from top shelf vodka with 2 blue-cheese olives.

She knew about fine art and we spent hours together at the Art Institute. But she also loved Toy Story and squealed when she showed us her Woody collection.

She knew how to enjoy a party – we all know that. But her trips out west showed us that she was never afraid to be alone and in fact treasured the freedom it allowed her.

She knew how to value something. She never threw away a comfortable t-shirt, no matter how holey. On the other hand, she never seized to look sophisticated in her Versace glasses.

She knew what manners were. She mastered the art of being polite, and yet not submissive. Christy told me,” her nurses said she was the nicest patient they had and she really was.”

And boy did she know how to be welcoming. She often picked us up from the airport. She would stand amongst an anxious crowd at the international terminal – our little auntie wearing a baseball cap and shorts (whatever the weather). And as we all know her, she never had problems to push her way through. All the same, when we finally met with open arms and a high-pitched scream, she would give me the most incredible hug. A hug I felt all the way in my toes. Yet, when it was time to leave, she knew how to let go. She never made you doubt a decision even if she knew it was taking you away from her.

She knew what it meant to be open. She welcomed all types of people into her life; even loving a little longhaired Swiss musician as if he was her own nephew. At the same time, she could accept others’ intolerance – understanding why some just don’t understand.

She knew a lot about words. I mean who could write a better itinerary or a more provocative email? Be that as it may, she is still probably the only person I know who actually read the Louis and Clarke biography by choice.

But most of all, she knew what it meant to be a woman. She knew that to be successful you have to be tough and gentle and the difficulty is finding the right balance. She knew that a woman needs to have a strong back, yet soft hands. She knew that a woman’s strengths are in an open ear and warm heart. She knew that you could still be tough and cry.

As we do now.

I assume, if I were there, I would look around and see many different people: young and old, married and single, blue and white-collar, liberal and conservative, modest and wealthy---- but all rich.

Rich with the experience of knowing Maria Sonja Zalazar – our Auntie Zal.
Rich from the lessons she taught us.
And rich with a warm heart filled with memories.

You may have all seen the picture of her canoeing towards snowcapped mountains. I’d like to believe that she is canoeing her way to paradise. And when she gets to the shore she is met by her black mustang convertible. However, instead of having to pop in her favorite cruising James Brown CD – she’s got the godfather of soul himself.

He’s singing about feeling good and she’s reminding him that it is a woman’s world, and not a man’s!

I love you Auntie Zal and am looking forward to meeting again.

Your little niece,


No comments: