Miriam's Art Work & Mimento

Miriam turned even the simplest gesture of sending a greeting card into something special,
always taking the time to make individual cards for everyone. Before her death she had hoped
to start her own business, Mimento, producing handmade cards. Her family have taken up this
idea and hope to develop it further. For more information please visit:


All proceeds from the sale of the cards will be donated to the Miriam Hyman Memorial Fund
which is currently supporting the work of ORBIS UK (Charity No. 1061352), a charity which
aims at eliminating avoidable blindness globally, helping people to see clearly again.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Reflections - one year on

Words spoken by Jonathan Wittenberg to Miriam's parents John and Mavis, her sister Esther and her close friends gathered in the family garden on the evening of the 6th July 2006

Ten days ago I was sitting in a cafe in Jerusalem with my friend Aharon Barnea, whose son was killed in the Lebanon. Aharon, a wise, gentle and loving man, active in the Bereaved Families Forum of Israeli and Palestinian parents, was talking to me about a book called Retelling Violent Death. He had recently met the author whose message was that the stories of those who die in violence, such as in the July bombings in London, must be reclaimed and told from the point of view of their lives, not only their deaths, and by those who love and value them.

Like everyone else, I've been very moved by the love that has surrounded Miriam and her memory. When I speak to Mavis, John and Esther, they say that this love comes especially from Miriam's friends. Her friends say that it comes from her parents and her sister. Clearly, both are right. Above all the love comes, even now after her death, from Miriam herself, who had a gift for friendship, for appreciating beauty, for generosity and for life. She loved colour and was an inspired painter. She was happiest when she could bring her different talents together and give the wonderful cards and pictures she created to the people she especially loved.

Unlike everyone else present, I didn't have the privilege of knowing Miriam. But I've learnt about her from her family and from the stirring testaments of friends, written over the past year and recorded on the web-site created in her memory. These are just a few of the words which have spoken to us all:

Esther, you wrote of how Miriam brings out the best in people', adding that you 'use the present tense because she is continuing to bring out the best in people.' How true this is.

Nick and Maryla, Nomi and Jessica, you've told me such lovely things about Miriam and all her family to whom you've always been wonderful neighbours, but especially now.

Judith, you wrote that 'Miriam amassed friends like a magnet'. I've learnt from Mavis and John of how people who'd met Miriam only once came to the house during the year because she made such an unforgettable impact on them. Then you continued, 'A truly successful person is one who cares about how you treat others and how you make them feel about themselves'. This is both an exceptional tribute to Miriam and a remarkable counter-cultural definition of success which the entire world needs to hear.

Keren, you wrote of how Miriam's 'generosity, humility and kindness knew no bounds'. Then you described how you met her at 4.30am on midsummer's day on Primrose Hill and stood together 'waiting for the first sunlight to speak to a sleeping London'. To be a witness to wonder is one of life's greatest privileges, and it's always a testament to a person's spirit that he or she should care about such matters.

Katie reminded us to 'Keep [Miriam's] name alive and use it to make someone else's world better - something [she] would always do'. That's exactly what's being done by her family, friends and colleagues, and also by those who didn't know her in life but have worked to create the book Mimento, the exhibition at City Hall and the trust fund in Miriam's name.

Mavis and John, you've told me many special things about Miriam, how she never took anything for granted, how she would always express her appreciation, how nothing gave her more happiness than to give pleasure to others. This attitude must have originated with you, her mother and father. After all, it isn't every parent who makes sure that the children always have paints and paper available on the table at all times, so that they should never lack the means to be creative.

Among all these heartfelt tributes, something which Katie wrote made a particular connection in my mind. You described Miriam as 'The person who made me see clearly'. I don't know if this was deliberate or not, but your words are almost identical with the definition of the aims of ORBIS UK, the charity under whose auspices the special fund has been established in Miriam's memory. ORBIS is described in Mimento as 'a charity which aims at eliminating avoidable blindness globally, helping people to see clearly again'.

There are many levels to 'seeing clearly' and they're all relevant to Miriam and her memory.

In the first instance, there's the physical sense of sight itself. Miriam appreciated this world, its forms, substances and colours. The luminosity of her paintings draws us into them. She loved wood, silk, sky and sea. She wanted to share this joy with others, especially with those she loved. Hence there could be no better way of fulfilling her aspirations in memory of her than of extending the gift of sight to the blind. I heard from Mavis and John about how the first doctor has already been to London for special training and how much it meant to you to meet him."

Secondly, seeing clearly also refers to our values. Though most of us know at heart what really matters in life, and do see clearly at times, our view is often obstructed by secondary issues, petty concerns and miscellaneous irritations. Daily life is usually like that and we often lose sight of what is truly important. But from what I've learnt about Miriam she had a clear and firm view of what mattered. Her preoccupations were essential and heartfelt, her family, her friends, beauty, wonder and gratitude. To have someone who's regularly able to bring our attention back to what really matters is very special. As Esther said, Miriam will continue to do this even though she's no longer here.

Thirdly, there's a spiritual dimension to seeing clearly. This leads me back to the stirring conversation I had with Mavis and John in this garden just a couple of weeks ago. Your words struck me and moved me and I tried to record them faithfully. 'There's a kind of acceptance which is beyond understanding', you said. 'We can't comprehend suffering; we can't explain it. But we can try to accept it. I believe that beyond everything lies love and compassion. That doesn't help us to understand why Miriam died, for that there can be no explanation. But it does enable us to be more accepting.' You referred several times to love and compassion, then added a reflection about how Miriam herself was always grateful for each day of life she had.

Your words reminded me of an especially challenging phrase in the Talmud. It appears in the context of the Talmud's most comprehensive examination of the meaning of suffering. If no other explanation can be found, the Talmud suggests, then we should consider our pain to be a form of 'the sufferings of love'. The Talmud provides no details of what it means by these words. One interpretation is suggested by the quotation from the Book of Proverbs, 'Whom God loves, God tests'. I find this idea difficult and disturbing, if not cruel. I certainly can't embrace it as an explanation for tragedy.

But there are other explanations and to me the words 'sufferings of love' point to a different kind of challenge. They describe the struggle of trying to turn something inexplicable and hurtful, 'sufferings', into something meaningful and helpful, 'love'. I've often witnessed people doing just that. How they find the strength in their hearts to do good and show compassion in spite of constant and inexpressible pain, I don't understand. Yet again and again people strive to turn their personal tragedies into ways of showing compassion, perhaps because they realise that it's the only worthwhile and creative thing which it's possible to do. Such conduct is completely humbling, and it's here before our eyes.

The pain and sorrow must be immeasurable in the hearts of Miriam's family and friends. But in spite of that, love is being created in Miriam's memory, and love is something Miriam knew especially well how to appreciate and treasure.

Jonathan Wittenberg, 6th July 2006


Post a Comment

<< Home