The Gift of Immortality

The news did not surprise me, neither did it devastate me. It simply left me hollow, spent and empty. You see, Mark Kravitz died since this paper last went to print. He was 62 years old, and he suffered from Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

We all knew his death was coming. The disease from which he suffered is remorseless. I wrote about watching him waste away some months ago. He was one of my favorite federal judges. Appearing in his courtroom was a feast of both mind and spirit. He had a way of bringing out the best in me. I cried private tears when I realized the news was true and that he would die as a result of the disease.

Somehow, this week, I have not cried.

Death is not conceivable. I stumble against the idea of it and recoil each time, recasting what lies on the other side of here and now in terms familiar only to the living. I want there to be a Heaven, a place where those I love can go and to which I can aspire. I want a world without end. But endings happen.

Mark Kravitz’s life ended.

It doesn’t pay to be angry at God, the gods or the invisible forces that make the world what it is. What comes, goes, and in a rhythm we cannot fathom. When I walked by the New Haven federal court the other day, I wanted to stop by his chambers. I wanted to look at the first edition copy of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. I recall the judge showing them to me once. Did I expect that by looking at the books I would catch a glimpse of his spirit?
I kept walking, chastising myself for gross superstition.

But soon enough, I was smiling, and I was walking alongside an image of the judge in my mind. I recalled a nice note he once sent me after I left New Haven and set up a practice of my own. I recalled difficult arguments before him, where I watched him struggle with paradox and saw joy in his eyes. I recalled his courage when I last spoke to him alone and he told me he had no regrets. But most of all I walked alongside a spirit alive to what folks called in a less cynical age the good, the true and the beautiful. Judge Kravitz had the gift of being alive.

By the time I was a block away from the courthouse, I was no longer glum, and I did not feel the need to search for sorrow. Yes, he is gone, somehow. Yet the memory of the man is present. The gifts he gave us so generously remain in the hearts and minds of those he touched.

Yes, of course, I’d rather have the man, and not a mere memory. I shudder to think of how his family will grope through the days, weeks and months to come. It is wrong to be grateful in the face of death, yet I am grateful. It is a gift to have so clear a memory of the man. He may no longer be present to give that gift, but I will continue to receive it. He was grace amid the law’s stormy conflicts. This is as close to immortality as we can get.

I was in trial the week he died. As always, I was on the cusp of losing my temper and lashing out at a judge doing his level best to assure a fair trial. The judge mentioned Judge Kravitz’s death at a recess. It was as though Judge Kravtiz suddenly visited the room. He summoned me to be better than I am. I thanked the specter.

In the past few months, I often wondered about the judge. I wanted to go see him, but I did not. I regret that now. At some level, I had already said farewell, and I could not bear to see him falter and fail. It was cowardice on my part, really.

I won’t be saying farewell to Judge Kravitz any time soon. I know he is gone, but I cherish the memory of the man. I doubt there is an afterlife. Yet somehow I don’t doubt the immortality of the soul. I suppose that illusion permits me to enjoy secret time with a man who died too young to suit those of us who knew him. Indulge me this week in remembering him here yet again.

Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.


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