by Ammiel Hirsch
December 16, 2010
This will be the twelfth remembrance of Mark today. I am not quite sure what he would have made of this. He was not a man of flowery rhetoric. He was reflective; more a man of action than of words - although, when Mark did speak, privately or publicly, it had a thunderous effect. He spoke with precision, brilliance, depth and that subtle incisive sense of humor so engaging to those of us who loved him.
All of our moving heartfelt testimonials do not actually do Mark full justice because who he was and what he represented, and the effect that he had on people, cannot be captured by words alone.
On behalf of the Hirsch family: We feel enormous gratitude that Mark came into our world. We are privileged that our paths crossed and our lives touched. Our sister, Ora, needed someone like Mark. He was so complementary and complimentary to her in practically every way.
Our family had never actually met anyone like Mark before. He was a revelation. To really get to know Mark took time, but the effect that he had on you was profound and permanent.
Here was someone who was loved without trying to be loved. He was admired without trying to be admired. He was respected without trying to be respected. He was trusted without trying to be trusted. He had authority without trying to exercise authority. He had quiet charisma, the product of a humble self-confidence.
Mark was stable, reliable and consistent. Day after day it was the same. He never disappointed you. He always displayed those same rich, deep, honest attributes. That is how you knew that this was really Mark.
Mark was a righteous soul. He was driven by ideas and his ideas were big ideas.
It is not only, as was said by his brothers, that he was a renaissance man. He was that as well. He had an approach to the world that Leonardo would have recognized. He loved and was intrigued by all things: science, math, art, aesthetic beauty, and music. He was so brilliant and so multi-textured that one marveled at how a person could know so much. One of the many tragic outcomes of Mark's death was that the vast storehouses of knowledge locked away in the vaults of his mind have gone with him.
But even his broad range of interests and expertise wasn't the heart of it.
Rather, it was that Mark was completely devoted to the central principle that science served humanity, not the opposite. He dedicated his life not to abstract science but to real human beings. His goal was not simply research for publication, but results for application. He stuffed his mind and filled his heart with an endless quest for discovery, not only for its own sake, but to serve people and to make the world a better place. He yearned, not merely for information but for understanding. He sought beauty, and he could find it in a photograph as well as an equation.
Mark's dedication to others was not incidental to his personality. It was at the core of who he was. He used his enormous intellectual gifts for good. We are born with natural proclivities; we call them God-given gifts; but what we choose to make of them is our own decision.
That Mark was dedicated to humanity and channeled his extraordinary scientific brilliance to service - not in the abstract, but to real people and real causes - this was the most precious gift of all. It was this animating thread of Mark's life that led him to the lab room, the operating room, the committee rooms and the board rooms of so many different causes.
In the end I think that it was the reason that people naturally gravitated towards him. It was not only his dazzling brilliance; it was also his radiant soul. The combination of these two qualities is what was so rare. You could live an entire lifetime and never meet another person like Mark.
To all of us who loved Mark: we would have wanted more time. Our tragedy is compounded by the knowledge that Mark may have had decades of life ahead of him.
And yet: we are grateful for the time that we had. Mark lived life on his own terms. He packed more into his fifty-five years than most people in several lifetimes. Underneath that prematurely grey hair was a man of exceptional vigor, vitality and strength.
We all yearn for a long life. The eye never has its fill of seeing. But old age, too, exacts its price. If God grants us length of days, our advancing years will sap us of the vitality of yesteryear. We will end our lives fully depleted.
Mark was never more vital and never stronger than on the day of his death. He was in the full blossom of mature adulthood. He was happy and content with his life. His accomplishments were prodigious. There was no sign of the inevitable decline that will seize those who succumb to old age.
And therefore, for those of us who loved and admired Mark, he will remain in our eyes the same. We will grow old, but he will stay as he always was. Even many years from now, in our mind's eye, Mark will be as he was on the day of his death: ever green and ever vital.
There is a Jewish legend of the Lamed Vav Tsaddikim. According to Jewish tradition there are thirty-six special people in the world, whose role in life is to justify the purpose of humankind in the eyes of God. They travel the world doing good deeds and through their conduct hold the pillars of the world in place. Were it not for their deeds, the world would collapse.
Every generation has its own Lamed Vav Tsaddikim. The thirty-six are anonymous. Their identities are unknown to one another. They, themselves, do not know that they are in the ranks of the thirty-six. Tradition holds that if one of the thirty-six dies, their role is immediately assumed by another.
Who knows but that Mark was one of these thirty-six. He had all of their qualities. He was a man of enormous integrity. His heart was pure. He was accomplished and yet humble; he was modest and overflowing with love of life and humanity. He traveled the world doing good deeds for people. Through his good deeds he held the pillars of the world in place. It should bring us comfort to imagine that now that he has gone to his eternal rest, someone else has taken his place.
The psalmist wrote that one may lie down weeping at night but joy comes in the morning. One morning there will be joy again in our lives. Whenever we see a person doing a good deed, may Mark come back to us, as fresh as the morning air. Whenever we observe a kind gesture; whenever we witness an act of compassion, may we think of our beloved Mark and may his memory bring us joy; for these are the acts that sustain the pillars of the world.
May we honor Mark's memory by living long, good and decent lives.
As the years unfold and we look back upon these days may our tears turn to smiles of warm memory so that even this distress will be a joy to recall. We had the great good fortune to have shared our lives with a remarkable man. He was the kind of person who made others glad to be alive.
Yehi zichro baruch: May the memory of this good, generous, compassionate, righteous soul be blessed.