June 30, 2002
On June 21st, 1973, at 2:29 P.M., in Passavant Memorial Hospital, Chicago, a real superstar was born. Her father and I named her Danielle Anne.
The first sign of what a superstar she was to become was that same evening when I took a walk to the nursery and saw a group of parents gathered at the nursery window looking at "that beautiful baby". When I got to the window I realized that the baby they were talking about was Danielle. That beautiful baby grew up to become the beautiful person we all
knew and loved.
Throughout her life Danielle always marched to her own drummer, doing things her own way. I recently read that courage is never to let your actions be influenced by your fears. This described Danielle perfectly. She had great courage throughout her life and never gave up reaching for the goals she had set for herself.
At King Lab School, Danielle's first teacher, Candy Sullivan, told her father and I that Danielle was very special. She was so bright and she had so much personality there would be no limit to how much so would accomplish during her lifetime. When she was in grade school, she wanted to play little league, which at that time was made up of mostly boys. She kept trying out each spring and finally made the team--she was one of only two girls in the league that season. All of the mothers would cheer for Danielle, even those who had sons on the other teams, and that year she won her first sports trophy.
Danielle was a spiritual person who loved being Jewish. She had entertained the thought of becoming a rabbi and "leading a very different type of congregation." Danielle decided to become a bat mitzvah on her own and worked very hard to accomplish this. She started Hebrew school later than most but made up for lost time very quickly. I have to brag that she did a perfect job on the day of her Bat Mitzvah reading from the Torah and delivering her speech. In true Danielle style she told me that she was "going for the gold," by wearing her new high heel shoes during the service when she carried the big torah (not the small one the other girls carried). This was not as simple as it sounds, because before that day she had never worn high heels.
Danielle took Evanston Township High School by storm, setting a new fashion trend when she arrived for the first day of summer school Freshman year wearing her dad's summer pajamas. Several of the other girls followed her example that summer. After all, pajamas were quite comfortable to wear on a hot summer's day.
In her junior year of high school, Danielle wanted to be a page in the U.S. House of Representatives. In order to get the job, she set out to meet everyone who might be able to help her. Congressman Sid Yates appointed her, and while she was in Washington, Danielle made sure she met every member of Congress. Soon she was on her way to becoming the liberal political person we all were so very proud of. Her brother Michael described Danielle's political leanings as being just to the left of Lenin. I don't think he was too far off. During the Gulf War, Danielle appeared on the CBS Morning Show to discuss her views of the war, and we all thought that this was the start of her political career.
Danielle was a leader in high school, and by using her offbeat sense of humor, she was able to get her friends to follow her lead. One year she got them to go to the Midnight Madness Sale at K-Mart in their formals and tuxes after the holiday dance, and the next year it was bowling. She always found a way to make everything fun. Danielle was the drummer for that great band Lord Lava and the Lush--and I really know how great they were because they practiced in our basement. She was on the golf team for three years and served as captain of the team during her senior year. She even received the team award for being most inspirational. She also won an award that year in her auto body class for rebuilding my car, a classic 1966 Mustang. Little did we know at that time how important that class would be for her future employment.
During her senior year, the biggest thing Danielle set out to do was to get admitted to Smith College. As we all know, she was admitted, and I don't think Smith will ever be the same. While at Smith Danielle played rugby; deejayed at parties; had her own radio show (who could ever forget D.J. Diversity Danielle?); was a member of the Smiffenpoofs; and a leader for the freshman program, Preludes. In her four years at Smith, Danielle managed to become friends with almost the entire campus. Of course, when Danielle became your friend she was your friend for life, keeping in touch by phone, e-mail, regular mail or whatever means it took to stay connected. If we had not known before how large a circle of friends Danielle had and the impact she had on them, we soon found out by the extraordinary number of visits to her website and the wonderful messages that everyone wrote to her during her illness. This outpouring of love and support Danielle received was remarkable.
After graduation from Smith, Danielle had many interesting careers. She spent a year in Northampton working at Pro Lube changing oil (those high school courses did come in handy) and deejaying at the W.W.II Club and at private parties. She also had her own Saturday-night radio show. She even got to spent a summer as aquatic director for Camp Kinderland in the Berkshire Mountains.
Then it was on to San Diego, California, and Americorps, where she taught art, painted houses worked in the National Forest, and became a certified forklift driver among her other accomplishments. She added even more good friends to her ever-growing circle of admirers.
After Americorps, Danielle came home to Evanston and was a kindergarten teachers' aid at Kingsley School, pool director at Northwestern University, then an event planner, and finally a grant writer for the Cook County States Attorney's office.
In April of 2000, Danielle realized her dream of moving to San Francisco. She went to work for the Avon Breast Cancer Walk, where her truck driving, event planning, and people skills were put to good use. In September of that year, Danielle started working for SquareTrade.com, moved into her apartment on Dolores Street, and was just beginning to really enjoy living in San Francisco and spending time with all of the many Smithies who live in the Bay Area. At Square Trade Danielle found not only a great job but a company that stood by her throughout her illness. When I tried to thank them, I was told it was nothing. After all, Danielle was family.
Viktor E. Frankl wrote that everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms, to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way. Danielle was able to choose her own way when, on October 1st, 2000, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. On that day she began her journey through cancerland. It was a trip that Danielle took with her traveling companions of her courage and her great sense of humor. The night before her first surgery, Danielle and her brother Michael went to Ben and Jerry's for ice cream. Danielle told the clerk that she had a brain tumor and asked if they gave a discount for brain-tumor patients. They did. Danielle made quite an impression on the staff at UCSF Medical Center. Everyone knew her, and they all were happy to pose for pictures with her for her website. When we asked one of her new doctors if he would pose for a picture, he was very excited because he had heard about the site from another doctor and did not want to be left out. She rarely complained and tried not to feel sorry for herself or be very angry. She did tell me that she could not understand why she gotten a brain tumor. After all she never took drugs, rarely drank alcohol, never smoked and had not even used a cell phone. Danielle and I had a conversation during which she told me that she understood that everyone dies, but that she had not expected to die at such a young age. We then talked about how sad it was for someone to die before they reached their thirties. However, because of her illness she was able to find out how loved she was and how many lives she had touched. We also talked about how she was able to do some of the things that she may have put off or may never have done. Her illness gave her family and her friends an opportunity to help her realize her dreams. All of her siblings and in-laws were able to spend a great deal of time with her after her diagnosis, making sure that the time left for Danielle was the best it could be. Also many of her friends were able to visit with her during her illness, and I know how much that meant to her. Danielle was an inspiration to everyone who came into contact with her. She had told me that her philosophy of life was that when a problem came up you just built a bridge and crossed over it. I believe that this philosophy helped her in her fight against cancer.
On a personal level, I will miss her so very much. Because of Danielle I fell in love with Disney World. She was two years old the first time we went to the Magic Kingdom, and for Danielle it was not pretend. It was real. I will never forget the look on her face when she talked to Mickey Mouse the first time. After that, Disney World was always a magical place
for her and for me. We shared our love of the comics, laughing at the same ones, and we always wanted the same type of birthday cake. She even asked me to be one of the chaperones for her high school trip to Greece because she said that I would be cool. Danielle took me to my first political protest march and introduced me to Poi Dog Pondering (a rock band from Chicago) by taking me to their concert and then bringing me backstage to hang out with the band. Not bad for an old lady. Danielle was also able to get me to do karaoke with her in front of an audience.
According to Judaism, angels can be created by human beings. Every good thought, word and deed gives birth to a positive force in the universe, which is called an angel. These angels are eternal. They hover around us throughout our life and accompany us to our reward after our death. I know that there were a lot of angels accompanying Danielle on June 16th.
A friend wrote to me saying that it was hard to imagine the world without Danielle and her spark. He is right, but I believe that there are bonds between loved ones that death cannot destroy and that Danielle had those bonds with all of us here today. In his book "Tuesdays with Morrie," Mitch Albom wrote "Death is the end of a lifetime, not the end of a relationship." There is also an Eskimo legend that I would like to share with you: "Perhaps they are not stars in the sky, but rather openings where our loved ones shine down to let us know they are happy." When we look up at the stars from now on, I hope that we will always think of Danielle and remember what a bright star she was and how happy she made all of us feel.
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