Maryland State Delegate for
Legislative District 12B
It is impossible for me to believe that in little more than a week, six months will have passed since Zach took his last breath on this earth. And yet his beautiful and loving spirit continues to show up everywhere.
In preparing for my recent talk at the Unitarian Society in Columbia, I went back and reread some of the quotes from people throughout history who have most inspired me in living my own life. T.S. Eliot, Viktor Frankl, Gandhi, Thomas Merton, Rilke, Rum, The Dali Lama, Titch Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron.... I keep close track of these and other quotes and read them regularly, frequently getting even more of a connection than before. As always when we travel, I will be taking some to Italy with me when Lloyd and I fly out tonight.
As I read many of them before the Unitarian service, it became apparent for the first time that, although he may have never read them, Zach also "lived" the essence of these quotes, and under infinitely more difficult circumstances. For those of you who told me you had wanted to attend, here is a connection to my talk, it is long since it includes the entire service http://www.uucolumbia.net/worshipping-together/new-sermons-page.html.
Recently I had coffee with long time reporter, Fraser Smith. He taped an interview with me about my leaving public office and also about Zach. Here is the link that was in The Daily Record: C. Fraser Smith: Elizabeth Bobo’s inspiration.
I am aware of the presence of Zach's spirit virtually all the time. It comes in times of reverence for the beauty of nature, children, poetry, and all things beautiful. It also shows up when I find myself getting impatient, frustrated, or angry and calls me back to remembering that life is a gift and we must treasure every moment.
Last fall I wrote about Zach's telling me that his battle with brain cancer was a war. It becomes clearer and clearer that he won that war by continuing to live on in the minds, hearts, and souls of all of us whom he inspired. During this week of my annual silent retreat, I will maintain a soft focus on my time with Zach and all I learned from him. I want to be as clear as possible so I can carry it on as best I can in my own life. I recall the last line of the long poem written by Chris' friend, Ruth, and included in the program for the celebration of Zach's life: "...we are left to tell the story about the guy who is and will always be "sunshine on a cloudy day."
Today, May 1, 2014, is Zach's 21st birthday.
This was the first morning in some days that we could see the sun rise, at least partially. Zach was clearly with me as I watched it rise among gray clouds. Now at noon the sky is mostly blue and the sun is shining brightly. The quotation of a monk from two thousand years ago continually arises in my mind of Zach's "awareness as broad as the sky and understanding as deep as the sea."
As time passes, my awareness of the presence of Zach's beautiful soul does not diminish. It remains steady and peaceful.
As time does pass, one aspect which becomes clearer for me is the astounding way in which Zach touched others, particularly in his last two years on this earth. My mind involuntarily calls up remembrances of more and more examples of Zach, through various words and actions, showing his love and caring for others. It could take the form of lyrics from a song, a line of poetry, a joke, a gesture. One aspect that all of these remembrances have in common is the very precise way in which they apply to the person who received them. I have heard friends, cousins, old and young, recount their experience of receiving such a "gift" from Zach. Most often they recall his message clearly and frequently, running it over and over in their minds and being inspired anew by Zach.
More and more it becomes clear to me that Zach truly was "living the dream," not just saying it, even in the presence of brain cancer.
I cannot say too often "what a blessing to be his Grandma."
On Sunday, May 4, Chris, John, Julia, family members and friends, will go to Washington D.C. to run or walk in the Race for the Cure of Brain Cancer. We have done this many years since Zach first had brain cancer at the age of 11. Since its return when Zach was 18, the Zach crowd has grown larger. One year he was the speaker at the awards ceremony after the event. This year he will be with us in spirit, and as you know, Zach's spirit is very bright.
Each committee of the legislature has several staff members assigned to do its work rather than that of individual legislators. In the Environmental Matters Committee on which I serve Mike Hodor is one of those employees. On afternoons when we are in legislative session, he plays music, often classical, while preparing for our public hearings or voting sessions.
On the last day of the session Mike invited me to come to the committee room and listen with him. He had remembered that when my sister, who had spent the last few months of her life in our home, died of leukemia fourteen years ago during the legislative session, I had told him that I loved listening to Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman sing, "Time to Say Good-bye".
Mike wanted to play the same music in memory of Zach and his continuing spirit. Lloyd came with me and the three of us spent an exquisitely beautiful fifteen minutes listening with Zach in our hearts and minds. I could so clearly see Zach with the beautiful facial expression he had while listening to music he loved.
Thank you, Mike. What a beautiful gift.
There are many delegates who will not be returning to the House next year, I among them. The Speaker asked if any of us wanted to give some parting words. I initially thought I had nothing I wanted to say, then as dozens of delegates rose to speak, some at considerable length, about their memories of their time in office and their plans for the future, I realized there was another perspective I could bring to this experience. I spoke of Zach's love of life: "Life is a precious gift. Live it with love to the fullest." This is my intention for the rest of my life. Thank you once more, Zach, for being such a great teacher.
April 8 and 9 were the two nights of this year when Mars was closest to earth. This coincided beautifully with my nightly ritual re Zach:
"His awareness is as broad as the sky and his understanding as deep as the sea."
Tuesday was our first night home after the legislative session. Mars shone clear and bright and Zach was with me.
On Wednesday evenings at 5 our friends, Janis and Jerry Cripe, host a half hour silent meditation in their home. This Wednesday there were about twelve of us present. It was the first time I had been present in weeks due to the legislative session. When I walked into the room I saw that Janis had arranged four beautiful bowls, handmade by local artist Winnie Coggins, in the form of a cross on the floor. In the center was the program from Zach's memorial service with his beautiful image on the front. A member of the group, Sue Garner, read an inspiring piece entitled "Empty Bowls". "For Buddhists, the empty bowl is a symbol of the self - we want to empty it of all our ideas, notions, stories, judgments, opinions. When our bowl is full, we are not open to a new way of being." This symbolism so clearly mirrors Zach as I know him.
"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
Above is the quote which appeared under Zach's photo in his Centennial High School yearbook. He graduated eight months before he learned that cancer had returned to his brain. So this selfless quote was chosen by a young man in the prime of his life with limitless opportunities before him, not by one who was living with the knowledge that he had cancer.
Now more than three weeks since I stood by Zach’s bedside immediately after he had taken his last breath, I am aware of an increasingly peaceful feeling. I continue to be with him at every sunrise and sunset and all times in between even as I carry out the responsibilities and activities of my very last days in the legislature. I move through my days with acute awareness of all around me, and it is beautiful.
The thought of Zach's awareness being as broad as the sky and his understanding as deep as the sea is such a comfort to me. I am learning as never before in my 70 years on this earth to hold an opening and let love and peace flow through me.
Thank you, Zach, for being such a loving and joyful soul and such a great teacher of life.
This week Zach's sister, Julia, retweeted one of his tweets from November 13, 2012:
"Funerals get you thinking how you are going to be remembered."
We now know.
The memorial service held for Zach last Friday clearly and beautifully captured his essence, from the music of the Temptations to the words spoken about him by family, friends, priests, and monsignors. Zach said he wanted us to celebrate his life, not mourn his death. The service certainly fulfilled his desire.
I know Zach loved it.
It was a joy so see many of you present.
Thank you for your many expressions of recognition of the beauty of Zach's life. He continues to be with me in every sunrise and sunset, and all the moments in between.
The beautiful poem below was composed by a friend of his mom, Chris, and included in the printed program for his Memorial Mass.
Zachary Monnett Lederer
Some people begin words of remembrance\
by quoting sacred books, or prophets, or great world leaders.
We instead quote the Temptations,
because Zach listened to them and loved them.
And because they seemed to have captured Zach.
In a world that all too often sees heroes fail,
or evil seeming to triumph,
or despair sometimes outpacing hope,
Zach was “sunshine on a cloudy day.”
And, in a stand against the cold, Zach was born in “the month of May!”
Zachary Monnett Lederer, a name that fit this baby, and helped to define the man.
He was named “Lederer” in the strong tradition of his father’s family,
and “Monnett” after a lovely grandmother that his mother adored,
and Zachary because it meant “remembrance of the Lord.”
A beautiful name for a beautiful boy.
Zachary grew up doing the normal things kids seem to do;
He would take Legos and build them into whatever his mind could imagine,
Or take Beast War Transformers and turn them into humans.
There were two skills Zach would use later in life.
He would imagine and build a better world as he transformed lives.
The 1990s brought two females into the world,
two strong feminine influences that would change Zach’s life for the better.
The first was Julia, the sister that Zach loved beyond all measure.
He adored her, and quickly learned what we would all come to know:
the joy, warmth, the friendship, the compassion that is Julia.
Anyone who spent time with them
would see that this was an extraordinary brother and sister,
Each one looking out for the good of the other,
each growing up saying “I love you.”
Each growing into an understanding of what that love would entail.
The other great female
that entered the world in the 1990s
and was introduced to Zach a little bit later
was a hot Navy blue number that went by the name
She was a 1996 Mercedes that Zach loved,
and drove to school every day.
LaFonda took Zach to some of the nicest places in town,
always inviting friends to come and join in the fun,
and the friends always taking Zach and LaFonda up on the invitation.
Zach’s love for his friends knew no bounds,
and his friends remained friends from elementary, middle and high school.
His friends visited Zach, filling hospitals rooms with laughter,
writing words of encouragement,
talking with him about everything and anything.
They drew inspiration from Zach,
gave inspiration to Zach,
but most of all they stayed friends through thick and thin,
and that is a remarkable thing at any age,
but at this age, it was such a gift to Zach and his family.
Zach was one of those guys who “never met a stranger.”
His ability to make people twice his age feel at ease,
or to talk about everything from faith to football,
or to take an interest in your life and about your work
made a person light up on the inside.
The beauty of Zach
is that he took the time to learn from people,
they shaped him, and he returned the favor.
He drew inspiration from working at your side,
or sitting with you in school,
or just striking up a conversation.
Zach inspired and was inspired by a number of people.
His parents who loved him into being,
his sister that was a source of pride for him,
his extended family that surrounded him,
and wrapped him in love.
Zach’s grandparents did what all grandparents do,
they doted on Zach.
What made this relationship of grandson to grandparent so unusual
is that Zach doted on them as well.
When Zach loved you, you knew you were loved.
Zach was inspired by coaches,
who would take time to share their insights,
who would listen to Zach’s ideas about basketball,
who would teach him how to run a drill,
who would support him in his decision to play football.
Zach was all about Sports,
following everyone from John Wooden, the Dean of Westwood,
to Todd Heap who stopped by his room at Hopkins,
to Muhammad Ali, whose life and poetry he admired,
to everyone who donned a University of Maryland uniform.
Zach loved Maryland, he was a Terp through and through.
He was accepted to every college he applied to,
but there was only one acceptance letter he waited for,
one with the return address of College Park
the school he was destined to attend.
The managers’ room at College Park has a mural of Zaching on the wall,
and that is a great honor.
But the greatest honor he had was stepping on the court,
rebounding during a drill,
or shooting encouragement to the guys.
College Park was huge, and Zach loved it,.
But he had a special place in his heart for smaller places as well.
He loved camping…he loved the closeness and security of his family.
He loved walking the Appalachian trail with just his dad,
or sailing with John and Chris and Julia. He loved life on a small scale.
Zach was always exploring, always learning.
He had phenomenal teachers throughout his school years.
These teachers along with his own situation
sparked an interest in Mass Communications, and a major in Journalism,
along with the hopes that someday he would cover the world of Sports.
Zach succeeded in his goal to communicate to the masses.
And what he communicated was far more than the thrill of victory
or the agony of defeat.
What he communicated was a love for life,
an abiding faith in God, and a message of hope.
And he did it in a simple pose
that went around the world,
a pose known as Zaching.
It was a sign of belief in the future,
a sign of hope and strength, a sign of victory.
People Zached in return.
They Zached as a way of saying, “We are thinking of you.”
They Zached on vacation, or on trips,
they were celebrities or friends or colleagues or workers,
they were students or patients or politicians. And they Zached.
People interrupted the rhythm of daily life
to say, we are with you,
we are thinking of you,
we are praying for you,
we too are people of hope.
People with illness, young and old
drew hope and life from Zach,
seeking wisdom from someone who wasn’t old enough to drink a beer,
but had wisdom that people four times his age
fail to possess.
What doubters saw as a living nightmare,
Zach saw as “living the dream.”
And the dream still lives,
The dream Zach lived was a dream
that his wonderful team of Hopkins caregivers would find a cure for others.
He dreamed a dream of love, of hope, of joy,
that we would find in him a goodness that enables each of us
to strive a little harder to be a better person, to be a little bit more like Zach.
When Zach was a little boy,
he used to draw pictures of angels.
When he grew into a man he found that faith sustained him
and he dreamed a dream that we would each find consolation,
each in our own way.
Zach dreamed a dream
that we would be prepared, when the time came,
to carry on, to do the extraordinary and think it was no big deal,
to love, and to have the courage to accept the love of another,
to know that angels would greet him when he slipped into eternal life.
And so, we are left to tell the story.
To tell a story of a young man who touched our lives,
and made us, each of us,
better at being family, better at being friends, better at living the dream;
human beings better at being human.
Tell the story of a guy who was proud to love his family,
could laugh harder than anyone in the room,
who could sit with politicians or plumbers or priests
and come to know them better, leaving them feeling better about themselves.
Zach had a way of listening someone into existence.
So tell the story,
tell the story of his life,
of how his life intersected with yours,
of how he shaped you,
and how you helped to shape him.
The Widom of Sirach tells us that
“faithful friends are a sturdy shelter;
whoever finds one finds a treasure.”
For so long, we were sheltered in the treasure that is Zachary Monnett Lederer.
He is living the dream,
we are left to tell the story about the guy who is and will always be
“sunshine on a cloudy day.”
More than a week has passed since Zach took his last breath on this earth. His memorial mass will be offered today.
With each passing day, I become more acutely aware of just how deep and wide is the inspiration he spread in his 20 years.
Sometimes I scroll through his tweets from January of 2012 through the end of 2013 when he stopped tweeting. There are so many, it would be easy to become overwhelmed and not see them clearly. I find that scrolling through in soft focus leaves me with a deep, warm, loving feeling.
Give it a try if you like. If it is overwhelming, we have our own reveries.
Peace and Love,
HOWARD COUNTY CONCERT ORCHESTRA
SUNDAY, MARCH 23, 4 PM
St. John’s Episcopal Church
9120 FREDERICK ROAD, ELLICOTT CITY, MD 21042
Ron Mutchnik, music director of the orchestra, remembers reading that Zach's two favorite musicians or musical groups are Mozart and the Temptations. Sunday's concert will be an all Mozart concert. Ron said that they are dedicating the concert to Zach.
What a magnificently beautiful way for his beautiful spirit to continue on.
Thank you, Ron.
On Tuesday, March 11, 2014, at 5:15 pm, Zachary Monnett Lederer took his last breath on this earth. His loving parents, Christine and John, were standing one on each side of his bed. I arrived from Annapolis literally one minute after and joined them by Zach’s bedside.
John told me that he had not seen Zach shed one tear during these 26 months since he learned cancer had returned to his brain. I added that I had heard not one complaint come from Zach as his body gradually weakened, and John agreed. I believe it was Zach’s specific intent to live his life to the end with dignity and serve as an inspiration to all of us that we can bear whatever life brings us, and bear it with joy. He succeeded beyond belief.
Zach and I had many conversations about what happens after we die. We both “knew” as distinguished from “believed” that we would continue on in some form.
For years I have searched for words to express what my soul tells me occurs after our bodies leave this earth, and then on Wednesday, Father Richard Frechette, a friend of my mom’s who runs orphanages and a hospital in Haiti, sent me a message including the words of a Christian monk from the past: "when we die we lose neither our awareness nor our understanding, rather, our awareness becomes as wide as the sky and our understanding as deep as the sea."
Zach and I loved walking along the seashore together marveling at the sky and sea. This week Zach has been with me in the sunrise each morning and in the sunset each evening.
Before turning in at night I have gone out on the top deck off of our bedroom. The stars have been shining brilliantly through the white clouds illuminated by the moon and moving swiftly through the sky. I talk to Zach at these times about what a blessing it is to be his grandma.
More than once during the past year Zach has told me "the moment I die will be the most beautiful moment of my life." He has now experienced that most beautiful moment and his beautiful soul has moved on to eternity with awareness and understanding.
Peace and Love,
Zach’s memorial mass service will be held on Friday, March 21st at 3 pm, at Church of the Resurrection, 3155 Paulskirk Drive, Ellicott City, Md 21042
Zach has been in home hospice for more than six weeks now. He continues to rest mostly peacefully. Lloyd and I drive home from Annapolis most days to spend a half hour or so by his bed. I find such a deep sense of peace there.
We had another week of beautiful snow followed by sleet and rain here in Annapolis. Scores of middies from the Naval Academy were walking the streets, snow shovels in hand, clearing away obstructed areas. Once again the accumulation was significantly less than back home in Columbia. Now today -- gorgeous sunshine.
Lloyd and I drove home each afternoon to visit Zach. Sunday marks five weeks that he has been in home hospice. He continues to rest mostly peacefully under the constant attention, care, and love of Chris and John. Family and friends continue to come by; weekends are the time for Zach's devoted friends from Centennial High and University of Maryland.
I continue to experience a deep peace standing by Zach's bedside, lightly resting a hand on his shoulder, knee, or forehead. Zach's mere presence exudes love.
This has been a cold week here in Annapolis, though not nearly as icy as back home in Columbia. Lloyd and I drove home most evenings to see Zach. He continues to rest mostly peacefully and is constantly in our hearts, whether we are in Annapolis or home.
We look forward to being back in Columbia for the weekend.
Zach is completing another week in home hospice. His parents lovingly care for him personally with hospice workers coming three times a week to help.
Zach is resting peacefully most of the time. I continue to love standing by his bedside with one hand resting softly on his shoulder and another on his knee. I talk to him some about all I have learned from him -- none greater than to love life -- every minute of it.
Zach's dad recently received a phone call from a radio station wanting to dedicate an hour of music to Zach and requesting some of his favorites. John replied, " That's easy -- The Temptations and Mozart." I believe those musical preferences provide a clear insight into Zach’s approach to life.
Last weekend Lloyd and I prepared a big pot of chili to celebrate his 80th birthday. Throughout all the chopping of peppers and onions and stirring the pot, Mozart was wafting throughout our home. Zach was cooking with us.
Many of you have lovingly inquired as to whether there is anything you can do for Zach or his family. Pray for him in whatever way you pray. I so clearly recall Zach's telling me at Johns Hopkins Hospital in January of 2012 shortly after we had learned that his brain cancer had returned after a respite of eight years, “Grandma, if you want to know what you can do for me, what I really want most is for you to be happy." So I now pass that answer on to you from Zach.
In last week's Columbia Flier, Stan Berr titled his weekly column, "Zach Lederer continues to provide inspiration..." and ended with these words, “the spirit that is Zach Lederer can never die." Stan speaks for me and so many others.