A Father's Eulogy

by Adam Price

Pete Seeger told this anecdote about a young Viet Nam war protester  and a business man. The conservatively clad man, asked  “do you really think you can change the world,” to which the long-haired  protester responded “No, but I can keep it from changing me.”

Sam was not just an idealistic college student who believed in social justice.  Her desire for tikkun olam, to repair the world, was very personal, fervent, and at times even desperate. She just could not give enough of herself, but tragically, would not let anyone help her.  I know how much her friends here and at Oberlin tried. Oberlin provided Sam with such an accepting and safe community that allowed her to explore so much of who she was.

Tragically, and unlike that protester, Sam could not protect herself from the world’s pain. Her sensitivity, her internal struggle, the intensity of her feelings was more than she could bare. As one friend wrote “I’m sorry this earth was not ready to receive your light.”

I am hear to tell you this morning that the rate of suicide attempts amongst transgender and gender non-conforming people it is 41%. I mistakenly thought that because Sam’s family accepted her unconditionally, we would be spared this fate. In June, for example, just three months after Sam came out to us, she attended my mother-in-law’s 85th birthday party dressed as a woman.  Her grandfather Ben immediately approached Sam, hugged her, and said “I love you no matter what.” And then there was the night that Sam’s high school friends gathered at our house, (these friends who, by the way seemed to live at our house) and Sam welcomed them in a dress. I was anxious to see their reactions, particularly the boys Jon, Cameron and Ben. I can tell you they did not miss a beat, and acted as if nothing had changed. This acceptance became even more meaningful when Sam later told me she had not even told them she was transgender. Dear, dear friends of Sam—please know that just as before our door will always be unlocked for you, and our ping pong table available for another tournament, or whatever other games you might have played on it. 

Tragically, though we were not on the good side of that statistic. And Sam’s death can not be reduced simply to her struggle with gender. 

However, as we sat vigil beside Sam’s hospital bed in Cleveland, surrounded by family, friends, and an amazing staff of nurses and doctors, and as I recited the prayer for healing, the misaberach, over and over, one sentence stuck. 

Mi shebeirach avoteinu
M'kor hab'racha l'imoteinu
May the source of strength,
Who blessed the ones before us,
Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing

Sam was one of those rare people who had the courage to make her life a blessing. She did so in ways too countless to recall here. Beth told you about one way- she always gave money to the homeless. I, myself, only recently took up this practice, always believing that it was better to give to charity. However, a friend’s comment changed my mind. She knows her change may not help, and will probably be spent on booze or drugs. However, in giving, a barrier is removed, and she can see this person like any other person, as someone in need of caring and respect. Sam instinctively knew this, Sam could not tolerate any barriers between her humanity and another beings.

And so I ask this of you-just once, and in your own small way please challenge yourself to let down a barrier you hold-  there are so many “us” and “thems”. It may be as simple as giving a homeless person a dollar. And when you do so, let it change you, just a little bit. Do it for Sam. This world desperately needs tolerance, and not just of the LGBTQ community.  You know letters keeping being added to that acronym, I just heard LGBTQA. Sam would probably have wanted us to just use A-Z for all of humanity: I for  immigrants, M for Muslims, and R for refugees, P for Palestinian, J for Jew.

Towards this goal, we have established the Sam and Devorah Foundation for Transgender People. It is my wife’s brainchild, and our dream, to create a home for transgender youth, a place where they can feel safe, and receive love & support. Thanks to some angels, Nina Greenberg, Eric Price, Lisa Pechter, and Sasha Ramone we received a 501(c)3 status on Friday, the day after Sam died, and already have a website up and running to receive donations: samanddevorah.org. Info is in the lobby.

And finally, to my beloved wife and son Jonah I have a few words. Beth, I know that you, like Sam do not like to be in the limelight. And like me, you do not want to be told right now that we were wonderful parents. I just want to thank you for giving me the thing I wanted most in this world, two children, and for loving them as much as you did, and as much as you will continue to do. And to Jonah, you above anyone else accepted Sam. As we told you, Mom fought with Nina and I with Eric growing up, but they are now are  amongst the people will hold most dear. I saw that shift begin with you and Sam as you became young adults,  know it would have flourished, and am so sorry that you are robbed of it.