Grounds for Sculpture

Grounds for Sculpture

Friday, March 31, 2017

First Do No Harm

I always stood first in line when it came to size order. I was called every name under the sun about my size but the world through my view was keen. 

There was always change in my grandfather’s pockets. CERTS in my step- father’s. I could only see the sky through the crowd when we went to the Feast of San Gennaro. But the best of all, I stood as high as Dr. J’s knees when I met him and I was so proud to shake his hand, standing “tall.”

My step- mother was someone who was entirely unpredictable and though I was a considered a “runt,” I vowed to protect myself at an early age. 

What I didn’t understand then, was that she was the one who needed protecting.

She threatened to kill herself regularly. And in so doing, she tried to kill little pieces of my young self through her language and her lashings. 

She waged a war inside my family. One that had begun 40 years earlier in my father’s motherland. It was a wound that I alone was determined to repair no matter the cost.
As a child I could not comprehend the violence. The drugs. The alcohol. The assaults. But when my father crossed over, something opened in me so unbearably deep.

This woman had been my father’s consigliere for over 25 years and was the last person to hear him breathe. They were both suffering. They held something sacred that I knew nothing of. And the truth is, she was lost. 

Love was the higher law. 

I became her lifeline for 3 months and then she took her own life.

Today I was shopping for groceries and on one of the shelves there was an open box cutter. I placed it on one of my canvas re-usable bags and brought it to customer service. I told them where I had found it and said I didn’t want anyone to get hurt. “First do no harm is a rule I live by.” I said.

I thought about all of those I knew who had taken their own lives. All who had tried. All who could have stolen that sharp blade in a moment of desperation. All who don’t have someone to call or run to in such a moment. 

I bowed to the losses. I bowed to the love. I cried to and for the grieving. I sang for the living. 

Years ago, a colleague of mine wrote something that I have carried with me since my father crossed over. How poignant that it was about death. Today, I find it more powerful and relevant than ever:

“You asked me in your last letter, ‘Is there ever an end to mourning? Are we ever finished with our grief?’

Lately I’ve come to think there is. It happens in a moment of recognition, we find something of the lost person in ourselves and suddenly we feel stronger, wiser, more human.

There is still much silence in me but I am no longer frightened by it.
We must continue to write about life, not death, and, in the weeks and months to come, God willing, there will be much to tell.” Maureen Carey

This is for all of us. For anyone you know who may be in struggle. 

Let love be the sacred law.


Jill Bacharach

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