Her Name was Sara Lubin

At a neighborhood party not long ago, I heard a woman talk about the scientific and medical research that her company published. It turned out that there was a new article on a rare genetic condition that I inherited, and I asked if I could get a copy. No, she said, not even if I paid for it. These break-through research papers were only made available to institutions, and only to those institutions that paid a hefty annual subscription.

I pay homage to Aaron Swartz, whose suicide under the threat of 35 years in prison opened our eyes to the mockery of such scientific secrecy. He was only 27, and his sin was to protest against the Internet Censorship bills now before congress.

I grew up in an era of secrets. Cancer was never mentioned by name. For most of my life I never knew the name of my paternal grandmother, who died in childbirth in Eastern Europe. Although her husband and six children moved to America shortly afterward, not one of them ever mentioned her name. She had been wiped out of existence, squashed like a lady bug. To me it felt as though a limb had been lopped off of the family tree. If you look at our blog this month, it is not only about sauerkraut, but it takes us back to the ancient Romans, who felt that being forgotten was a fate worse than execution.

Who was she? What did she dream of, hope for, aspire to? Her only sin was that of obedience, to the grey-haired bush-bearded wise men in her Russian community dictating that she constantly bear children until her body simply gave out.

There are those who defy tradition or question orders. Reinhold Niebuhr, as Chris Hedges reminds us, lauded those who defy repression, whose "sublime madness" illuminate a world that only artists and visionaries, and sometimes madmen, can foresee. It is not so much that they desire this vision as that they are possessed by it. There are songs that beg to be sung, poems that yearn to be written, art that demands to be seen. These people have been chosen in some obscure cosmic lottery to let the music soar, to "sound their barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world". (1)

Recently a Catholic priest refused to kiss the ring of orthodoxy. He published an article claiming that the priesthood may not have originated with Jesus. In his view, "it is more likely that some time after Jesus, a select and privileged group within the commuity who had abrogated power and authority to themselves, interpreted the occasion of the last supper in a manner that suited their own agenda".

Why do we insist that some of us are better than others? Why do we not allow the fresh air of rebellion to awaken our souls? What is, after all, so threatening about divergent viewpoints when their aim is not to harm but to share insights? The Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei recently put up an installation at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. to honor the thousands of children killed in a huge earthquake in China in 2008. He felt that you honor them by naming them. Ordinary citizens helped him seek out the names and ages of the 5,000 children who died in that calamity. For that effort he was severely beaten and had to undergo brain surgery. He is known as a "dissident artist", an honorable name in itself. (2)

Unexpectedly, I found out that my grandmother's name was Sara Lubin. Here is what I know of the world she inhabited, from a distant cousin who spoke of it years later: "You weren't allowed out from Russia. You had to go to the underworld agents. On the way we slept in the wilderness until we came to Rotterdam. We were sleeping in bushes and we were sleeping in forests with snakes. It took us maybe three months to get to America. We were on the bottom of the boat and I was vomiting the whole trip. I looked like a little green horn....In Russia we had our own cow, our own garden and grew vegetables for our own use....I liked it better (in New York) because in Russia we were always frightened there, always you see somebody with the shiny buttons and you get scared."

At first I thought her name was Sara Linden. In Europe, I discovered, linden trees are famous for living long lives, even for centuries. Its wood is used for intricate carving, for sculpture, and for musical instruments. Herbalists used it as an anti-inflammatory agent, while the double- flowered species produce aromatic perfumes. But then I remembered T. S. Eliot's admonition about naming: that it should be an "ineffable effable effanineffable deep and inscrutable singular name." Perhaps humans are like Eliot's cats, who have their own name that "no human research can discover: but the cat himself knows and will never confess". (3)

Adam Swartz got scared by the thought of 35 years in a yet-to-be-named prison, sentenced by bullies in shiny buttons. Here's one Facebook/Instagram demand that scares me as much as, or maybe more than, shiny buttons: these sites are now locking some people out of their accounts until they provide government-issued photo id's.

Sara Lubin did as she was admonished, and did it again, and again, and again, until it finally killed her. Perhaps she might have been a poet, a painter, a full-throated soprano. I only know that without her I might not be here.

I salute her in silent thanks for her courage. I am proud to know her name and shout it to the rooftops.

Her name was Sara Lubin.

c. Corinne Whitaker 2013

Notes: (1) quote from Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass"

(2)Ai Weiwei's exhibition is called "According to What?".

(3)T. S. Eliot's "The Naming of Cats" is found at "All Poetry".