She graduated UNC Charlotte in 2012. She was an irrepressible student. Precocious, and very funny. She described herself as a little wacky.
She had a droll way of speaking about herself; One day, she came to me with notes on a major project she had started for another class. She made wry comments about feeling overwhelmed.
I asked her to explain the project. I looked at her notes.
“Sarah,” I told her with mock sternness, “this is completely out of control.”
She sighed. “I knew you would say that, Dr. Thiede,” she said. “I just knew it.”
“Let’s get to work,” I said, and we did. We spent about an hour tightening up the project’s parameters, finding out what she really wanted to say, and making sure she could demonstrate that she knew a thing or two.
Sarah majored in German and International Studies and she minored in Judaic Studies. She took courses in Judaism and in antisemitism with me; she researched the Holocaust. She decided to study abroad in Germany. Before she left, I asked her to keep in touch.
One day, she wrote me this:
Germany is amazing and awesome.I never want to leave, but the reason I’m emailing you is because of an incident that has left me shaken. I don’t know how to react or why I’m so unprepared. This past weekend, two of my friends and I rode the S-Bahn into Stuttgart, and as we were nearing the Hauptbahnhof, all of a sudden this guy stands up and begins yelling (swearing) at this woman, and begins to push her and he punches her twice, saying she can go to hell with the Jews, and he ranted fuck Jews, etc.. The woman was scared and kept saying to him it’s no reason to get upset… There were about eight other grown German men… not one of them batted an eyelash, just ignored it as if it wasn’t happening. I wanted to do something, I was tiny compared to this guy and I was paralyzed with fear and rage and turned to my guy friend and told him to do something. He got up and walked back there, guided the lady to sit with us… I know we’ve studied this, and I know hatred of Jews still exists, but it left me unprepared for that, and I’m unsettled and somewhat ashamed that I sat there.… nobody did anything or said anything. I’m stunned that this could be tolerated in Germany of all places.
I don’t know what to say or why emailing you, I guess just to vent. I’m so stunned and shocked, I can’t just ignore stuff like this, but I don’t know how I’m supposed to react either. I don’t want to be personal or rude, but have you ever experienced this, if so, how do you respond?
Sarah is not Jewish. But she had learned about human horrors. She cared – deeply – about the world.
I don’t have my reply to Sarah, though my computer tells me I wrote one. But now, I know, I will keep every reply I write.
Last week, Sarah called me from Houston. She told me she had been diagnosed with fourth-stage colon cancer. Sarah is 23.
She was worried about her family and her boyfriend, she said. She had lost an aunt to colon cancer two years ago; a grandparent died of the same disease. She had flown to Houston to see a particular surgeon, a specialist of some sort. He wouldn’t operate, she told me. His advice: Try chemo and come back to see him in six months if she was still alive.
She said: “I am frightened. I don’t want to die.” She said: “I’m sorry to ruin your day like this.”
No, no, I wanted to say. You called; I answered. Two human beings, connected by the simplest of facts. Two human beings, connected.
I am not going to pretend otherwise to anyone – even to Sarah. I am scared. I am scared I won’t say or do the things that would be perfect and right. I am scared because her youth hits home: Sarah was born when I was five months pregnant with my son, Erik.
Sarah’s boyfriend’s name is Eric.
We spoke, she cried. She stopped herself crying, cried again.
That night I found an internet site on gofundme (http://www.gofundme.com/duckcoloncancer). Sarah had put the site up when the first diagnosis had been made, just a few weeks before she called me. At that point, her cancer was third-stage. Sarah needed money to see more specialists.
I wrote to faculty members and asked them to spread the news. I am writing this for the same reason.
Here is what Sarah needs now: To try everything she can. This is her right. I will help with that.
To readers, then, if you can and feel so moved: Please visit that site and make a donation.
To Sarah: I will walk with you however you decide you need my presence. That’s a vow.
To the Ruach Ha’olam: Help me walk.