Speech from Eric Zucker’s Memorial (speech)

Mark Zucker’s speech from the memorial:

As everyone knows, Eric Zucker was larger than life. He was a great man, a phenomenal friend, a beautiful brother, a devoted son, a loving husband, and a doting father. But what I want to say, lest we forget, is that Eric was a clown and a scalawag; he made a spectacle of himself; he had absolutely no sense of boundaries. He wore his heart on his sleeve, on both sleeves, it poured out of him, and it got all over everyone. And we’ll never get it off, thank goodness.

He was a rascal. When I was learning to speak, he’d point at a fork and say “cat”, my first koan, and I learned something: you couldn’t always believe every word Eric said; but you always felt the essential truths and love that underlay his tall tales. Except that time I gave a report in school on the dinosaurs that still exist right over that hill; when challenged, I swore up and down I’d gotten it from an absolute authority, my brother. Or those two years he swore repeatedly that he stayed up every night until I was asleep, before climbing out the window to be a secret agent with the Mod Squad. He got me every time.

Eric was a rapscallion and a raconteur. I’d hear other people retelling “stories” from our childhood. Stories. Doozies. Complete fabrications! Myths! Yes, Eric mythologized the world, and thereby gave meaning to the world. He stretched the truth in the service of higher truths. Virtually everything I believe, value, and treasure, and the lion’s share of all the literature and music and art I love was filtered through Eric’s myth-making. And those most crucial of myths that our parents raised us on, of compassion, truth, beauty, justice, and love, were made real in his life through his committed actions, and he made them accessible to us all with his humor. He showed me how to live and laugh as a committed Marxist; Karl and Groucho, of course.

Eric was larger than life, and he had a peculiar genius for people. Every time I used to visit him, he’d be having a huge party. I didn’t get it at the time. I just wanted some intimate time with my brother, but later I realized, those people were 60 of Eric’s most intimate friends, and he felt it essential to introduce me to each of them with a heroic flourish that was frankly embarrassing. Eric’s inner circle basically encompassed the entire universe, and each lucky member was rendered a virtual superhuman glowing with the myths he spun.

Eric made himself scandalously at home in other people’s personal space. Eric had no shame. The way he danced with other people’s wives made me blush. He had no sense of boundaries. He played the fool, but in the classic sense; to unmask the foolishness of the conventional life, and to urge us to live more fully, to share love more freely, to work at our convictions more earnestly, and to make us laugh and let down our guard, to feel the love and joy of human connection, so we could then commit anew, refreshed to do the serious work of life.

Eric was a wanton idealist. Listen carefully, children: First, you can change the world and you must. Second, you can make love and you must. Third, you can appreciate and create beauty, and you must. Standing on the shoulders of our forebears, Eric transmitted these essential truths to me, and he was the living, breathing embodiment of them.

Eric was my touchstone. We always shared a bedroom, and I often used to climb into his bed at night and tell him about my bad dreams when I was a kid. Once, years later, far away, I dreamt that a chicken I was cooking attacked me, so I wrenched it off my neck and stabbed it with a fork, right through the chicken, right through the palm of my hand. When I woke up, all alone in a cabin in a New Hampshire forest, I walked a mile to a phone to tell Eric. He’d understand. Well, now there’s no one to tell. There’s no one to get our jokes. Eric, you knew what no one knew, about us, Max and Betty, our family, where we come from, how our dog Molly sat on our feet around the dinner table while we heard the stories that made us what we are. Now it’s only me, but like you screamed to me through the phone years ago we are ‘blood brothers in a stormy night with a vow to defend’, and I vow, big brother, best brother ever, I’ll keep our stories alive, because they make life worth living, and I’ll keep doing the good work in life, inspired by the way I watched you make the world a better place. Our parents raised us right, and they would have been so proud…

Eric, you never did have any sense of boundaries, and you still don’t. You were and you are larger than life. Even death cannot stop your ripple from spreading. May it become a wave to transform the world.

Mark Zucker


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