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Speech by Vivian Sobel at the 2015 run


    What is life?
    It is the flash of a firefly in the night.
    It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.
    It is the little shadow which runs across the grass
    and loses itself in the sunset.
            ---Crowfoot, Blackfoot Warrior and Orator, 1890


I begin with a quote that Julia carried with her, written in her own handwriting on a loose sheet of paper in her handbag. Julia was an avid reader, writer, and collector of inspiring thoughts. Among her possessions were many journals stuffed with sundry scraps of paper scribbled with cherished passages, and dog-eared books whose pages were covered with highlights, underlines, and notes in the margins. As I struggled to come up with a few words to say on the day of the run, she provided me with an introduction. The Julia Run for me is an event that is simultaneously exhilarating, heart-warming and painful. This is the day when I am forced to open up the box that I keep buried and locked away so that I can maintain a sense of composure. As I look through photos of Julia for inspiration, I am flooded with love and an overwhelming sense of familiarity. The past comes hurtling into the present, and forces me to confront it. I am struck by the realization that in order to cope with my loss and shield myself from pain, I often deny myself the gift of remembering and connecting with a person who continues to inspire me through her wisdom and love.

Even when Julia was alive, I would think of her during our times of separation with incredulity. Did such a person really exist— was my life blessed with such an otherwordly being? My sister made her presence felt in the gentlest of ways. She was not only a great listener, but someone who reflected deeply on the experiences of others. When people confided in her, she would respond with words that were not meant to give advice as much as to give insight and understanding. She thought before she spoke and acted, to the point that her indecisiveness used to drive me crazy. She was afraid of imposing on her friends and family. She was a free spirit, and the idea of making someone act in any way against their own will was abhorrent to her.

I often picture Julia when I am being pushed to my physical limits; I imagine she is with me while I run or bike. A vision of Julia sails across my thoughts like a beacon, and my heart surges with the love I still feel for her, and which she felt for me. Julia inspires me to push against the pain, to breathe deeply, to move my legs faster. I remember sitting up in the bleachers of the Armory Track & Field Center in New York City circa 1994 to watch my teenage sister at a meet, flashing by below me, gracefully overtaking the other runners, and winning the sprint. I was brimming with both pride and disbelief. How could I be related to this person? Her speed and agility amazed me given the slowpoke that I had always been. The images that flash in my mind of Julia are of a young person with beautiful olive skin and a head of thick, wavy honey-colored hair. As I get visibly older, Julia remains youthful. The gap between our physical beings widens, but she is the part of my heart that will never grow old. She is the part of me that is full of hope and optimism. Julia inspires me to look forward and to believe in the goodness of others.

My parents and I would like to thank all of you for getting out of bed early on a Sunday morning to attend the 16th Annual Julia’s Run for Children in remembrance of my sister. You cannot imagine how moved we are to see all of you assembling on Cross Campus Lawn, and running together through the very streets that were once traversed by Julia’s feet on many an inspiring and thoughtful run. You are supporting a cause that was close to Julia’s heart. Julia, who barely had a chance to be an adult, loved children, and felt that childhood was something to protect and cherish. Throughout her short young adult life, she devoted herself to children’s causes through her work at LEAP, the Yale Peace Games, the Children’s Defense Center, the Children’s Law Center, and the Fresh Air Fund. I feel such joy to see the future generations-- my own children, who sadly never had the chance to meet their aunt, my friends’ children, Julia’s friends’ children, LEAP children, neighborhood children and college students from Yale and around New Haven—gathering today to run together, to celebrate life, and to remember Julia.


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