You may have heard the story of Michal Lura Friedman, who lost her life on Friday, November 25, due to complications from a c-section. Michal was a friend to many, not least of all in Halifax, NS, and its Shambhala Buddhist practice community. Here, friend Edward Boyce remembers Michal, and provides a link so that you can pitch in to give much-needed help to the newborn twins and husband who survive her.
My earliest memory of Michal Friedman is of her walking into a dusty, hot tent at summer camp and effortlessly lighting the place up with her laughter and beauty. She then sat down next to the coolest guy in camp who, duh, of course she was going out with. But then Michal did something that showed her true colors, and that over time I came to view as the gold-standard of conduct for dharma brats: she made the group of younger kids in the tent feel welcome.
I was nine and she was fifteen. When you are nine, that six-year gap feels like the yawning mouth of a social black-hole. The power she had to exclude or include can’t be overstated; but Michal would always snuggle and talk to us “binkies” without even thinking twice about it. Later, as I came to know her three sisters, and her father Ken, I understood that Michal came from a very special family. A family that mixed their wit and intelligence with their hearts and wore the result with a casual drape. They all found their unique way to do it, but the four Friedman sisters forged a bond of elegance that was legendary in the Buddhist community they grew up in. They spanned enough different ages that there weren’t many boys who didn’t have a crush on a Friedman. And for us kids, their dad Ken was one of the rare, rare people who spoke about Dharma in a way that let a nine-year-old own it for their own. My childhood dharma friends still quote lines from his Sun Camp talks.
Michal was at ease in her community but she always had that “bigger than here” vibe about her. Yet I think she also struggled with the ambition vs. contentment paradox that second generation Buddhists often face. It’s like this: you’ve been given these incredible teachings at an early age, and they work, but they basically rail against everything the modern world values. How to proceed?
Michal went forth very bravely. She valued her art and its expression in the world, and she valued her path and her teacher’s words.
I was very impressed when she pulled up stakes and moved to New York City to begin the step-by-step work of establishing herself in the music community there. The sacrifices and determination that it takes to be a legitimate player in the New York arts scene are not small.
Michal did the work, and had the talent. She found her unique voice, then proclaimed through her words and music the wisdom she’d gathered, and she enjoyed the fans that rallied to her. She earned her way into the ranks of the serious musicians that make up that vibrant scene.
And it seemed that often when I crossed paths with her in the last few years she was talking about going off to a dharma program. Or doing a weekend retreat in the city. She was a dedicated student of the dharma, and as someone who had known her since childhood, I saw the effects. She had become softer, and seemed to be balancing that paradox of renunciation and worldly attainment well. And this was reflected back in her personal relationships. She had met and married a stellar man (which is no small feat in New York City).
As a couple, Michal Friedman and Jay Snyder were straight out of your favorite romantic movie. They looked fun, they were fun, and as Jay has written so eloquently, they both knew they were onto something rarefied and very good.
When they took the stage at a friend’s wedding two years ago to do some karaoke, it was like someone dropped a pair of whale sized fish into a guppy pond. They had a special wattage that their talent, and shared love for each other, was radiating outward like mellow heat.
Jay sang Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days” and I remember Michal smiling with easy love at her man as he subtly directed the words to her:
“Take your baby by the hand.. . . and you need her and she needs you.”
Everyone knew they had been trying very hard to have children. So there was a lot of joy surrounding the announcement that Michal was pregnant with twins. Decades of beautiful, fruition-filled years were right there on the horizon.
In my mind Michal was a woman who had done the hard work. She kept working on herself as a practitioner. She took the big artistic risks and wasn’t living with complacent regrets. She met a loving partner who could match her open-hearted spark and they were ready to share their knowledge with a new generation.
When the news of Michal’s death came out of New York City, it ripped across the Buddhist community in a crashing, brutal wave of sadness, swiftly knocking down the concept of what life promises, and leaving a bewildering ache. Great teachers close to her and her family, Dzongsar Khentsye and Mipham Rinpoche, were floored by the news. It hit a reset button in the collective psyche that everyone is still trying to compute.
That’s not supposed to happen. That can’t be right.
Michal died suddenly after giving birth to her beautiful and healthy twins, Reverie and Jackson. These babies now find themselves with a single parent, the great love of Michal’s life, Jay.
It’s a tragedy of Dickensian proportions and it was quickly picked up by some major news outlets. The New York Daily News channeled the fist-shaking unfairness of it all in their coverage. FoxNews.com called the story heartbreaking. Closer to home, elephantjournal.com put together a comprehensive tribute page. Facebook was abuzz as the news reverberated and friends and strangers alike began the ongoing, and dearly needed, support effort through donations.
For her dharmic peers, I feel that Michal’s death is a rupture in the shared spiritual fabric that will not heal quickly. Something changed.
I can already feel the outlines of a scar that will be hard to ignore and that will continue to push through the numbing comforts of the day-to-day. And really, most simply, I can’t believe I won’t hear Michal the Girl sing for us again.