Chana Cox created her legacy as she lived: she wrote, passionately, reflexively, and with deep intellectual rigor.
I have endless childhood memories of waking up in the morning and finding my way to my mother’s room. She would be at her desk and typing, at a speed that always impressed the heck out of me – typing with a rapidity and controlled violence that always reminded me of continuous machine-gun fire. And in some cases, it was – she could write devastating critiques that were designed to demolish millenia of built-up intellectual fortifications.
And she typed with a single-mindedness that locked out the outside world: this is a woman who could always create entire multiverses in her head, who was so at home with ideas and the written word that they were like an addiction: my mother needed to create with words as much as most people need to eat or sleep. And you can see the brilliance leap out of the page. In fact, I encourage you to do so – pick anything she has written, and read it. It is the best way to honor her legacy.
So a review of Chana Cox’s life is, in part, a Book Review. So here is mine: I still read her book on Plato, Reflections on the Logic of the Good, whenever I need some brain candy. A world-famous Rabbi in London once said to me, about Mom’s devastating critique on Plato: “did you understand her book? Because I could not – it was too hard.” But he should have understood it, because it is beautifully written: she took one of the most influential thinkers of all time, and she absolutely tears him apart, till there is nothing left to do but laugh (or cry) that so many people were deceived for so long. Plato’s ideas lead to most forms of totalitarianism, including the Marxism that killed well over a hundred million people, as well as eugenics and racial purity: Plato was the ultimate grandfather of both Lenin and Hitler. Ideas matter. If only Chana Cox had lived before those foolish and evil ideas propagated. Her ideas could have saved millions of lives – and they could still save countless lives in the future. That is quite a legacy!
I hope that more people read what she wrote, and her ideas continue to spread – because there are (and always will be) many things in the world that would be better if they were exposed to my mother’s wisdom. Here is a link!
My mother taught us kids how to think. She taught us to be unafraid of being intellectually inferior to anyone else: we were BERNIKERS and that meant, to her, that we possessed a unique cranial superiority to everyone else on the planet, by virtue of being a descendant from her family. It was a fierce Litvakish pride, a kind of genetic superiority complex. And while it may have been overstated to some extent, there is no doubt that all of her surviving children make our way in this world because of our minds, our ability and willingness to truly think differently.
When we struggled, she helped. And she was the single most important teacher of my life. I am not ashamed to admit that my mother basically wrote my college essay. It is no wonder it worked. And she helped me with paper after paper, critiquing and aiding, and sometimes writing more than a little. She always worried that if she carried me, then I would not learn to walk by myself – and I am pleased that it worked out for the best. Chana Cox taught me how to write, which is to say, she taught me how to think.
And she has done it for many others – from her students to her grandchildren, calling Nana Chana for advice on a paper was to be exposed to brilliant insight.
My mother could learn anything. When the company needed a metallurgist, Chana Cox became one. When Lewis and Clark College needed someone to teach political theory, or classes in the business school, or philosophy, or English – Chana Cox could (and did). I learned from her that with a liberal arts education and a Berniker mind, anyone could learn and do anything it is possible for a human being to do. And I saw, in the eyes of my father, the belief that Chana Cox could be anything, because HE believed it. She was enabled and encouraged by those around her, a marriage in which she grew and grew.
But Chana Cox, despite her brilliance and books, was also my mother. And as a mother, she possessed a fierce Mama Bear strength that you could hardly believe. This is a woman who would do anything at all to protect her cubs; I never had a moment’s hesitation of it, in my entire life. It means a lot to a kid to have a mother like that, someone who would take on anyone, anytime and anywhere if it meant defending her own. What a blessing for all of us.
Her legacy is found in whom she leaves behind. A husband. Four loving and creative children. A great many grandchildren, k9ehora. And the intellectual DNA of which she was so proud, as well as her financial conservatism, which she is proudest of having passed on to Joseph, and Nechama, and her oldest children, Geula and Atniel, in turn. (I was always a disappointment to her on this score.) Chana Cox was fiercely proud of each grandchild, protective of all they were. And she did it without judging, or taking sides. It is something that I aspire to being able to do at some point.
A hesped for my mother is not complete without understanding, just a bit, about her complex and deep and incredible marriage with my father. I doubt that two such ill-suited people have ever made a marriage work as well as they have. But they pushed each other, and never hesitated to use what the military calls asymmetrical tactics. In other words, they pushed in very different ways, since they had very different tools. For all of her brilliance, my father’s force of will would often win out.
For example, my father would come back from a business trip, and pick up a few total strangers on the plane – and invite them to join us for Shabbos dinner. He would tell them that it was no problem at all – that his wife would be delighted, of course! If he had the chance, he would call first, so she would get an hour’s warning before guests descended. Often she did not even get that.
And yet: she certainly rose to the challenge. I reckon she put on surprise dinners hundreds of times, for all kinds of people. She hated not having warning, but Chana Cox was a Jewish mother, and she loved feeding people. So everytime we had surprise guests, she was angry – but still loved it.
Even when the guests were scheduled in advance, we knew we were in for a treat. We kids used to dance around the house, “We have company! We have company!” And my parents would host all these wonderful guests, and then retire to the living room… where my mother would practice the Yiddish tradition of storytelling – wonderful, rich, beautiful stories. The fondest memories of my childhood were of my parents telling stories to guests, stories we loved, both old and new. Stories of Idaho, and people they knew, and crazy things they saw or did.
For my mother, in that tradition, stories were a way of making an argument, of helping someone see the depth in a certain perspective. It is also why she wrote fiction and plays, a way of touching people through much more than mere argument. It is a gift she has passed on to Joseph, of whom she was incredibly proud, the purest inheritor of her profound intellectual abilities.
Actually, she was fiercely proud of all of her children and grandchildren. She found a way to see the good in so many.
Mom’s desire to be hospitable was real, however much she hated being ambushed with a dozen guests an hour before Shabbos. My parents over the years took in countless children, a rolling open foster home for all kids who needed to be somewhere else. This is not an easy thing to do. We had relatives and friends and total strangers come into the home, and my parents would have them for as long as they (or their parents) wanted to stay. It was an incredible investment in the rest of the world.
In my childhood, this meant others would come in, out of their own worlds, into our specific environment. We got to meet new people, and sometimes live in fear of them. Those guests sometimes kept us on our toes, but it also meant that we were participating in the mitzvos, the good deeds, of our parents. It was a blessing to see how my parents saw every stray as an opportunity to invest in someone. I never even saw them hesitate – they reflexively committed to taking anyone who needed a home.
She believed in each and every one of these kids. She saw hope in them that nobody else – least of all the kids themselves – did. She saved so very many lives, and improved so many others.
And years later, my own daughter, Hadassah at the age of 14, moved to Oregon to be with my parents. She lived with them for two whole years, finishing high school before moving onto a nursing program. My daughter gained a second (and in many ways a primary) set of parents in my parents. It was THEIR relationship; I see it from the outside in. And that is more than OK: my parents were also parents to my daughter, and my wife and I are simply grateful to both of them for that. It was an act of kindness for which there are no words – for he who saves a single life is as if they saved the whole world. And being willing, well into your 70s, to take in a highstrung 14 year old… wow.
I could not be prouder that my daughter had a chance to give back – she has been at the hospital and here tending to my mother as much as she could.
Death is not the end – not even in this world. For as long as her intellectual creations and descendants live, Nana Chana lives on, and even flourishes. Like great thinkers across time, her spiritual influence waxes even as her physical existence passes away.
My mother will be buried next to Jeremiah. His death, in so many ways, defined her life. For years and years she would sleep at Jeremiah’s gravesite on his yohrtzeit. That loss never lost its edge. I can tell you now that she is so deeply relieved to be with her firstborn again, to finally overcome the distance and the pain that has scarred her for five decades.
Mom’s was a life well lived, full and rich and deep. A life of love and giving. And now it is time for her to rejoin Jeremiah, to finally heal that wound.
May HKBH bless her and all that she loved. May her neshama have an Aliyah, to rejoin those loved ones she lost in this world. And may her memory on this earth be a blessing.