This eulogy for Bruce Salen by
Victoria Huckenpohler was read at Bruce's funeral.
is with deep sadness, though not total surprise, that I learned of the
passing of my cherished friend, Bruce. Those of us close to him had noticed,
in recent years, his accelerated physical decline and psychological loneliness,
and we worried that his valued independence might soon be curtailed. I
honestly believe, therefore, that the sacred has looked out for him, allowing
him to bypass what might have turned into melancholy years. Still, it is
painful from the perspective of us, his friends, to lose so profoundly
good a soul at what is by today's standards a relatively young age.
I have known Bruce for the last seven years, and in that
time I was privileged to witness in him a rate of personal growth that
I have seen in few others. In his early years Bruce, like many of his contemporaries,
experienced a difficult growing up which caused him to turn inward. Where
other adolescents in his position might have lashed out and even harmed
fellow students, Bruce simply took refuge in his considerable intellect,
spending hours at what became the most cherished spot in his universe:
the Brooklyn Museum. He would recount how, while his classmates were playing
ball and generally "hanging out," he was spending his time browsing among
the Museum's artifacts or poring over its precious tomes. But though these
pursuits filled his mind, they did little to nurture his bruised heart.
So at a relatively advanced age he decided to tackle, head on, those developmental
phases he had earlier passed over, and to reach out to the larger world.
Given the way that world had often slighted him in his youth, Bruce's belated
effort required a quantity of determination and courage that most observers
neither suspected or appreciated. Nonetheless, he enjoyed some social successes,
particularly among his science fiction collector friends in Washington,
DC, whom he periodically joined at meetings and came to cherish, as they
Bruce was also involved in ham radio, an activity he was
especially proud of because he had shared it with his Dad, and because
it brought him into contact with physically challenged athletes who transcended
daunting deficits to participate in the races. "If you think you have troubles,"
Bruce would often e-mail his friends following such an event, "you should
come down here and see what these people can do." Witnessing their unyielding
determination inspired Bruce to keep on pushing himself, despite his own
increasingly limited mobility brought on by diabetes.
But more important than these efforts at outreach was
Bruce's genuine interest in emotional growth. He truly worked on himself.
When I first met him, Bruce still harbored considerable resentment against
people and against what he considered an uncaring God. He even pronounced
himself an atheist, though it was clear to all but himself that he was
in fact a very spiritual -- though not necessarily a conventionally religious
-- person. But as time went by and we compared notes between our two traditions
-- his Jewish, mine Buddhist-- he increasingly verbalized growing trust
in the power and compassion of the Almighty. He even set up a small shrine
table in his home, and when I would tell him about someone in my life who
was a source of concern, he would promise to ritually wash, sit down in
front of this table, and meditate for the individual in question. It seemed
that as his trust in humanity deepened, so did his confidence in the sacred.
It was gratifying, too, to note that while he remained loyal to the faith
of his fathers and to such customs as keeping kosher, yet like his Mama
he was objective enough, had heart enough, to respect all authentic religious
traditions, taking from them those nuggets that, while useful, did not
contradict the tenets of his own faith.
The serious illnesses his mother experienced in her last
years, and the attendant worry, definitely played a role in Bruce's own
rather rapid decline. It is one of life's ironies that after so long worrying
over how he would survive Mama's passing (and by the way, he credited her
with so many of his own positive qualities), he ended up hardly outliving
her himself. However, the brief time that remained to him intensified the
devotion he had always felt for his beloved sisters, Laurie and Liz. He
used to boast that in a world where so many siblings are at odds, he and
his sisters were wholly united in the decisions they took on their mother's
behalf, and that afterward each of the siblings selflessly deferred to
the others in the sharing of Mama's family treasures. Given the esteem
in which he held his blood family, I can say that I cherish as one of my
precious memories of our friendship Bruce's assertion that I was his "third
sister." Dear Ones, I hope you find me worthy to be of your company, and
I join you today in both celebrating and mourning the passing of a dear
human being, brother, and friend.