This was the eulogy I offered this morning at the memorial service for Anna Lisanti. As you read please offer prayers for Anna and her family.
It is good to be here with you today, to dress in bright colors and to speak of Anna; to think about Anna; to appreciate Anna, the extraordinary woman whom we all knew in our various ways and circumstances.
Anna and I met because last spring she was given my name as a possible spiritual director. I am so glad she was, because having Anna enter my life has been an extraordinary gift. I was not fortunate enough to know her for a long time, as many of you have; but I believe I came to know her well; and I hope when I speak, I speak not only for myself, but for all of you.
Anna was smart. Her intelligence was evident to anybody who spent five minutes in her company. From that small village in Italy all the way through Columbia University, her thirst for knowledge and understanding was a driving force; she was a true daughter of the Renaissance. But she was no intellectual snob; if you had something to say—no matter how plain the language or how simple the thought–she wanted to hear it, and hear it deeply. Anna was capable of bringing out the best in people, because she never wanted to settle for anything less than the best from herself.
Anna was deeply spiritual, and deeply religious. She knew through her studies, through the words and works of great philosophers, saints and scholastics, men and women alike–and through her own experiences, that intellect and faith do not have to be at war. I remember one discussion we had on the differences between crosses and crucifixes. I was struck by how thoroughly she wrestled with this topic—a topic anybody else would have passed over with one dismissive sentence. But it mattered to Anna, to spend time and think about it and ask questions about it and speculate on it. She wanted to KNOW, when she saw one of those sacred symbols, what language it was speaking; she wanted to hear it and revel in it and let it live through her and in her.
Speaking of living, Anna was an incredibly energetic woman. Vitality poured from her; she could be intense. If you weren’t on the move yourself, you might have wanted to step aside to let her pass! But this intensity, this serious quest for answers was balanced by her sense of humor. She was very funny, great company–she loved a good joke. I can see her and hear her now, doubled over, cracking up at some funny situation or at the realization that she herself had just said something so unintentionally ridiculous that it was hilarious.
She was smart; she was a woman of faith; she was filled with energy and enthusiasm. But I think it was Anna’s fearlessness that took my breath away. It is a natural human response to run from pain or discomfort, to avoid it; to do something else instead that’s less challenging, less hurtful, even if you know you’re retreating when you ought to be moving on. Not Anna. She never wanted false coin; she wanted to know what you REALLY thought; she wanted to know what she REALLY thought, what she should REALLY do. She wanted to look it in the face and struggle with it and grip it until the blessing was received. Tomorrow’s gospel lesson about Jacob struggling with the angel of God until he is blessed is entirely apropos to Anna’s persistence and courage and determination and her deep and intuitive understanding that at the center of all things, all people, all relationships, is God.
Anna was all of this and more. Wife, sister, daughter, aunt, niece, cousin, friend, colleague, counselor, teacher, student, disciple. She was Mother, with a capital M; tender in her memories of her infant son Francesco; so very proud of her two daughters, Mariangela and Antonella. I can’t even say their names American-style, because I have heard them spoken so frequently and with such love by their mother in that beautiful, musical Italian way. She adored them—adores them–and was devoted to them—a love and devotion that is demonstrably returned. Her girls—along with Tony–supported her in every way they could during this last hard time. I know she was grateful for all they have given to her, right to the end of this life, when she passed peacefully into the next phase of living.
Can you see her with her bright, intense face, grappling with some issue or complicated idea? Can you see her thrilled at some new insight discovered, some new breakthrough in understanding? Can you hear her laughing and enjoying one of life’s good jokes? Can you recall the beauty of her face and the passion of her heart? Smart and vital and funny and faithful and loving and caring and so very courageous.
This world is a poorer place without Anna. Yet she has left us extraordinary memories of an extraordinary spirit; like a meteor flashing across the sky; bright and startling and gone all too soon—but illuminating so much in that brief moment.
This was Anna. This is Anna. For her life among us, and for her new life, we give thanks.