My sister, Kate Goldstein, died at 28 years of age on June 14th 2014. Her memorial was today and this tribute I wrote was read there. She was working with SECMOL, the Student’s Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh, India. As part of the program there, she was going to install solar panels on a Buddhist Monastery in Ladakh. As the reports say, she was going on her usual morning run up a nearby mountain when it’s suspected some loose rock broke and she fell several hundred feet to a ravine below. Her body was cremated in Ladakh and her ashes and bones were brought back to my parents’ home.
Kate did similar projects throughout her life to help the poor and those in need. She helped rebuild houses after Hurricane Katrina with Engineers without Borders. She volunteered at a Lakota Reservation in South Dakota. She started a program at Brown that tutored underprivileged kids from public schools in which she took part. She slept outside in solidarity with the homeless. She volunteered at food banks. She gave her time and energy generously without expectation wherever she was. And she was going to do so much more to bring clean, affordable energy to the world. Though her life was cut short, she has created ripples among her networks of friends and colleagues who want to continue her work and her lifestyle of openness and kindness. Kate had a rare mix of intelligence, passion, and compassion. She was always able to spark up conversations with strangers, and she looked for and often brought out the best in people. She was one of the best people I’ve ever known. I think others feel this way and this may be why so many people have been affected by her death.
Personally, Kate was my biggest supporter and my best friend. Her absence has left a void in me I don’t know how to fill. We shared things we shared with no one else. She died far too young when I still really needed her. And there is so much I wish I could tell her about how much she meant to me that I’ll never get to say. No one expects these things to happen, so the old adage to treat every day like it could be your last I think remains so crucial. Treating every person you come in contact with like it might be the last time you interact with them I think is vital too.
I don’t believe in an afterlife, and that makes this harder for me. As much as I’d like to believe, it doesn’t make sense scientifically. Life is born and dies and our atoms go on to become other things. Life sustains itself mostly through dead organisms. The Earth recycles us and this cycle is beautiful in a way but also terrifying at times. Our consciousness can end so abruptly and so young, even as infants, and this rarely occurs for any meaningful reason. Usually, it is just a lack of access to education, food, water, or medicine that kills us. The rock that killed Kate was probably just old and weak enough to break, but that’s all it takes. We can’t stop all tragedy and we probably wouldn’t want to because our lows make our highs better, but we can balance the scales so everyone at least has the ability to live a long, satisfying life.
The silver lining to this is clear to me: all of the people Kate has affected and the people who want to carry on her work to meet these ends. I could be bitter about this, but I don’t want to be. I am grateful for the 28 years Kate gave us. And we can change the world, as overwhelming as it can be. We have to. She reminds us of that. It can also be helpful to remember that most of us are fortunate, despite our own personal struggles. I come from a financially well off family. Right now my need for food, water, shelter, clothing, and healthcare are met. This is more than many can say who live in poverty. So like Kate, I often want to fly to India or Africa and start really helping those without these advantages, and this may be my next step. If it means I die young too, then so be it.
Whenever I talked about death with Kate, she was never afraid. I asked her if she would be okay with it even if it meant the end of her existence forever, and she said yes. And she meant it because she knew she was just one of seven and a half billion people. At least we can know in her last moments she was most likely at peace with her death. She may have been too fearless of things she ought to be afraid of, and too fearful of things that she shouldn’t have been afraid of like many of us. She often doubted herself. As much as she brought up everyone else, she had trouble remembering what was great about herself.
In spirit of Kate, I encourage everyone to reach out to someone who you haven’t spoken to for a long time or who you think could really use some support. In my mind, the way we will reach equality, justice, and peace is through constantly expanding our networks, as Kate did, strengthening our ties, making them last, offering mutual support and love for those who need it most, and collaborating on projects that aim to sustainably satisfy both human and ecological need without discrimination. That’s all within our power.
I’ll miss and love you always, Kate.