“A short life isn’t necessarily worse than a long one,” he said. “It’s just different.”
Asher, age 7, from the back of the car in Brooklyn:
“Daddy, is God a feeling, like love — or more a person?”
Michael: What do you think?
Asher: I think it’s like chocolate in your mouth.
Michael: How’s that?
Asher: You know how a piece of chocolate is hard in the middle and if you have it in your mouth a while it gets soft around the edges?
Asher: I think God is like that. At the center is a wise being. Then it turns into love all around.
That was Asher: thoughtful, original, crystal clear. He broke out of the village in which we live to win scholarships to Hotchkiss and Harvard. He studied languages, performed comedy, traveled widely, and planned to be a lawyer to pursue his passion for prisoners’ rights. He had a Buddhist practice, but also wrote, “My heart has drawn me variously towards Catholicism, Unitarian Universalism and certain branches of Judaism.” At some point we told him about gratefulness.org, which he adored. He shared the site with college friends, often imitating Brother David’s voice in the video, “A Good Day”: “Look at the sky,” he might say to a friend who was anxious about a love-tangle or an upcoming exam or the meaning of existence, “we so rarely look at the sky.” Asher looked at the sky a lot. His college honors thesis was written in French about alba, the medieval custom of composing love-letters at dawn.
At the time of his graduation, Asher developed a rare sarcoma. He was told that his disease could not be cured. He filled the time he had with optimism, friendship, gratitude — and generated these qualities in everyone he encountered. We were continually astonished at how little he identified with being a patient. He did suffer, body and soul, but kept returning to the world, to others, to humor, always in his own style. Just after we got the news that his cancer had metastasized and that he might die soon, we heard him on the phone with his younger brother: “A short life isn’t necessarily worse than a long one,” he said. “It’s just different.”
Asher’s chemotherapy caused nausea, and we traveled everywhere with blue plastic vomit bags from the hospital. At one point, as we were driving between hospital and home, Asher had to throw-up into one of those bags. He looked up slyly just afterward and said, in his Brother David voice, “Look at the vomit. We so rarely look at the vomit. Open your eyes: look at that. With its colors and smells coming and going, for our pure enjoyment!”
A month before he died, Asher wrote, “I still love the beauty of cathedrals and the Vatican. And beauty itself, which Catholic teaching terms God (in part). In large churches I noticed the following phenomenon: prayer (or meditation) often makes me feel a warmth in my palms and chest reminding me of depictions of Jesus and Mary with light beaming from their hands and hearts. I don’t mean to suggest a parallel, rather that finding this energy is a welcome and comforting mystery.”
In his last months, Asher wrote an epitaph for himself. It reads:
I was fortunate to know and love my friends and family. May peace and goodwill thrive on earth and in our hearts.
Michael Lipson and Holly Morse, Asher‘s parents, live in Western Massachusetts where Michael is active as a clinical psychologist and Holly writes fiction.