She is the best of friends.
We met at age seven at Merici Academy in Havana, Cuba. We were both eager learners, and shared a love of reading books way past our grade level. We loved to sew and embroider with my grandmother, who soon saw her amazing talent for both and encouraged her love of creating beauty. While numbers were her friends, letters were my passion. We both loved ballet, suffered through piano lessons, and learned duets that we still remember. We loved to swim in her pool and rummage through the art supplies in my aunt’s kindergarten.
Most of all, we both loved God.
When we were in third grade we memorized the mass in Latin. We used the wrapping of turrones, wafer-like and sweet, to give my grandmother and aunts “communion” during our staged ceremonies. To this day we cherish those memories!
Our fathers were mostly absent, both workaholics who still managed to make us feel loved. Our mothers were related only by their beauty, and we were both keenly aware that they did not view us as beautiful girls, although they tried to make up for it by touting our intelligence. Both of us in one way or another were encouraged to expand our intellect and conversational skills or risk becoming unclaimed treasures. Lacking beauty, we had to become Scheherezades and capture men through our brilliance and wit. Sadly, we believed our mothers for many years, until we saw ourselves mirrored in the eyes of young men who did not share their opinions and eventually came to own our self confidence in matters of the heart. By that time we had lost each other in the aftermath of the Cuban revolution.
Decades later, at the urging of a mutual school friend who had made contact with both of us, Haydecita called me. We met for a few days in Seattle. We continued the conversations we had begun decades ago, our love for each other intact. True to our early vocations, Haydecita became a mathematician, and I became a writer and psychotherapist. We were both still connected to our faith, and we had both found love with partners who cherished us and shared our desire to make a difference in the world.
We gave our beloved men monikers, because sometimes in our conversations in Spanish we could refer to them without their knowing. Because we all have those times… So for years now, Mark has also been known as Don Quijote, the dreamer, the chivalrous knight defending the helpless, and adoring of his Dulcinea, the mathematician, the practical one who lovingly grounded him. The perfect union of mathematics and the law.
Shortly after our reunion, I went to visit Haydecita in Brooklyn, and I had the privilege of finally meeting the man who captured my friend’s heart, Mark Von Sternberg, Don Quijote. What a delightful surprise! He was beautiful and gentle, brilliant yet humble, a man of faith, who delighted in the law and in service to others. What a beautiful experience to sit with them at dinner and enjoy their conversation. There was not one subject they could not talk about with mutual respect and admiration, and not a second you could not see how they cherished one another.
Today Don Quijote’s funeral Mass will be celebrated in New York. His departure was sudden, and to his dying breath, peace and love remained with him. There will be many at the church to bid him goodbye, each with their own story of how Mark touched their life. I will light a candle during his funeral in my meditation room in South Carolina. My own husband’s health challenges and my own, making a trip at this time impossible. But I will be present in spirit, to honor a life well lived by an exceptional man who had the good sense to fall madly in love with his Dulcinea.
My Mother always said, “The two most useless words in the English language are I’m sorry.” She was right. They do little to ease the pain of loss or affliction. And yet. I am.