A dear friend died this week. Saundra Smokes and I worked together for 11 years at the Syracuse Herald-Journal, where she was then a columnist and editorial writer.
Sandi was a compelling voice for people who sometimes lack one in the pages of newspapers. She was also a devout Christian who never had a harsh word for anyone and who never used her faith as a justification to hate. She was all about love and understanding.
But most of all, she was a terrific person to have as a friend. I can't even tell you the number of evenings we spent talking, over dinner with our friend Mark, about our jobs, our childhoods, about what it meant to be black in America, what it meant to be Jewish in America.
We talked about everything. We laughed a lot. sometimes we argued. But it was always with respect. When I think about my life in Syracuse, the hours I spent with friends like Sandi are what I miss above all.
When I went to live in Israel for a year, I wrote a monthly column for the Herald-Journal. Sandi paid me one of the highest compliments I've ever received as a writer. She was so moved by what I'd written about Holocaust Remembrance Day in Tel Aviv that she mentioned it in her column.
She talked about our dinners, about what unites us as blacks and Jews, and she said: "We'll keep writing and talking and learning from our two cultures and hopefully doing our parts as peace- and justice-seekers for all groups, for all people."
Sandi spent her life as a justice-seeker. In March, after the killing of Trayvon Martin, she wrote a column trying to explain to all of us who might not understand the often precarious nature of being a young black male in America.
Although we'd reconnected on Facebook, I hadn't spoken with Sandi for a long time. We never had a chance to talk about Barack Obama being elected our country's first African-American president. I'm devastated that she's not here anymore, that I won't have one last chance.
I will never forget the comforting phone call I received from Sandi after my mother died. She reassured me that as heartbroken as I felt, eventually I would stop crying and be able to go on with my life. I feel the same way today.
Thank-you, Sandi, for your friendship. I feel privileged to have known you.