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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

In Memory of Carol Susan Roth, Agent & Mentor

Carol Susan Roth, my mentor and literary agent died this morning.

There are people in our lives that radically move us from one point on our life path to another. These interactions are rare, and we are each lucky if we have one or two of them.

Carol was that to me. How so? I never imagined that I would have a book published. I did fantasize about it, don’t we all? But I never thought it would come to fruition and I didn’t pursue it as one does something you think is realistic.

A few years back, Carol read an article about me in USA Today. She then called me out of the blue and asked me to write a book.

Under her guidance, I learned how to write a book proposal and she sold that book to Doubleday, a division of Random House, arguably the most prestigious publishing house for main stream books in the world.

When that book came out, the publisher’s catalogue listed me on the page after Jon Grisham. With such prestigious company, I felt I had no business being a Doubleday author.

But Carol got me there. She thought I had a place in their catalog and because of that, I am now writing my fifth book.

Why? Because Carol believed in me.

She believed in my rabbinic message and that it deserved amplification.

She believed in my ability to make God accessible to people who didn’t believe in God.

She believed in my ability to create community in a society very much in need of community.

She believed in the sound of my voice, the way I connected people through song and the way I expressed myself on paper.

Several months before she died, Carol told me that she was okay if death came for her now. Carol married once, and it was later in her life. She told me that through her partnership with her husband Phil she discovered the meaning of life – to love and be loved. To love and be loved deeply and completely.

Her love of Phil brought Carol perspective on her life. Let me explain. Carol was an astute businesswoman and an accomplished literary agent. She represented the Dali Lama and helped to bring his teaching to Americans. In her business, she was driven and rarely if ever did not meet her business goals. But when she met Phil, she said it was as if some barrier melted away and she could see the world more clearly. “I don’t need to be the big shot agent anymore,” she told me. “That is not what life is about. Love - that is what life is about. “

What Carol discovered is what Martin Buber defined as God. Buber described God as that interaction between two people based on the deepest of levels, not what we can do for each other, but on who we are. This kind of relationship is built on love and respect for the essential of our being.

Buber called this I-Thou. We tend to talk a lot about the meaning of the words “I” and “thou”, but the defining element of this theology is the dash. The dash is one of connection and at the same time of separation. The dash ties us one to the other, connects us and holds us in relationship.

The dash between I and Thou sustains us much an umbilical cord between mother and child sustains, nourishes, cleanses and holds. What passes between the dash enables the other to flourish and grow.

At the same time the dash separates us. It forces us and enables us to keep our individuality, so that one can not subsume the other. Carol discovered her full self through the dash of her relationship to Phil.

Buber taught that in all of our human relationships, we move in and out of the state of I –Thou. Sometimes we are in I-It (relating to someone based on what they can do for us, as in “Honey, could you please pick up some milk on your way home?”) and then we go back into I-Thou.

There is one relationship, which he called the Eternal Thou that never moves out of I-Thou. I think the only time that we are able to truly be embraced by that relationship is when we die. When we die, and we let go of the dash, we lose our individuality and return to the reservoir of all life, the Eternal Thou. We return to the oneness that connects all beings.

When the world began, there was one. Physicists tell us this, one singularity. One. And then something happened. We don’t know what or why or how. But in the beginning, that singularity was divided into multiplicity.

The Torah describes it like this:
“Bereshit (In the beginning) bara (created) eloheim (God) et ha-shamayim (the heavens) vet ha-aretz (and the earth).”

The world began as one. All beings were one. Then BANG! Division. Heavens, Earth, light, planets, water, vegetation, animals, you and me.

That means ultimately at our core level, we are all connected. We are all connected to that first singularity of oneness at some sub cellular level.

My sense is that our moments of transcendence, our moments of connection to something bigger than ourselves, our “God moments” if you will, are moments in which we become aware of this primal connection.

And when we realize that ultimately we are all linked back to One, this compels us to be kind and compassionate, for everything is connected.

Today, Carol Susan Roth left her body and was reunited with the Eternal Thou. I’ll miss calling her on the phone and hearing her say, “Oh Rabbi Jamie I was just thinking of you!” as she always said when I called. I’ll miss her guidance, her counsel and her belief in my potential.

But I will be comforted in the knowledge that ultimately all beings remain part of the One, and so somehow our connections remain.

May she rest in peace,
Cain yehe ratzon,
May this be God’s will.


Blogger Dochas said...

Hi Rabbi Jamie--
I miss Carol as much as you do, I think. I connected on a deep level with her when she was pitching your first book to me, which I loved and wanted to publish. Carol got you a better deal than I could offer, though. She always kept me up to date on what you were doing! I could not have had a better agent than Carol, and even in our last conversation three weeks ago, she was still her optimistic, encouraging, enthusiastic self. I'll honor her friendship forever. Keep up your good work.
Maura Shaw

February 9, 2010 at 12:24 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Jamie, my love, my friend, my kitah aleph partner in crime, I didn't know Carol, and had actually never even heard of her until I just read your blog. (I do that every once in a while to see what fabulous things you're up to) BUT what you wrote is really quite beautiful. Through your words, you gave me a glimpse into a surely lovely person. Your words were at once both enlightening, comforting, and instructive. Just as you are, as a rabbi. I miss you. Hope all is well. Hugs.

February 12, 2010 at 6:51 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

2/3/17: I was doing a Google search for "Carol Susan Roth", because in 1999 I pitched a book proposal to her, while taking a leave of absence from medical school. At the time, I was unclear that I ever wanted to return. I sent her my proposal with a SASE, and I knew to not even expect that the SASE be sent back. Well, she DID send a letter back, but not the SASE. Rather, she composed a handwritten, well thought-out letter thanking me for my proposal and encouraging me to return to medical school: as the book I was proposing would have greater appeal if the author had an M.D. Well, now as an MD (I returned to medical school as soon as I got her letter), and chair of this and that and professor etc., I wanted to contact her, thank her for her letter, possibly propose a book.
But it looks like I shall be communicating with her in a different way now. Thank you for this beautiful obituary.
And, thank you, Carol.

February 3, 2017 at 8:00 PM  
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