Alena, you would be pleased by all of us coming together here this evening to celebrate your life.
I can see you now, somewhat amused and not quite embracing all the fuss.
As heroic as you were, you were also quietly unassuming and self-effacing.
When Gail introduced us almost 30 years ago, we discovered an immediate kinship.
We were both immigrants and, while I'd been here for a decade before you,
you'd ventured into territories unknown to me.
Wasn't it you who taught me how to dance THAT way, your leg firmly planted between mine?
Later you'd join my worlds. You'd take the subway from your apartment on St. Marks Pl.
to mine in Queens so I could be with my 3-year-old daughter Nicole,
or sensing my isolation, you came to Waterville, Maine, to spend a weekend with me
when I moved there.
Today, having lost you, the emptiness we feel is only somewhat mitigated
by the memories of our enjoyment of life and each other on Fire Island, in Morristown, Provincetown,
Prague, The Poconos, New Orleans, The Hamptons,
and especially the New Year's Eve we spent together
in Paris 22 years ago when all you could talk about, all night, incessantly,
was NOT the New Year, Not Paris, NOT the meal we'd just enjoyed,
just one thing, your newfound love: Barbara. I got such a kick out of your attempts
to speak English, omitting all articles, especially after a "few" glasses of red,
when you'd gradually start speaking your own version of our language "Czechlish"
it wasn't really English.
And it was especially funny because, normally a woman of few words,
you'd suddenly became loquacious.
You'd be totally incomprehensible and laugh at what you were saying,
and we'd join right in.
Laughing with you.
Not understanding a word.
More than anyone else I knew, Alena, you loved life and
the opportunities America afforded you, and the fabric of your life with Barbara.
You were my hero and my champion.
The risk-taker whose brave story of coming to America I'd tell to whomever would listen.
You were wise, you were intelligent, you took nothing for granted and you understood struggle.
You touched me with your generous heart in a way no one else ever has.
You were so damn important to me.
Quite simply you were, the sister I never had.
Like a family we have each other's emergency numbers posted prominently in our homes,
along with the gifts and mementos we've given each other throughout the years.
Nicole, who was so fond of you, has your plants hanging in her studio apartment.
I've planted your roses in my garden in Sag Harbor.
They'll bloom next year, by the pond you loved so much.
Alena, I trusted you completely and loved you unconditionally.
You were always there for me when it mattered
and supporting me when I gave my last academic paper at Hofstra University
(and hanging the poster of that conference in your dining room)
or seeing me through an extremely difficult time when my father died.
There will never be for me another friend with whom I can speak in shorthand,
move with through the world and accumulate a history.
Your death is sobering.
Red wine has lost it's power to cheer.
Today I am guided by your sense of right and wrong,
asking myself what YOU'D do in this case or that.
I'm trying to live, as you did, with meaning and integrity.
So tonight in the spirit of Alena who had no use for a lot of fuss,
I urge you to do as she would & as we did so many times
in Prague, let's lift our glasses to her and say "'Ahoy".
Nanette Shaw, best friend