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Fallen Snow

The measure of our humanity is not found in our ability to forestall death, however courageously we fight to live. Rather, we knowwe are by how we've lived.
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One year ago today, my friend of 20 years, the legendary singer/songwriter Phoebe Snow, suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage in her New Jersey apartment. She was rushed to the hospital, where doctors quickly performed surgery that undoubtedly saved her life. They succeeded in stopping the bleeding in her brain. And, similar to what we've recently witnessed with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' emergency treatment, they put her in a medically-induced coma, a procedure designed to allow her severely traumatized brain to heal.

Sadly, unlike Congresswoman Giffords, the signs have not been encouraging. After a year, Phoebe Snow is still in a quiescent state. Her extraordinary voice remains silent. She's being cared for lovingly be her sister, her manager, and her devoted friends, yet there has been little real change in her condition.

Death comes to all of us. The measure of our humanity is not found in our ability to forestall it, however courageously we fight to live. Rather, we know who we are by how we've lived, by how we've touched those we've loved, and by the depth and passion of the love that we've received.

By that measure, Phoebe Snow -- even lying silently in a hospital bed -- is still one of the most vital human beings on the planet. For those of us who were lucky enough to have had Phoebe in our lives, her extraordinary intelligence and hysterical humor are as present now as they were during one of her many midnight phone calls or after one of her astonishing concert performances. Seeing Phoebe Snow live on stage was like watching someone having an out-of-body experience in real time. Her voice was so startlingly powerful, her talent so breathtaking, that even she was stunned by it. It's little wonder that she often dubbed her performance self, "Large Marge."

In order to fully understand Phoebe Snow, you also had to know her daughter, Valerie Rose. Valerie died suddenly in 2007, at the age of 31. The following year, in an interview on my Air America radio program, a still deeply grieving Phoebe lovingly recalled her only child:

"Valerie was one of the great anomalies of all time. She was very, very disabled from birth. She suffered a severe birth accident and her prognosis was that she would probably not see her first birthday and, even if she did, she would be in a very low cognitive, minimal conscious state. She fooled everybody, didn't she David?"

But she never fooled Phoebe, who always understood that there was a beautiful soul flourishing inside Valerie, even if her beloved daughter couldn't communicate that fact in words. For thirty-one years, her mother cared for her with a passion and devotion that was unshakable. Their love for each other remains one of the most beautiful relationships I've ever known.

So on this day, when I'm grieving because Phoebe won't be at the other end of my phone (well after midnight) shouting, "Ahoy, Captain Bendy!" -- I can only hope that she's somehow communicating with Valerie Rose in a silent language that transcends the laws of time, space and physics.

Because if she is, I know she's happy. And that's all that matters to me.