In Hebrew School, I was taught that the world continues to exist for the sake of thirty-six righteous people--tzaddikim. In my life, I have known three of them. I will not say who they are, for they must remain anonymous, if for no other reason than their very righteousness would cause them to be embarrassed to be called righteous. But to know one-twelfth of the world's righteous--that is a privilege.

     I went to the funeral today of one of them--Richard Casparian, the Chief Public Defender of the State of RI. I have known him for many years. We worked together on some of the "worst" cases that RI has ever seen, from Rhode Island's Jeffrey Dahmer several years ago to a completely tattooed man who shot a state trooper in cold blood, blaming the trooper for pulling him over.

     Richard--everyone from judges to mass murderers called him Richard, although he always announced himself on the phone as, "This is Casparian"--would always take the worst cases, the unwinnable cases, because it was the right thing to do. I think he wanted to protect his staff from being associated with these men, from catching or being caught up in the evil that emanated from their pores, from public criticism for being their attorney. Strangely, I never heard any criticism at all about him because of the murderers that he defended--probably because he lost every case. But what a defense he put up for these guys. And how he was able to separate what had to be a deep-rooted contempt for them from his professional duty to represent them as best he could. Never did he say an angry word about them to me, despite the unspeakable acts some of them had committed. He served his clients and the law with a diligence and a devotion to duty that was inspiring. After speaking with him, whether it was about good food or about what one of his clients had done, one left his presence feeling better about the world, about people, about oneself. He would follow up on his clients even after they were convicted and in prison. On occasion, if one of them truly turned it around, Richard would intervene with the sentencing judge years later to get a reduced sentence. And his pay was tzigele bobkes (goat shit). A humble man, a brilliant man, a shy man who was an orator in court, a man who inspired you to be better than you were.

Richard Casparian

     The service itself was unusual. It took place in St. Sahag and Mesrob Armenian Apostolic Church, which was, as you might expect, filled to the rafters. The Governor and all the Judges were there. I can see Casparian winking at me with a wry smile, saying nothing, but confirming my thought that those who do harm can sit on both sides of the bench. There were beautiful stained glass windows with all the saints, portraits and statues, flowers, but not in excess, light and airy. Before the service, the four priests bustled about the altar, putschkying around with this and that, straightening a candle, adjusting an icon, as though they were tidying up their own house. Frequently, before and throughout the service, they would groom each other, straightening a mantle, adjusting a collar.

     The coffin came in, burnished copper, top-of-the-line. The priests waved censers of incense and jingled bells. The priests chanted, one at a time in English and in Armenian--the 23rd Psalm, the Lord's Prayer. The theme throughout the service was the Resurrection--not that the dead live on in the thoughts and deeds of those they leave behind, but that the dead will rise through Jesus and live again and be reunited with us. The eulogy was by the Bishop, I guess. He spoke of the Armenian Genocide, and depicted Richard as someone who was a son of the Genocide, whose goodness and giving and caring stemmed from the Genocide. I didn't quite get the connection. He also, addressing the widow, spoke of how he had told her once that men as devoted to caring as Richard was get caught up in their caring, like priests and doctors, and their families see so little of them that they wonder, "What about me? What do I get?" It was the same with Jesus, the Bishop said, with the apostles all wondering, "What about me? Does he care about me?" But Jesus was caught up in his destiny, in his ministry of caring and salvation. Although I found all these themes a bit awkward and off-putting, I was able to think about Richard, and how wonderful it is to know good and righteous people, and it made me cry a little, as I thought about all the good people I have known. All this from a man who worked tirelessly in the face of evil.