Come on Board

I received the email below from James Wu exactly a year ago and asked him if I could share it on the website sometime in 2012.  James and Jessica met through Acumen Fund and as you will see, he is one of many who were touched by Jessica.


Hi Danielle,

I’ve been trading wonderful and unbelievably thoughtful, heartfelt emails filled with love and warmth and hope and a sense of community with many of my friends and co-workers today who all knew Jessica.

As I thought of the many gifts Jessica gave us, I remembered a quote a colleague once shared with me from Suketu Mehta’s book “Maximum City.”


“If you are late for work in the morning in Bombay, and you reach the station just as the train is leaving the platform, you can run up to the packed compartments and find many hands stretching out to grab you on board, unfolding outwards from the train like petals. As you run alongside the train, you will be picked up and some tiny space will be made for your feet on the edge of the open doorway. The rest is up to you. You will probably have to hang on to the door frame with your fingertips, being careful not to lean out too far lest you get decapitated by a pole placed too close to the tracks.

But consider what has happened. Your fellow passengers, already packed tighter than cattle are legally allowed to be, their shirts already drenched in sweat in the badly ventilated compartment, having stood like this for hours, retain an empathy for you, know that your boss might yell at you or cut your pay if you miss this train, and will make space where none exists to take one more person with them.

And at the moment of contact, they do not know if the hand that is reaching for theirs belongs to a Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Brahmin or untouchable, or whether you were born in this city or arrived only this morning, or whether you live in Malabar Hill or New York or Jogeshwari; whether you’re from Bombay or New York.

All they know is that you’re trying to get to the city of gold, and that’s enough. Come on board, they say. We’ll adjust.”


In many ways, I feel like this sentiment and this spirit was embodied by Jessica. No matter what was going on, no matter how busy she was, no matter how stressed, no matter how tough the situation, no matter the mood or disposition of those people she came in contact with – even perfect strangers – she was always there, with open arms, an outstretched hand, and an amazingly radiant smile to lift your spirits, make you feel welcome, and make you feel like you mattered.

We miss her dearly. But, we are all so much stronger and so much better because of her. Sending you and your family and her closest friends my love and warmest thoughts on this day.


Little Blue Pilot Light of Humanity

Name: Rabia Ahmed

Location: New York, New York

Relationship to Jessica: Friend and fellow volunteer

The following e-mail and letter were written last year by Jessica’s friend, Rabia.


Dear Danielle,

My name is Rabia Ahmed and I was a friend of Jessica’s. We both volunteered with Acumen Fund and over the past few years developed a wonderful, light-hearted friendship. I think of Jessica often – when I’m stressed at work (I remember how gracefully she managed so many things in her life), when I hear a loud, hearty laugh and whenever I am doing stuff for Acumen. James gave me a picture of Jess and me from our last fundraiser which I keep on my desk at work. I look at every day to remember what an amazing spirit she was.

Back in January, I met your father at Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at Carnegie Hall. When I got home, I was compelled to write a letter to Jess which I shared with James. He asked if I wanted to share it with you and so I have posted it below.

I hope to meet you one day and hopefully our paths will cross in the future.


Rabia & Jessica at Celebrate! for Acumen Fund on December 6, 2010

 Photo Credit: Jessica Rose Lehrman



Dear Jessica,

I missed you today. Actually, strike that. We missed you today.

Tonight we attended a concert at Carnegie Hall to benefit Acumen’s work in Pakistan. The orchestra played Beethoven’s 9th Symphony which was truly magical. I know you would have loved it and would have smiled through the entire performance. I can actually picture you sitting there, playbill in hand, smile on face.

The concert was to raise funds for Pakistan. Remember when we raised funds for Pakistan? I remember being touched by your passion and dedication to each and every detail related to our fundraiser. It amazed me; although you had never been to Pakistan, you really felt the plight of those less fortunate than yourself. You felt it in an actionable way which empowered you to do something. For me, Pakistan is in my blood, but for you, it was in your heart. I’ll always be grateful that you taught me to be compassionate of others, both similar and different than myself.

Tonight, I had the pleasure to finally meet your father. He recognized me from a picture we both took at Celebrate! You were wearing that gorgeous royal blue dress, purse over shoulder, drink in hand, and we were Celebrating Celebrate! You had gathered the volunteers, decorated the space, warmed the food and raised the money. You had this uncanny ability to organize-people, things, ideas. Wow.

Remember the day before the event when we sat in your room, going over the minute-by-minute details? You had it all planned and after we were done, we relaxed for a bit and talked about the Blue Sweater, joked about the down time and next steps with our jobs, with our lives. You told me how your doorman was sick of storing everything for us in the small storage space, but you, in your charming, sweet way had convinced him to do so.

Acumen held a very special place in your life. I know that from the time you took out to give to it. Whether it was rushing in from work, or leaving to help a friend, you made the time. You wanted to be part of the change, in some small (or in your case, large) way. I’ll forever be inspired by that.

Jess, my love for Pakistan and desire to help it, will forever be inextricably linked to the fun we had as members of NYfA. It’s people like you that give me hope that one day, somehow in time, that country can shine again. If everyone had your spirit and shine to give, imagine what we can do together for this world. You taught us to be selfless, regardless of how much or how little we have to give.

Tonight, towards the end of the concert, we heard the Ode to Joy and suddenly the emotion all came rushing back. Many in the audience quickly recognized this piece and for each of us it signified something different, something unique to our own experience. But for me, it reminded me of the work we have yet to accomplish. It’s not a one person job, but the job of a community. Although you aren’t here to see it, I wanted you to know that all that work, all that time, all that passion was not in vain. Your spirit affected so many of us: those who knew you and those who you never met, but wanted to help.

George Mathew, tonight’s conductor wrote in his letter to the attendees, “Thank you once again for joining us for this concert which is gathered not only to bring healing and renewal to the multitudes in Pakistan, but also to bear witness with music to what Leonard Bernstein called “our boastfully held little blue pilot light of humanity”– our capacity to love, no matter what the distances are that separate us in time, space, culture, language or religion.” And I hope you know, that no matter the distance, or culture, or space, you’ll always be thanked and missed by so many.

Your friend,