Thursday, April 30, 2009


When I was a tiny baby Cynthia, who was very pregnant with her son, stopped one of my parents on the street – I have heard both versions of the story – to remark on what a beautiful baby I was. A neighborhood friendship ensued, in which I played with her son in the park and also attended the nearby day care where she worked. I have vague halcyon memories of that time, including picnics by the Hudson and reading Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. When I was in first grade we moved eight blocks downtown and lost touch with her and her family. At some point my mother ran into her and learned that she had divorced and remarried. In truth, I forgot her as I grew up and became immersed in school and other activities. In high school I baby-sat for my neighbors. One day I was looking for a book to read to my charge and found Fantastic Mr. Fox on the shelf. My memory flooded back and I wondered what had happened to her. That is when I asked my mother, who did not remember her new last name.
In college I worked at Shakespeare and Company (may it rest in peace) the great local independent bookstore. One day I was sitting at the bag check station when a woman came up to me, stared and asked “Are you Leah? You have an unforgettable face”. It was about fifteen years later and Cynthia had recognized me. She looked different, mostly heavier from a bout with illness, but her German lilt and smile were familiar. She gave me her card – she was now an astrologist – and we proceeded to be in touch. She often sent me sunny letters decorated with fun stickers, often with typed messages.
It was from Cynthia that I first learned in-depth about astrology as well as other New Age concepts. At the time I was not interested in the subject area at all, but I listened and took it all in. The personal growth section of the bookstore was one that staff members often made fun of, in part because we fancied ourselves intellectual and it was so popular. Although I never read anything from it I absorbed the titles of many of the more requested books, effortlessly storing in my brain a list of future classics: You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay, Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian Weiss, Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain and many more. Cynthia never cast my chart but she did explain a number of terms to me: Sun, Moon, Rising Sign, (mine are Leo, Caner and Aries, respectively) Houses, Angles and so on. Today you can cast your own chart online: try; you will need your exact birth time in order to learn your rising sign. We continued to remain in touch for over a decade, waxing and waning, especially as she struggled with further health issues. As she grew unwell I was often wary of overtaxing her and so heard from her less often and we drew apart.
The year that I started my doctoral program Cynthia passed away, something that I did not learn immediately, so I did not attend her funeral or say goodbye in any formalized way and this saddened me greatly. I was mad at myself for not being in close enough contact to know of events as they unfolded. I also began reading personal growth, in spades, shocking myself and at first causing tremendous self-consternation. What was the cause? Perhaps it was because I had lost a spiritual muse, or I might have been rebelling against the over-intellectualized world of academia. I might have been swerving into early mid-life with a desire to explore inner realms in a new way or I may have been answering an intuitive attraction that had always been there but gone unheeded. In any of these cases I do wish that I had been able to talk to Cynthia these last few years, to go back and ask her further questions about astrology, her beliefs and related topics. As some consolation I have the knowledge that her family is prospering; her daughter no longer lives in New York but one sunny day I found her sitting on a bench in Riverside Park, site of those long-ago picnics and playdates. I also have the internet, with no end of material for browsing. I imagine what Cynthia could have done with her own website, the colors and illustrations that she would have gleefully included. And every time I read a horoscope or explain an astrological concept to someone or watch myself as I integrate these layers of exploration into my knowledge bank and sense of self I think of it as an homage to her and thank her for expanding my horizons. (Your rising sign, by the way, is the constellation that appeared on the horizon when you were born). The name Cynthia is Greek for the moon and is of course an alternate name for Diana, the moon goddess. I used to think of Cynthia as moonlight in my life, the mystical light that comes at nighttime. But in truth she is more like a sun, a shining adult presence that lit up both my childhood and my early adulthood. It guides me still.
Astrology is an ancient knowledge system and that has always fascinated me as well. I often picture people in ancient times, unable to sleep, perhaps sitting by a fire, trading stories and staring up at the stars in the great heavenly expanse that must have looked ever so much more mysterious and powerful then it does to us today. Jewish culture has a number of astrological references, but most people do not realize the connection: “mazal tov” literally declares that an event has occurred under a good star. We wish that a child be born “b’sha’ah tovah” – at a good hour. Whether one believes in astrology or not, it is a system of understanding that is striking in how it helps humans capture our way of seeking meaning while feeling small in the grand cosmos, wondering about our lives on earth and recognizing the moments of brightness that grace our existence.
Some interesting astrology websites:,,,, to name just a few. The publishing company is an excellent starting point for books in personal growth.
© 2009 Leah Strigler


Lucy said...

Wonderful! I have always held back from astrology, but your writing has made it much more appealing and sensible and poetic at the same time. A lovely tribute to your mentor!

Ask Leah said...

Thanks! I find it interesting that so many perfumistas are into astrology, know their chart, etc.