Pure-hearted presence

Ezra Francis Marder was unfailingly kind and gracious to his family, his friends, and his caregivers, many of whom described meeting him as life-changing

BRATTLEBORO — Ezra Francis Marder made his life an enduring gift to the world. He was a dazzling, kind-hearted spirit, a sidewalk cartwheel spinner, a poet, an actor, an artist, a musician, a writer, and a lover of family, friends, dancing, and food.

A tender friend to many, and a treasured grandson, cousin, and nephew, he died on Nov. 27, 2021, in Lake Charles, La., after a long illness.

Born Nov. 22, 2004, in Brooklyn, N.Y., the beloved son of Liza Cassidy and Darius Marder and the brother of Asa Marder, Ezra grew up there and spent summers in Brattleboro with his grandparents.

Caring, intuitive, and deeply seeing, Ezra demanded of himself, and sought in others, total authenticity. He began life as Esther, but when he realized that his true identity was masculine, he stepped boldly into that truth.

When asked near the end of his life about his early life as Esther, he said, “I'm proud of my whole story.”

This was vintage Ezra. He insisted on naming all hard things. Towards the end of his life, he spoke openly about the approach of death, gifting those who loved him with the comfort of grieving with him.

Ezra delighted in big family gatherings. He was a tireless instigator of games and fun. He would coax everyone to the karaoke stage, even the most reluctant performers, and reward their bravery with hugs and loving laughter.

It was impossible to feel awkward around Ez, one friend said, because he projected no expectations, offering only the warm embrace of his pure-hearted presence.

His compassion was boundless to friends and strangers alike. Even as a young child, the sight of an elderly person struggling with a mundane task on the street could bring him to tears.

Among Ezra's great loves was dancing. At weddings and other celebrations, he would dance for hours, lighting up the room with a style all his own, alive with motion and outrageous invention in a contagious expression of pure joy.

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Symptoms of the years-long illness that Ezra endured included paralysis and a relentless, excruciating pain disorder. In the midst of unimaginable suffering, he never stopped loving the world.

He was unfailingly kind and gracious to his family, his friends, and his caregivers, many of whom described meeting Ezra as life-changing. He freely expressed his love and gratitude to visitors, often pushing himself past his limits to welcome each with courage and compassion.

His sense of humor also persisted. When his brother, Asa, who stands well over 6 feet, recently used the word “turnip,” Ezra replied, “I'm the turn. You're the up.” Such inversions delighted him. As he informed his mom and dad, “Life's too long for bad soup.”

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Ezra was a maker and a doer. He loved to draw and paint, to make videos with his friends, to write poetry and prose, to play guitar and write songs. An accomplished student of American Sign Language and a member of the Screen Actors Guild, he appears in the Oscar-winning Sound of Metal, directed by his father.

He was fascinated by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood. He deeply admired Charles Bukowski, appreciating the writer's courage in illuminating human difficulties that often go unspoken.

He felt a similar connection to Kurt Cobain for publicly sharing his struggle with the unsolved digestive issues that informed his musical artistic expression, as similar issues did for Ezra.

He loved Radiohead, the film Tootsie, the work of animation director Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, particularly The Tale of the Princess Kaguya by Isao Takahata, which Ezra felt offered a deep understanding of life and the experience of facing death.

He adored the actor Alan Rickman (especially in Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility) and, above all, David Bowie, whose gimlet eye and freedom from convention deeply inspired him.

Ezra attended poetry camp in the summers and wrote poetry of his own - some serious and some quirky and humorous. He was a committed musician. He studied taiko drumming with his brother at the Brooklyn Walford School and later took up the drums, eventually learning to sing while drumming, a rare and difficult skill.

He also deeply appreciated food. He was a cook with an inventive flare that included chickpea-zucchini fritters and scrumptious frozen chocolate banana nut-butter sandwiches.

Ezra loved animals. His dog Marnie - half blind, neurotic, perfect - was particularly dear to his heart, and he spent many long hours quietly holding and petting her.

Above all, Ezra was a loving conduit and guardian of the spiritual and the real. As he wrote towards the end of his life:

“When I can't do it I bear it, when I can't bear it I fly.”

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In addition to his brother and his mother and father, Ezra is survived by his grandparents Larry, Marilyn, and Kaye Cassidy and Lauri Marder, Efrem Marder, and Marit Cranmer; his cousins Calvin and Cassidy Stebbins; and his aunts and uncles Abraham, Gabriel, Ursa, Benjamin, Kristin, and Christopher.

A service and celebration of Ezra's life will be held in the spring in southern Vermont.

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