The journey of Judge Joan Lefkow

If you're Joan Lefkow, when you think about fate, you also think about faith. You think about the universality of suffering and the promise of rebirth. And you still oppose the death penalty.

"The wedding was a resurrection of sorts," she says in a dark wine bar on a rainy night with autumn rolling in. "A new family being created."

She's shucked off her shoes, tucked her feet underneath her on a couch, ordered a glass of Chianti. In her pink shirt and black suit, she no longer looks like the ghost who when I first met her in April had said, "I feel dead inside."

Resurrection. It's one of her favorite words. Little resurrections are the signposts she seeks out in the foreign land of this new life.

The plant that didn't die in the old home and lives on in the new one. Her piano lessons resumed. Work.

She's still waiting for the resurrection in her refurbished house, the young couple she hopes will buy it and make a new family.

Tonight, a buxom blond singer in a black dress is perched on the ebony piano, waggling a stiletto heel in time with "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To."

"I like this song," says Lefkow. Maybe, she says with a laugh, she'll become a lounge singer. She hums a couple of bars.

Her loneliness grows starker as the shock wears off. From day to day, she ricochets from disbelief to acceptance and back again, from energetic determination to fatigue no sleep could cure.

And yet, she says, cupping her chin in her hand, leaning an elbow into the couch, she feels her voice growing stronger.

She gets invitations to speak now. She grows more inclined to accept. She feels an obligation to the issues of justice that roused Michael.

"I've found my voice in a way I didn't have yet," she says. "I don't have forever to be an influence on other people. Michael's not there to speak, so I must speak louder. I'm less afraid."

She's musing on courage when the singer croons into the microphone, "Good to see you, Judge."

The woman, a stranger, hops off the piano, walks over to Joan Lefkow and hugs her. For a flicker, Lefkow shrinks away, then she hugs back, because this is who she is now, a shy woman from the Plains connected to the world by everything she has lost.

- - -

Michael Lefkow once asked his wife, "Even if there is no God and even if evil prevails, would you live your life differently?"

She told him no. She still thinks no.

"I have some core value that searching for the good and the honorable is the way to live," she says. "God is the spirit of good in the world. God is the spirit of love in the world. That belief is so engrained in me that even if someone proved point by point that it wasn't true, I'd still believe it."

Mary Schmich has written a column for the Chicago Tribune since 1992. Before that, she spent five years as a Tribune national correspondent based in Atlanta. She was born in Savannah, Ga. Heather Stone has been a staff photographer at the Tribune since 1998. She has covered stories around the world, from the Sydney Olympics to the funeral of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, West Bank.