Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Passion and Compassion
Last Sunday, my partner Ann and I attended our dear friend Chris’s memorial service. Chris died on Jan. 24, 2014, and May 25 would have been her birthday.
The service was a lovely reflection of who Chris was and who and what she cared about.
Ann and I arrived at The Labor Temple at 1:40, in time to drop off a plate of Ann’s famous chocolate chip cookies, pin a paper crane to our shirts, and peruse tables of Chris's books, a display board of photos, a board of feminist buttons, and a table of the many games Chris loved to play.
As we entered, a crowd of mostly lesbians and leftists, some from out of state and many wearing attire and haircuts that challenged gender assumptions. Though there was a range of ages, most were probably a decade older than I am, as Chris was. There was a lot of gorgeous white hair, or hair dotted with white in that beautiful salt and pepper way. As we made our way to seats in the front, we looked along the long wall where a friend of Chris's had hung historical posters of radical equality events. This was the right place for Chris's memorial.
There were two sections of seats, arranged like pews, for maybe 220 people. In this crowd were so many who have had a long history together of fighting against racism, sexism, homophobia and other bad things, and I envied their long passionate lives together.
Chris's longtime friend Bryher began the service with a welcome and a recounting of Chris's timeline.
Then the Seattle Labor Chorus sang songs that Catherine, a member and friend of Chris's, had chosen for Chris. The lyrics called to mind the humble and determined way that Chris had led her life. The first song captured Chris's longtime commitment to economic justice:
I learned as a child there are two ways to be:
The way things are
And the way they should be….
Some people do what must be done….
They see the day beyond the horizon,
And they do what must be done.
And the second song captured Chris's humble spirit:
I just want to be one of the people who stand in the street.
I just want to be one of the millions who stand up for peace.
And the third captured her love of music in times of struggle, her love of music as a part of the struggle:
If changes are to come.
There are things that must be done,
And a song is somewhere to begin.
Chris’s dear friend Kate created a slide show of Chris’s life, and Chris’s partner Donna gave a chronology of Chris’s life, a life filled with challenges and friends and commitment to progressive—and radical (I love that) causes and ways of being in the world. Then we watched Kate’s slide show with images of Chris and many of the people in attendance through the years.
A number of us spoke a few minutes about Chris. Perhaps my favorite comments were from Ellen C., who cited two bumper stickers that she felt reflected who Chris was:
I'd rather be smashing imperialism,
My religion is kindness.
This theme of Chris's political activism and deep personal relationships was the red thread that tied the day together.
Though I have only known Chris well for a few years, she has been still, like a deep pool, with me. Our friendship has been a calm and easy one, and it was curious to imagine her turbulent days when she and a friend would shout at one another before coming back together in to yell some more and finally to find a place of peace. Perhaps she was such a person of peace for me because she had lived in such turbulence for so long.
Her ongoing commitment to justice and humility about her role in the world inspires me. I am learning from her even after her passing.
Sometimes (some might say, "Often"), I take myself so seriously. I wonder, "In what way will I leave the world better than I found it?" Though I hate to admit it because it reveals my grandiosity, I also wonder, “Will people see in me a person who makes a difference?” Such a demand from myself to change the world and to be seen doing so is perhaps a bit self-centered.
In contrast, Chris lived her life like my mantras:
Be the change you want to see in the world and
Do the right thing, even it doesn't make a difference.
I heard story after story of Chris's activism and her deep love for each person in that room.
I heard stories of her deep compassion for others and the shadow of her, at times, lack of compassion for herself. If only, so many seemed to say, she could have been as kind to herself as she was to her world.
Perhaps I can learn to be like Chris in humility and passion and compassion for the world, and I can learn also to be kind to myself in a way that she could not be.
In his dark moods, the poet Wordsworth recalled a cheerful host of daffodils that danced. Instead of thinking of the daffodils when I am in vacant or in pensive mood, I will think of Chris and live in peace with my world and those I love even as the world and I are at times so disappointingly imperfect.