On the death of Judy Leever
Oh Judy, Oh Judy!
I sit here in the first rush of grief… Linda and Debbie called me just this hour—
Weeping and heart broken to lose you;
Grateful your suffering was short
Grateful I got to hold you close last Monday and stare down the scary angel together;
Little did we know he was already in the room!
You said, thoughtfully, “Oh I’ll be here next summer… “
What is it about you, Judy, that makes you such a precious luminosity?
Such a giant among women? Yes, it’s true, though I know you’d never see it that way.
I want to say it is Courage.
You never dodged any charging reality, however hard or sad, but took it unflinchingly,
Letting your intimate knowledge of pain and loss create in you a rare compassion.
Always ready to recognize instantly the suffering and need of another, and to step forward to do the kindest thing.
Like when Daniel Westheimer was born and you dropped your whole life to go out of town and care for them all.
Ursula LeGuin described you in her poem about artists,*
And it is perfect, although I never knew you to paint or play an instrument.
But the courage of the truth-seer is you, Judy.
What do they do,
the singers, tale-writers, dancers, painters, shapers, makers?
They go there with empty hands,
into the gap between.
They come back with things in their hands.
They go silent and come back with words, with tunes.
They go into confusion and come back with patterns.
They go limping and weeping, ugly and frightened,
and come back with the wings of the redwing hawk,
the eyes of the mountain lion.
That is where they live,
where they get their breath:
there, in the gap between,
the empty place.
Where do the mysterious artists live?
There, in the gap between.
Their hands are the hinge.
No one else can breathe there.
They are beyond praise.
You are beyond praise, Judy;
You went, eyes and heart open, into the strange land of Truth
Barren of self pity, always,
And returned with honest knowing.
To you my greatest love!
You will be with me always,
And I promise I will do whatever I can for your three boys and for Bruce.
* From Always Coming Home p. 78
Wow, I just ran into Marta Donohoe, my friend the Montessori educator to whom we are indebted for Clark Montessori High School (!) and she shared this amazing poem by Adrienne Rich. I love this. Ellen
by Adrienne Rich
it will not be simple, it will not be long
it will take little time, it will take all your thought
it will take all your heart, it will take all your breath
it will be short, it will not be simple it will touch through your ribs, it will take all your heart it will not be long, it will occupy your thought as a city is occupied, as a bed is occupied it will take all your flesh, it will not be simple You are coming into us who cannot withstand you you are coming into us who never wanted to withstand you you are taking parts of us into places never planned you are going far away with pieces of our lives it will be short, it will take all your breath it will not be simple, it will become your will
– “Final Notations” by Adrienne Rich
Prayer in the Morning (by Ellen)
I ask for the gift of abstinence; may I follow my food plan with joy and ease today.
Help me to remember that my neck and body are not responsible for holding up my head. My head is supported from heaven and my neck and body are free to lengthen and widen.
Help me to remember to pause in the endless tide of intentions and of reactions, so that calm consciousness can coalesce here with my body.
I have time to live my life with poise and ease today.
My responsibility is only to follow Guidance in this moment, and not to manage the outcomes in all my life. The Past and the Future are on You — so I am light as a feather, free as a bird.
May I live with love in my heart, and generosity in my hands, my mind every open to wonder.
And may I be consoled in my honest smallness by the quiet voice of Guidance, kol demama dakkah, —and occasional peeks at majesty.
Stand aside from doing; open up to flowing.
Never trying. Here and now.
Exactly like loving! When that sweet heat awakens,
the What smiles and says, “I’ve been waiting to play you like a harp.”
8/16/12 Prayer for Connection
I am here; teach me to know you, Sentience of the Earth.
I give my awareness. Give me your healing.
Love I give you; give me then grace.
To you my life; from you, breath.
Written 11/94 (by Ellen)
Tell me I’m a great Warrior Woman.
For thirty seven years my family have lived in this Victorian Castle Keep,
Accumulating, saving, neglecting, repressing all manner of things and spooks.
For ten years my wild-ass engineer scrounger father brought home industrial garbage
and a dozen electric motors, all sizes,
and carefully saved in rusty coffee cans a thousand nuts, bolts, screws and washers.
Horded hunks of plastic, sheets of rubber, wood in every form, with and without rip-your-hand nails sticking out,1
And deposited layers of precious heart energy with cunningly-soldered engineering models of dam gates,
Cleverly designed steering mechanism for ice-boat-never-built,
Stuck diagrams of complex wiring for God-knows-what on a nail in the basement.
For nine years my overwhelmed artist mother, who said, “This house is a woman killer!”, saved tablets of watercolor paper, and old canvases, and newsprint, and works of art from the thirties, the forties, the fifties– by herself, by me as a teenager.2
She collected: a carved Jacobean bench from a 1957 garage sale; a walnut dresser from barn in Indiana…, and yards and yards of fabric for dresses never made…a bag full of ace bandages to bind up her phlebitis, a cupboard of old prescription medicines, and shampoo from the fifties.
She walked away and left her stuff when she couldn’t take the Wild Ass any more: (He said: “Honey you are fiscally illiterate!”)
And he sat in a chair and died in 1969 a couple of years later, and never cleaned his stuff or painted his room or made a will. He left it all here.
And then my young married self was here with husband and baby and two more babies, and an underground newspaper in the 60’s –including dark room, fully equipped, used, abandoned, and left to gather crusts of grime.
The exterior trim was painted three times, interior rooms at least once, leaving paint cans and matching colors, once labeled, slumbering in filthy cobwebs.
I thought a big house with lots of cupboards and closets and drawers and compartments and endless rooms in the basement meant you could save everything you wanted. Especially if it were neatly put away.3 Ha! a dream.
I saved baby toys, all the parts collected, and toddler toys, and infant equipment (how much special equipment goes with babies! How about the Johnny Jump Up that clamps in a doorway…)
I saved notes from college courses. Old loose leave binders. Old calendars, filled in and not filled in.
My husband gathered piles of magazines and newspapers beside the bed, and could not part with them, nor pick them up.
I would gather them into grocery bags, write the date in magic marker, and stick them in closets.
We would move around the 16 rooms like Sioux migrating over the planes, setting up camp first here, then there, leaving behind dressers full of old underwear and grocery lists, moving on to fresher fields.
The children grew and saved and collected, and since I never knew how to throw things out, never knew how to organize or clean, and they were not born with the knowledge, they left behind mountains of elementary school projects and papers and magazines and air-brush equipment and art work, and girlie mags.
And Dungeons and Dragons equipment and outgrown clothes and love-letters from old swains and a miniature brass sphinx and little china dogs and Transformers.
And the radiator burst and flooded the floor, and the gutter went unrepaired and rain came in, and the spiders spun and the dust and grime collected slowly over everything.
Sash ropes broke, and windows were propped up with broom handles. Doors unhinged were tossed in the basement where hardware rusted from Midwest summer humidity.
Cords of firewood piled up against foundation walls, and slowly decayed and provided habitat for civilizations of insects.
Old china, glassware, pots, utensils and gadgets …Who could throw away the almost-OK Toaster Oven?
The neighbors always had three well filled garbage cans on trash day, and often piles of auxiliary trash. Many weeks, I didn’t set out a thing, some weeks only one can.
My marriage died, my husband walked away. Two or three years later when he came to get his stuff, he pawed over the pile I’d made in the coal bin, leaving most, destroying the little order I’d managed. He left the German folding kayak and the model of a house framing he’d made in handy-tech school.
Left decades of National Geographic and Popular Science and New York Review of Books.
Left old running shoes, and furniture from his mother’s house and his childhood teddy bear.
Left camp photos and college-age European trip slides and 8 mm movies and endless strips of negatives.
And I intended twenty years ago to whip this place into shape and live in peace and order.
And I intended five years ago to get rid of all the things and live in airy emptiness like Theresa Canedo who lived in the same efficiency for 10 years and still had empty drawers and shelves.
And it whipped me.
Year after year it whipped me.
And the brass tarnished and the wood grew dry and chalky, and the windows peeled and flaked, and the grime increased.
And now, under duress of real estate sale forced upon me by economic necessity and professional upheaval,
I, by my own power, have emptied it all.
spent my precious dollars and hired 100 hours of Amazon labor and we turned the river through the stable.
One mountain of trash and treasures went to the garbage truck: it took 5 people 30 minutes to load it all.
Another mountain of trash and treasures– hauled away from the back yard to the tune of $250 including dump fee and they didn’t even get half.
Can my brothers guess the heart attack it is to hold my mother’s green plaid coat from the 40’s…her red rayon suit with the brass buttons she wore to all Jack’s recitals at the Conservatory of Music?
Can they guess the jolt of love and anguish to look again at my father’s handwriting on yellowed kindergarten paper, or see an old Black man wheel away the reel lawn mower brought from New Orleans via Maine with the large wood wheels he made on the lathe?
Would my ex-husband understand what it does to my EEG to throw his abandoned kayak out for the trash, or see the crib all three babies used sitting on the curb because Good Will won’t take cribs nowadays?
Does anyone understand how going through grown children’s keepsakes and trash can be an ordeal of self-recrimination and shame? Shame to see the tangible evidence that I have failed to teach my children budget-balancing skills on the material plane because I lacked them myself.
It breaks down all my psychic protection of repression and denial when I am standing in the dust and the junk weeping over the Bar Mitzvah present lost under the bed.
You probably don’t understand and can’t call me Great Warrior Woman. Probably I am the only one who really knows. Probably I am the one to call myself Great Warrior Woman.
Have I the strength?
Let me tell you:
This is a feat. A feat of muscular effort; of mental understanding, a feat of self-forgiveness, and
an offering of love.
For all these years, My Mother, My Father, My Husband, My Children, I have held your garbage and your treasures, lovingly maintaining the potential of your dreams, the goodness of your memories. Now,
I offer you resolution, clarity, emptiness and peace.
I love you, and I have cleaned up our mess.
I, Ellen, have cleaned up all our mess.
I, the daughter you would not touch, have admitted: no ice boat. Nevermore!
I, the daughter you disliked because she was too much like her father, have thrown out your yard goods and come within a whisker of junking your old treadle sewing machine.
I, the wife you fled, have coped with twenty years of your neglectfulness and cowardice.
I, the mother you resisted and fought, have swept up condoms and candy wrappers.
I, the mother you loved and left, have gathered and faced all that you could not gather nor face nor admit nor decide nor relinquish.
I love you, and I have cleaned up the mess.