Monday, November 3, 2014

Dia de los Muertos 2014

This past weekend was the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos. In the spirit of that, I continue a tradition I started last year, devoting my first blog of November to remembering those in my life who died in the previous 12 months. This year I am remembering three.

Steve Imhof • died Jan 8 (in his late 60s)
Steve was many things, but I met him in the unusual capacity of a male midwife. As it happened, my son, Ceilee, was his first solo birth. He generally worked with his wife, Joy, who was the more experienced midwife, but they had two clients who went into labor at the same time and had to split up to attend both. Steve got Annie and me, figuring (accurately) that we'd be less phased by a male attendant. 

Ceilee was born in the middle of our bedroom floor on a cold and sunny winter morning Jan 27, 1981, and Steve was a quiet, steady voice guiding us on this joyous occasion.

Though I lost track of Steve shortly after the birth, he surprisingly resurfaced in my life 27 years later when he drove up from Panama City FL to meet me in Atlanta (where I was visiting East Lake Commons to conduct Weekend I of a two-year facilitation training in the Southeast). After separating from Joy he had gotten curious about cooperative living and tracked me down to learn more about how he might build community in the panhandle of Florida.

After chatting with me in Atlanta he got intrigued by the facilitation training and spontaneously decided to stay for the weekend. Drawn into what we were teaching he signed up for the whole course and I got to see him eight times over the next two years. The final weekend was in June 2010, and I never saw him again.

Through occasional email contact, I knew that Steve was applying what he learned in the facilitation training to dynamics in his local fire department and that he was working on trying to coalesce some form of cooperative living in Panama City.

Mostly I remember Steve as someone who stayed curious his whole life, and was willing to question old choices in light of new evidence. We should all be so open to what's around us.
Marjorie Swann • died March 14 (at 93)
Marjorie was many things and lived a full life.

I first met her as the mother of Carol, a dynamic woman in Berkeley who is a dance and voice performer, a Hakomi therapist, and a social change activist. I was engaged in the dance of intimacy with Carol 1998-2000. Though it did not work for us to be partners, we have remained friends and I visited Marj (who lived in Berkeley as well) on a number of occasions while seeing Carol.

I also knew Marj as the ex-partner of Bob (Carol's father), who was a well-known economist and peace activist. Bob collaborated with Ralph Borsodi to start the forerunner of the Institute for Community Economics (that developed the community land trust model as a way to take the air out of the speculative balloon that inflates land prices). Toward the end of his life he championed the writings of E F Schumacher (Small Is Beautiful) operating out of the Schumacher Center for Alternative Economics in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Bob died in 2003.

Marj was a Quaker peace activist, very involved with the American Friends Service Committee, and a member of the War Resistors Leagues. She co-founded the Committee for Nonviolent Action in 1960—a group that continues strong today—and even found time to provide shelter for battered women.

I knew Marj only toward the end of her long life, when her waning physical strength limited how much she got out and about in pursuit of her various causes. Yet the fire burned strongly within her and her spirit was indomitable. There has always been something uplifting for me about being around seniors like Marj, who are engaged and open-minded in defiance of age—who do not go gently into that good night.

Stephen Gaskin • died July 1 (at 79)
Though Stephen was well-known as the charismatic leader who founded The Farm (Summertown TN) in 1971, I knew him only slightly. We chatted occasionally when I visited his community, yet I was never sure he remembered me from one visit to the next. 

Our most satisfying connection (for me) was when I was participating in The Farm Communities Conference Memorial Day Weekend in 2012, and was able to present to him—during intermission of an in-house rock band performance on the community stage—the Kozeny Communitarian Award for that year. It was last time I saw him.

While Stephen was a poster child for Flower Power and the legalization of marijuana, what stands out the most for me are two of his lesser known achievements:

a) Steadfast dedication to good local relations, navigating the considerable challenge of peaceably integrating Hippies arriving by the busload into conservative rural Tennessee.

b) Accepting amicably his being deposed as leader of the community when its centralized economy collapsed in 1983 and the population shrank from 1500 to 200. Stephen lived in the community for 30 more years but never again served in a leadership capacity. Very few can handle a transition like that, much less with grace.

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