News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: In Memoriam: Julie

Friday, August 31, 2007

In Memoriam: Julie

Before I move on to posting more of my politically naive diatribes, I want to note the death of a woman I wish I had known better. Julie died yesterday after a bout with a very horrible disease, systemic sclerosis, that travestied her body and made her last days on earth a daze induced by pain-suffocating drugs.

But this end does no justice to the light that this woman shared with all while she lived. It is that light which I only experienced for a few short hours and that I will remember and hope that all her family never forgets.

Julie was my ex-fiancee's aunt. I came to know Julie at several holiday gatherings and momentary stop-overs at her home, which she kindly opened up to me and my son when we had to catch a 6am plane.

From the bits and pieces that I know about her, Julie's life was not easy. She raised a son by herself. He was a handful. Later in life he gravitated to drugs and caused great hardship for her with various criminal activities that it seemed Julie invariably took upon herself to pay for. This even ended in her having to give up her house to get him out of trouble.

A less forgiving parent might have simply disowned a son like that. And, no doubt, they'd be right in a prudent way. Yet, not only did Julie display the unconditional love of a mother, but perhaps she exhibited that love that goes beyond even the natural and biological love. She never gave up on her son, something that will perhaps be to her credit should a final accounting have been made in whatever other reality exists beyond this one.

Julie worked as a head cook in a hospital kitchen. From this position she gained the wisdom to see that hospitals were money-making institutions just like any other in America. She also saw that the interests of hospital management and those of the less skilled and educated hospital workers had to fight for respect and a decent standard of living.

From this position, she rose to become president of her local hospital worker's union. Over the years, she saw the nature of healthcare change and as it changed so did the pressures on hospital workers to reduce their pay. She became quite adept at seeing through the many lies and strategems that hospital management tried to use to undermine worker solidarity. Until the end, she remained committed to workers and their dignity. She was a fighter.

Before her long illness sapped her strength, she had begun to work with street walkers close to her home. Non-judgmentally and completely on her own, she first created a bond of trust with these naturally distrustful individuals and began coaching them on ways to see get out of the brutality and vicious cycle of drugs and physical and mental abuse of pimps.

Perhaps in working with prostitutes, she was trying to exorcize some of her own demons. Perhaps she felt that helping someone in dire straits would make up for what she may have felt were her own failures with her son.

I never had a chance to go deep with Julie about her motivations, but then we have all have demons and judging others is supposed to be done with a measuring rod that begins with your own life. There's much in my own life that tells against being presumptuous in this regard.

Yet, there were also triumphs. Her courageous stand in rescuing my ex-fiance from a home where she was sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend for years is one such instance. Julie took her into her home and raised her like her own daughter. She was successful in teaching my ex- survival skills that enabled her to live on her own in an independent and self-sufficient manner.

Julie was a courageous and strong woman. It is people like her that should fill our history books. I only hope that these few, hastily jotted words do not exaggerate either her humility or her innate genius. For me, at least, she was a person to know for who she was--strengths and weaknesses alike. For it is through our weaknesses that we are strong, the Apostle Paul once wrote. And it is through our humble strengths that we show forth the spark that can move mountains.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think that Howad Zinn writes about people like Julie. Well, his goal is to write more about the conquered and the oppressed than the conquerers. Anyway, here are some links:

That California woman:

Michael Weinstein: