It’s such a privilege to be with you all here today to remember Barb.
I first met Barb and Paul in 1990 in El Salvador, when they came on a solidarity delegation during the civil war, and I was their tour guide. My first memory of Barb, easily the shortest person in our group, was that she kept bumping her head on the doorframe of the little 16-seater school bus that we were given as transport. So much so that we all began to chorus WATCH YOUR HEAD! each time she headed down the bus steps. And every time we said it she would laugh this lovely, gutsy laugh that she had, like “ya got me.” We were traveling up to a war zone, and at one point we were stopped by soldiers at a check point, and one of them, fully armed with a clunky semi-automatic rifle half as big as he was, boarded our subversive looking vehicle to search it. WATCH YOUR HEAD Barb tried to say helpfully as he headed out—but wham—sure enough, he clunked himself just as she had, mostly injuring his self importance, I think. I guess “watch your head” doesn’t really translate, probably because it doesn’t even make sense in English. (Think about it.) It was only one of many great moments on that trip, our little blow against the Salvadoran-and the US--military machine. And at the same time it was so like Barb to think of this guy as a person, and try to show him some kindness, even though he was on the other side, as it were.
Barb and Paul were also an inspiration to me in that situation because they resisted the urge to become the serious solidarity machines our tendency to overschedule on these trips caused, and instead of always going to five or six meetings a day they took time to relax, to get to know the other people in the group, to joke, to talk about their families and their lives with them. They were the first to teach me I think that you could be a responsible activist and still be a joyful and fun human being, something which too many activists I’ve known have forgotten or lost sight of. And two years later when I came to California to work at the Peace and Justice Center, their home was my first home here, and through all the years, it has still felt like a real home. In fact, if I could sum up what being around Barb meant to me, I would have to say it felt like coming home. It’s hard to find examples, because it wasn’t really any single thing that Barb did that made me feel that way, it was just the way she was.
But I’m so glad to have the chance to hear stories of Barb and who she was to each of us, because I think in the end remembering to tell stories of the people that we love and the things that they have done, or the way that they were, is really one of the most important things we can do in our lives. Even the most minute things. Because these are the people who make us who we truly are, because every day all the time we are being told by people warped by cynicism and greed to believe things about ourselves, to believe things about the world, that we know are not true, that we know if they become true mean a kind of living death for humanity and the planet itself. So it’s very important that we keep on telling each other stories about these people we’ve loved and who they were and what they mean to us and what they did, so that we can know who we are. That’s the best way we can hope to build the world we want to see.
Barb’s uniqueness, to me, was that she had the most profoundly kindly nature. Many people can do kindly things, but I don’t think Barb had it in her nature to be mean or egotistical or thoughtless to another person. She was brave and funny and smart and she had integrity and a passion for justice, but of all those gifts, plain kindness was the rarest and most precious I think. She was really, it dawns on me now, without the slightest bit of exaggeration, the kind of person we all have to become more like eventually if the human race is going to survive many more generations.
Whenever a person who is truly kindly and compassionate is lost to us, it seems particularly unfair, because they are so few, but maybe what we are being challenged to do out of love for Barb is to try to fill the gap by becoming more kindly and compassionate ourselves. Of course we will never fill the gap of that individual person in our lives—that uniqueness, the person who was Barb, is unrepeatable. We’ll miss her forever, which is why we all need to keep telling ourselves her stories, and talk about the unique times we shared with her. But if we learn anything from the loss of a person who showed us what it is to be truly kind, it’s that to honor them we have to try to become more like them. And if we all stretch just as much as we can, maybe it’s possible to start to bridge just a part of that gap.
I have to say, though, when I heard from Paul that Barb had died, I didn’t feel more kindly or compassionate. I felt shocked to the core, and then I felt angry, I felt really pissed off. I didn’t give money to people who asked me for it in the street, or smile at babies or strangers walking by. I was incensed, and so all I did was what I seem to fall back on now every time there is some new injustice, some new human disaster: I wrote a letter.
This is the letter:
To Whom It May Concern:
I wish to inform you that am shocked and outraged by the death of my friend Barbara George. There seems to be no accountability among those who have the power to make these decisions. Who the hell do you think you are anyway? I didn’t vote you in, no one I know granted you this power to just take people we need out of our lives. Are you completely mad? With good people scarce as hen’s teeth, we are already dealing with an out of control system that is throwing the very web of life itself on this planet into chaos, and now this—
So I wish to inform you I have transferred my allegiance to another candidate, one who may not have the backing of any of the Major Parties, but who most closely represents my most deeply held beliefs. She is the Weaver of a Universe that makes sense, has meaning, and in which, death is not the enemy, but a challenge and a lesson to the living. She is about building a world in which nothing good is ever lost.
The place of hatred and chaos your Universal Administration has created is on borrowed time. There are millions of us, we are dedicated, we are the more dedicated because of the deaths, but especially because of the lives, of people like Barbara George. The future still belongs to us.
So I would really appreciate it if someone would tell me where I can mail this. Thank you.