Thursday, December 04, 2008

the effect of IJ

One of the difficulties of growing older is the lengthening of your list of important people who have died. Last week my dear friend IJ was added to my list.

IJ was present when The Child was born. Had she not been there, I am sure that things would have gone very differently, seeing as how the midwife attempting to deliver the baby had a surgeon standing by, knives sharpened. IJ functioned as my cheerleader. IJ didn't give a hoot what others thought- she did what she thought best at all times- and being very smart and very intiutive, she was usually right.

"Come ON, Betty, COME ON!!! You can DO it!!!! PUSH!!!!!!! PUSH!!!!!!" It was hard to push, since I had toxemia. I was seriously ill, hadn't eaten for 48 hours, yet I was being asked to perform the physical feat of my lifetime, with no medication, not even a pain killer, because I had signed a statement 9 months earlier stating that I wanted no medication during the birth process, lest I harm my baby.

But thanks to IJ, who somehow infused every last bit of her own inimitable energy into me, the midwife delivered the baby. IJ was victorious.
Her contribution to my blossoming motherhood did not end there. Although IJ had no children of her own, she somehow understood my experience. She understood that new mothers (especially ones who have lost their own mothers) often feel abandoned by the rest of the world.

So IJ and I had a standing date once a week. She drove the considerable distance to my house, tearing up the long winding driveway in her old Toyota with its "Question Authority" bumper sticker. She'd just hang out with me for as many hours as I wanted, providing me with much-needed adult conversation. She was always full of ideas and inspiration. She belonged to the group Simply Living and she loved the idea of living in a self-sustained planned community. She loved people, she loved the earth, and she loved the concept of living in harmony. Looking back, I don't know how I would have made it through that year without her.

I had met IJ in a spiritual group that met at a very open-minded church. I couldn't help noticing the very attractive older lady, IJ, whose insightful comments exposed her extreme intelligence. She always had a huge smile, intended for everyone equally. We started doing lunch together after the meetings.

IJ graduated Summa Cum Laude from college at age 19, having skipped two grades of school, then earned her masters from Northwestern. She had many different jobs, teaching, being an assistant dean at a college, directing YMCA programs and advocating for the oppressed. She was a woman who cared.

While working at a home for the handicapped, she met a young man who had lived an extrememly difficult life, with no loving family. She unofficially (because he was a ward of the state) adopted him as her adult son, and took care of him for the rest of his life, giving him the loving family that she believed every human deserved.

She risked her life to uphold her beliefs. During her young life she lived with a black family in Mississippi, a very bold and dangerous move in those days. She was determined to make a difference, and during her tenure in Mississippi she brought about a change. She was horrified that blacks had been addressed only by their names on postal envelopes, without the title Mr., Mrs. or Miss. (The title was not allowed!) By the time IJ left the state, everyone, regardless of skin color, was addressed by Mr., Mrs. or Miss, thanks to her heroic efforts.

A few years ago, just before her Alzheimer's took over, she boarded a bus at age 80 and rode to Washington, D.C. to protest the war in Iraq. She never complained about the aches and pains associated with endless hours on a bus- only her much younger bus mates did that. IJ was on a mission; therefore she was happy.

I saw the irony of IJ's move into the senior care facility when her Alzheimer's made it impossible for this fiercely independent free-spirit to live on her own any longer. She was finally moving into that group living situation she had always yearned for, although what she had envisioned, of course, was more like a hippy commune.

It was in the Alzheimer's unit that IJ found the romance which had hitherto eluded her. (My theory is that the free spirit had to be tamed a bit before she could"settle down.") She and her beau spent hours happily singing Broadway show tunes. They were ecstatically inseparable, that is until Alzheimer's eventually separated them.

Now IJ's spirit is truly free.