Judith Bloomgardener died on November 11, 2011. Several of her friends are now in the process of editing her memoir with a goal of eventually publishing the work. In the meantime, the plan is to post some episodes from the memoir on this blog as they become available. The work below is from one of Judy’s notebooks (a blue one).
Law of the Sea Campaign – 1975
Working on the monthly newsletter for the Pacific Life Community, I happened on electrifying news! The world was rallying (so it seemed) to create a new Law of the Sea – sponsored by the United Nations – to protect the mineral legacy of the deep sea commons. Translated into Judyese, these mineral deposits – manganese nodules – were the eggs of the dragon mother – la mere, el mar. With that Judith aspect of myself, I resolved to defend her. It seems comical now, but I was in deepest earnest as I hastily put together, envisaged, arranged, found the resources for and carried out a Law of the Sea campaign – pouring myself into it to the exclusion of everything else – letting go of the fight against the Trident, less compelling to me than the fight on behalf of the dragon mother of the Sea——-in my mythology, the mother of us all. It came together in weeks – the loan from the American Friends Service Committee of ‘Van Gogh’, a sunflower yellow van in which we could transport the Earth Ball, a 6-foot in diameter canvas covered, inflatable sphere that my new dear friend Betty paid for – and paid to have spray-painted with the green continents and the blue sea. I found a dragon puppet and wangled an actual manganese nodule from Friends of the Earth (FOE), an environmentalist organization which had taken on the Law of the Sea issue. My contact at FOE had initially been unwilling to lend me his manganese nodule – so I went to a Chinatown novelty store a block away and bought a dragon head and a wooden sword, then returned to the FOE office, sword in hand and dragon head over my own head, claiming to be delegated by the dragon mother. Mark couldn’t hold out – and I managed to leave with the nodule before he could get me arrested. My friend Shelley and my 12-year-old son Jim signed on to accompany me, and off we went, stopping at all the coastal towns and cities from Seattle up north to San Diego down south. We’d camp or stay on the floor of some local peace activist, setting up our table on a populous street corner with our flyers showing the Dragon guarding her nodules, and stopping traffic with our huge earth ball. We’d phone the local media who, in most cases, would send someone to interview us. It was fun and typical of my style of political work – passionate, artistic, individualistic – and not linked into any vision of actually affecting power at the highest levels – where policy is made. No, my way was always to speak to the man and woman on the street. To this day, I don’t know if this did any good, but it was my way, from deep in my heart.
The Law of the Sea traveling circus began and ended at the Sunnyvale Lockheed plant where we’d so often vigiled against the Trident. Lockheed was at the forefront of the efforts to seize the minerals on the deep sea bed. It had developed a special deep sea steamshovel-like vehicle called the Glomar Explorer. When I heard the news about Lockheed’s plans regarding the manganese nodules, I went to see the Public Relations director. I asked him why, in defiance of the calls for justice and conservation, Lockheed would go after the nodules? “Because,” he said, “Americans need their toasters.” At the end of our journey, thus, we held a Saturday rally in front of Lockheed headquarters. We named it Toaster Giveaway Day. Dozens of comrades from the peace movement donated their toasters in protest against Lockheed’s deep sea ambitions. 30+ years later, it still makes me smile to think of the Lockheed PR man oafishly accepting the toasters as media covered the event. For 2 years thereafter, we had no toaster. I’d make toast in the broiler of our oven, more than once singeing my eyebrows in the process.
A note from Kate: I was just talking to a friend about how, the older one gets, the harder one’s life story gets to believe. Nice to have this corroborating evidence for at least one of my crazy stories. How I missed having a toaster from age 11-13. The only reason we got a new one was because (by happy accident) I lit the oven on fire and melted the broiler . Below, I stand by the earth ball contemplating the the loss of our toaster while sporting a singularly regrettable haircut.
Judy Bloomgardener passed away at 9:35 p.m. on 11/11/11, Ultimate Noodle Day and a day full of symbolism for new beginnings. She died peacefully, surrounded by family and friends, with a sweet smile on her face. Judy wrote the Ten May We’s as suggestions for her grandson Sam on his 13th birthday/Bar Mitzvah day. We read these instructions for living as our final goodbye and commitment to her to carry her spirit forward in the world. The 11th May We, of course, is May We Always Celebrate Noodle Day.
The Ten “May We’s”
(according to Grandma Googy)
- May we love ourselves, for each of us is holy, made in the image of God.
- May we treat everything with respect, for all beings are holy, people, animals, plants, as well as beings too small for us to see, even the earth, the air, and the water, all of which come from, and return to life.
- May we think globally while we act locally. May we honor, protect and be loyal first to our families (including our dear friends), then to our communities, and then to the world, for that is the natural order of things.
- May we protect children, animals and the world they will inherit: We have no more important task.
- May we live simply, so as to remember who we are. May we not be distracted by the multiplicity of things.
- May we not wage war, but love diversity, for life has many aspects, and everything that exists has its complementary opposite. May we always seek a compromise among the conflicting voices within our own complex selves. In relating to others, may we seek a balance between the other person’s needs and our own. May we listen actively to every voice that seeks to be heard, straining to hear the softest voices or those that speak in foreign languages.
- May we not hurry nor worry. May we breathe deeply and rest when we are tired, trusting in the natural rhythms of all things. May we be comfortable knowing there is nowhere to fall but into the hands of God.
- May we give full attention to whatever we do, no matter how humble, since the present moment is all we ever have. May we know that every day is a good day.
- Whatever our unique gifts, may we express them fully and fearlessly, for each of us is a treasure not to be wasted. May we be gentle with imperfections and lavish with praise, towards ourselves and others.
- May we remember the past and teach it to our children, for it is our heritage. And may we use our God-given imagination actively to create the future anew. For the creator of all things has endowed us with memory and imagination so that as we gain in experience we might remake the world, more peaceful, more just, more beautiful and more joyful.
Barbara Riverwoman and I had discussed creating a blog as an online space to share news, plan events, and share our stories about Judy Bloomgardener. It’s now online at http://friendsofjudydungbeetle.wordpress.com/.
It is my hope that, with the help of friends and family, we will compile and post more of Judy’s writings here at “Judy Bloomgardener’s Mind Space.”
Dearest Mary-chan (and other friends, known and unknown),
Do you have a link, through Emily perhaps, to what is happening now amongst the young in Egypt, with the world (as it were) to be remade by them — now? Can you imagine —if it were us? How can anyone sleep a single wink or pause for anything with such a great challenge? Educare: How would you prepare your very own group of people??? If the medium were the message. I can’t remember when I have ever wanted anything as much as I would want, now, to be one of them, with both the vitality of youth and whatever I might have learned in all of my life about — everything!!!! Remembering back to summer of 1971 on The Farm — in all of my ignorance: The Movement for a New Society!!! That’s what we were supposedly part of; Elise had brought us together under that rubric… Do you remember? That seductive smell in the air? Of possibility?
Last night, from my bed — where I think about Endings — I hosted a Seder; I imagine you must have been part of one also — focused on Egypt, on the Egyptians overthrowing their own Pharoah — and being now in the very position of the Hebrews in the desert; well, no, not really, because they’re in their own homeland. I was thinking of the chaos that ensued after The Great Escape, the infighting, Moses tearing his hair out because his people complained they were better off in Egypt as slaves than wandering in the desert with nothing, and how he went up into the mountains while they prayed to the God of the Egyptians — and he brought back a fragment of social/political organization, the Ten Commandments, which only got as far as to say Don’t kill, Don’t steal, Don’t commit adultery; Respect your parents, Be faithful to the God of your tribe, Keep the Sabbath (a really brilliant commandment) — but even when multiplied into the 613 laws of Deuteronomy and Leviticus and later the thousands of pages of commentary by all the men in the lineage that sought to discern God’s intent for his people, it wasn’t enough (lo dayenu) and even later, later, later, with the Lefty thinkers continuing to think about how to bring about the Peaceable Society, and Quakers and Jooboos, etc., etc., and law schools and, by now, I’m sure, doctorates in comparative law that would bring together the best, the deepest thinking of all people of all times, does anyone know? If so, can we get a quick summary, and send links to anyone whose name we can learn, as input into this Great Process, this Great Moment?
I know I’m being silly; it must come from them, what is real for them, that this is just another moment in a perhaps endless, incompletable process —- but I yearn for it so badly: I am grateful to my mother and father who, in their way, instilled in me this passionate thirst; it keeps me going despite much and worsening pain. An alter kocker, I watch from the sidelines, cheering the team on, against such odds…. Go, team, go: Learn right now how to love one another so that the least are empowered to speak and are listened to and given their due, so that every kind of crazy diversity is respected…so that brilliant strategies are imagined to even include “the enemies”……………. . . . . .
Those times, forty years ago, when we caught one another’s gaze and had to look away, or when we started laughing uncontrollably, wasn’t it about this, the gorgeous silk purse to be made of this old sow’s ear of a world — that we could almost see?
I wrote this to you, special friend of that special moment; we met when both had such naked eyes. Having written this inspired by the memory of those times, I feel I should also post this letter in my blog, which is my present Work, my attempt to squeeze out a few drops of honey from so many lemons. I hope that doesn’t diminish it as a personal message to you.
I have so much yet to learn about what it is to be a person, the wildness that is in us. Part civilized and part savage. Today I heard a terrible story — about pain — that gives rise to a prayer, first, and next, the need to investigate further why there is such a powerful force — pain — in us.
My friend’s mother in law had been feeling very weak and was hospitalized for immediate treatment as well as extensive testing. As feared, it seemed the cancer she’d battled years earlier had returned. A PICC line was installed to get urgently needed blood into her system as quickly as possible while a treatment plan was being worked out. Who knows what, who knows why, but while my friend and her husband were away from the hospital overnight, Edna pulled out the PICC line and when they arrived in the morning she was extremely agitated, demanding that they get her out of bed and take her home. When they couldn’t agree, she became extremely hostile, particularly shocking because they had been such a close family. My friend persuaded her husband and his sister to leave the room; she couldn’t bear their pain as their mom, in her delirium, turned on them. Better, she thought, that Edna rage at her, the daughter-in-law. The nurses were finally able to calm Edna’s agitation with high doses of morphine. Whether because of the morphine or the trauma of her having pulled out the PICC line or something else, Edna died the next morning, never regaining consciousness, her last interactions with her most beloved people a crazed assault of blasphemy.
“May I be spared!”, I think. I remember my first experience of intense pain, in labor with my first childbirth. Left alone in the hospital room with horrendous, incomprehensible, things happening inside my body, I looked desperately for a way out, and saw my clothes, the clothes I had replaced with a hospital gown, on a hook, by the door. “Simple!” I thought. “I’ll just take this gown off, put my own clothes back on, and leave! I’m not a prisoner! They can’t stop me!” Unable, for a few minutes, to comprehend that the pain wasn’t in the hospital; the pain was in me. The nurse did stop me, of course. Despite having entered the hospital with the strong intention to have “natural childbirth” (my husband and I had taken a course to prepare ourselves), I succumbed, shocked by the experience of pain, to the nurse’s offer of “a little bit of demerol”. I thus missed out on my daughter’s birth, during which I was completely unconscious. The demerol was amnestic, leaving not even a memory trace.
Ten years later, on what would turn out to be the last day of my husband’s life (although he had been severely ill for several months, I simply hadn’t grasped the possibility he would actually die of the illness), I walked into his hospital room in the morning. A nurse was opening the curtains. “Such a beautiful day,” she says. My dear, gentle husband, who never cursed, bites her head off. I reprimand him, “She was just trying to be pleasant [still a very young woman, I haven’t a clue about sickness, pain, powerlessness].” — “There’s no reason to yell at her.” My husband, a skeleton, raises himself up in the bed, to roar at me, “Nothing matters! NOTHING!”. And that is the last conversation we ever have. And in my mind, that last conversation, despite fourteen years of amicable marriage, has a very disproportionate weight.
Now I am ill. Sometimes, the pain is like a roaring in my head that drowns everything else out. To make myself heard — to myself — above the uproar in my head, I have to yell. It seems as if I’m yelling at my caregivers, at my friend, who gives to me so generously. Afterwards, I beg their pardon, explain that my yelling has nothing to do with them, it is just the pain. I can see that they are shaken, but I can’t help it; I can’t not scream. So far, there has always been time afterward to clarify, to apologize, because, so far, the pain has subsided, and I have returned to my civilized self.
So I pray: Oh Holy Spirit, please spare me from having paranoia on top of my other problems. Let me never blame someone else because I am in pain. Help me, Source of All Things, deeply to understand the function of pain. I wish to accept it with grace, but, so far, can only wish it away with all my might.
This stage of life is really different than others I have known. I keep thinking of how I’d like to partake of a whole economy organized around needs associated with being in an end stage, rather than a beginning, or even middle stage. There are so many things I DO NOT want, that others want, that are widely considered to be desirable, things that have to do with long term improvement or durability. I do not want an education. I do not want a house, however quaint, to improve. Although I adore permaculture, I do not want land, to develop wisely, complexly, over time. I do not want a van, however cleverly fitted out, for camping. I don’t want to start a non-profit, however urgently needed. I don’t want to develop a craft involving paper or textiles, however delightful to make something out of nothing (where would I put it?) . I don’t see any point in learning yet another language even though I am utterly fascinated by the different ways different cultures have symbolized their lived experience. This list could go on and on, and now that I’ve thought of it, I’ll probably go on making it! (Please, if commenting, add your own items!). “If only….”, dreaming about what might lie just beyond the horizon, is where my gaze has most typically fallen, all my life. The possible, not the actual. But now, since it’s all I have, my focus is on the here and now, or, at most, what could be tomorrow, or next week, or, stretching it, in six months…. For me, that is. For others, for the world, I can take the long view. But the short view, the immediate, is what is most compelling. It’s spring; let me eat asparagus: Like that! Next Thanksgiving, Christmas, are impossibly far off, irrelevant. The way things might turn out in the Middle East. I prefer to think about the half century plus I have actually lived through: what it all means…. Well, I say this, but I am simultaneously wanting to dig deeper,deeper,deeper, way back into the origins of human societies, where the idea of “rights” comes from. Feeling into my relationship with other kinds of creatures, creatures I myself might become, shortly, this finger to a caterpillar, this head of hair to an old man’s beard fungus. I’m deeply engaged with the rights of non- humans, on how we all get to cut the pie. Because even if I do shuffle off this mortal coil, I’m still in the universe, right? Still part of the earth ecosystem as long as that is happening, right? So I want to get clear about what rights I might have if I turn up next time as some weeds, some Bermuda grass, let’s say, in my daughter’s back yard. Does she have a right to pull me out and throw me on the dung heap? What if I were a beautiful wildflower? If I were good for the local ecosystem as now constituted? Or bad….. These questions interest me. In my imaginary society organized for old codgers, there would be a lot of discussion groups to discuss important matters like this. These are very preliminary thoughts on What is Special about My Present Life Stage — but I notice that if I let my thoughts season, they tend to just disappear, like smoke….
I’ve been sidetracked for a month by issues outside of me that absorbed my attention, leaving little time for introspection.
I’d spent two or three years writing my life story. It was a very dynamic process while it was happening. I did not choose what to write about; instead, something in the present triggered the memories which were intensely vivid, as if I were back in that other time and place.
Many of the memories had to do with my zig-zagging path, responding to a sense of being called to do battle on behalf of a series of underdogs. But once the battles were played out and the stories were written, they lost their force for me, and so I just left the stories, unpolished, unedited, in the drawer, to focus instead on the present, both living it and writing about it.
In the past month, however, what has happened is that past and present have fused: A month ago, a grave injustice was laid on my doorstep — like an infant needing to be taken in. The injustice concerned a worker at the housing complex where I live who, as a very young man, the child of poor farmworker immigrants, had made the mistake of joining a gang, had committed a crime, and had spent some time in jail, unfortunately a very common sequence of events in these parts.
What was unusual was that he came to his senses quickly. As soon as he got out of jail, he married his high school sweetheart (also a former gang member) and got a job here as an entry level maintenance man. Over sixteen years, through steady day by day work and faithfulness, he became a model husband and father, and a highly respected and well-loved keystone of this senior community. But he’s Latino, big, tough-looking, and dogged by stereotypes. When, last spring, the police rounded up for questioning every one they could find who had ever been part of the particular gang to which he had once belonged and which had recently been engaged in a lot of street activity, he was caught in the dragnet, even though he’d had nothing to do with them for nearly twenty years.
He was the only one of the dozens of suspects to get his photo, handcuffed, being dragged off by the police from his apartment in our Village, splashed all over the front page of the newspaper. With the photo as all the evidence required to prove his dangerousness, he was summarily fired. I won’t go into the details, but it felt like rocket thrusters were ignited underneath me and that I had no choice but to get involved in the struggle on his behalf.
A month later, the struggle is over, and, in the short run, we have lost, completely, and the villains, the white bureaucrats, won. I am left, as countless times before, disbelieving that truth and justice could be swept aside like so much garbage, although I think I know that the tide of history is on our side. In my mind, I am marching, again, with the peasants of America Latina: “El pueblo, unido, jamas sera vencido!”
I got very tired doing this, very, very tired. And I questioned whether it made sense for me, in my circumstances. But I don’t think I could have done otherwise. No, once I have exhausted my resources, I can let go. But not until then. A grave injustice was committed. On my doorstep. To not adopt the case would have been like leaving a foundling in a basket to die on my doorstep. While there is breath, there is hope. When there is nothing more to be done, I get to practice the virtue of equanimity.