When I was a child, living with my parents near the military base where my father worked, my parents had a close group of good friends. On Sunday, we'd go to brunch and then over to the home of one of the couples. The kids would swim and play, the adults would chat, and in general it created this 'family dinner' atmosphere in a time and a place where all of us were far from our homes and our people.
When the Army runs your life, you don't get connections. You don't get the same best friend for more than two years in a row. You don't get a neighborhood where everyone's watched you grow up, where you've played with the same kids since preschool. You get boxes marked with tape and stickers, packed by strangers every few years.
My parents both came from homes where a premium was put on family, on gatherings and togetherness. Their last posting had put them in a city where both of their families were within an hour's drive; I was still young enough that I didn't understand you don't get that everywhere. So here we were, a full day's drive from family, a little four-person unit struggling to make a home.
We got five whole years in Texas, and my parents' friends had long hitches there as well. So there is, in my memory, this halcyon 'long time' (probably about three years) when my family had a tribe. At the heart of this tribe were Joe and Mary. It was their house we went to, into which we were welcomed like family. I remember so many happy hours splashing around, watching fireflies come out, listening to the happy chatter on the patio. I remember Joe's boisterous laughter, and Mary's quick wit, and I remember feeling more at home around them than around 'normal' adults.
The most remarkable thing about Mary was that she never spoke to me like a child. She was direct, kind, honest, and open with me. She treated people like people, regardless of age, so I never felt 'less-than' in her eyes. As I grew into adulthood, at some point she transitioned from "my parents' friend" to "my friend" but I can't say when it happened because nothing *changed*. I remember the first time Dad told me, "Mary wanted me to give you her number, and ask you to call her," there was this sort of awed, "Mary wants to talk to *me*?" It was like finding out the coolest kid in school wanted to be your friend. I called her and we chattered away like old buddies, reconnecting and rediscovering kinship.
Outside of my view, there was an entire person I never fully realised. She was a brilliant and accomplished woman, whose service to her country had real and direct impact. She was decorated and praised for her years of hard work, and in her personal life she was creative, thoughtful, and passionate. All I knew was this woman who was smart, and fearless about being smart, in a time when I was learning from almost every other source in my life that I needed to soften my edges and dull my shine in order for other people to accept me. She told her jokes or made her opinions known, and everyone stopped and *listened* to her. Not because she was loudest, or brashest, but because she cultivated respect with her actions.
Mary was fearless in how she loved the world, and loved other people, and sometimes I find her legacy in my own heart-forward life. She was one of the first people I knew to treat love as an act of profound courage. Though I don't know that she'd have described herself this way, she walked the same Warrior's path I do, armed with fierce love and compassion, fighting for a better world one person at a time.
Whenever I have thought to myself that it's not possible to be both loved and fierce at the same time, Mary's life gives the lie to that, because in all the years I knew her, she had a passionate, dedicated advocate in her husband. They were partners in every sense of the word, supporting and defending one another without reservation, creating with their love a space where they could stand to help and serve others. In this day and age, it's so rare to see a match where two people are more together than either of them ever could have been alone -- not because they weren't whole, but because they were committed to each other's goals and dreams.
In her later years, Mary's interests aligned with my own spirituality, and one of my biggest regrets is that I was never able to get her to come out to a festival and experience an entire community of people who share the beliefs in energy, and love, and community that she held.
As I'm sure it's apparent, we have lost Mary, and I am far more heartbroken about it than I thought I would be. I am grateful that I was able to travel and attend her funeral, but not just because I could say goodbye in person. I'm grateful because while I was there, I met the other people who had surrounded her, and in them I could see the echo of her. A turn of speech, a way of seeing, to reflect this woman we all loved in different ways. Like many incredible people, she collected to herself the bright hearts and fierce spirits that balanced her own, and in her love we could all find a space to stand together and hold her memory.
In her own way, one last time, Mary brought me to tribe and community, and I can think of no more fitting way to honor her than to carry that practice forward.
I love you all.