Luella Knox Barclay
November 4, 1906 - 8eptember 19, 1997
When the ripe fruit falls
its sweetness distills
and trickles away
into the veins of the earth.
When fulfilled people die
the essential oil of their experience
enters the veins of living space,
and adds a glisten to the atom,
to the body of immortal chaos.
For space is alive
and it stirs like a swan
whose feathers glisten silky
with oil of distilled experience.
-- When the Ripe Fruit Falls D.H. LAWRENCE
Let it not be a death but completeness.
Let love melt into memory
and pain into songs.
Let the flight through the sky
end in the folding of wings over the nest.
Let the last touch of your hands be gentle
like the flower of the night.
Stand still, a Beautiful End,
and say your last words in silence.
I bow to you
and hold up my lamp
to light you on your way.
THIS TRIBUTE WAS WRITTEN BY MADELYN HOFFMAN AFTER LUELLA HAD HAD HER STROKE
ABOUT 4 YEARS BEFORE SHE DIED.
A WOMAN'S SPIRIT
It was March 10, 2 days after International Women's Day. She sat, slumped in a wheelchair, resting her head in her hands. She was taking a nap, exhausted from having to work so hard to do everything, from moving her nearly immobilized right arm, to attempting to walk on stiff legs that barely supported her, to struggling simply to stay awake and alert.
Three women approached her. There were three more visitors upstairs. The nurse couldn't get over how many visitors there were, all ages and all kinds. So much love. So often, elderly patients were left alone, with little connection to the community around them.
As soon as the woman in the wheelchair caught sight of her friends, she lifted her head. Her eyes registered recognition immediately. They sparkled and shone love. Although the stroke had taken away her speech, her eyes .... said everything we needed to know.
Her name is Luella Barclay. She is 86 years old, mother and grandmother. Until the day of her massive stroke on March 2, Luella worked hard to keep her body and her mind in shape. She seemed indestructible.
The fIrst time the subject of Luella's age came up, you could have knocked me down with a feather. Luella said she was going to have a special party in a few months to celebrate her 85th birthday. I looked at this woman, vital, healthy, energetic and just marvelled.
Luella walked everywhere -- to the doctor, to the YWCA, to the store. She walked alone, with the dog, with the ferret. She performed yoga. She meditated. She maintained a healthy, vegetarian diet with vegetables she grew in the garden ----- out back. She ate organic produce whenever possible. She believed in alternative medicine and natural healing.
And she worked daily with people fighting for peace and justice.
The night before her stroke, Luella was designing a program to hand out at the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom's event celebrating women working to protect New Jersey's environment. Luella is a lifetime member of this organization dedicated to opposing violence in all forms.
It seemed so unfair that the stroke came just before Luella had a chance to share in the joy of a successful event. But then, as I reflect on Luella's life, I realize that any time was inconvenient, for Luella was always in the middle of planning something, sharing something, working on something -- that was her way.
The event was beautiful. Four women spoke about their efforts to protect New Jersey from pollution and overdevelopment. A group of women called the Righteous Sisters sang songs of passion and strength. A mother and daughter sang of ecology in haunting duets. Luella had arranged all that.
Although she was in the hospital, her spirit was tangible all night long....
I first met Luella when she and her friend Betty asked me to help them to form a grass roots group dedicated to fighting a garbage incinerator in the Ironbound section of Newark. While Luella lives in an Essex County suburb, she knew that the incinerator would affect everyone in the county.
ECQ-Alert continues today, educating County residents about the dangers of incineration and the value of recycling. And ECQ-Alert convinced their Freeholders to close all small incinerators in apartment complexes and schools.
Luella is also a member of the Public Policy group of the YWCA and the Peace Committee of the Unitarian Church. She works with the Cornucopia Network of New Jersey, an organization dedicated to organic farming and composting.
Luella fought for gun control. She pushed hard for a battery recycling - a program in Essex County, to keep mercury out of Newark's garbage incinerator. She lobbied against nuclear power. She even collected aluminum cans so that a friend of hers could redeem them for cash to purchase food, powdered milk and medicine for women in Nicaragua -- in Montclair's Sister City, Pearl Lagoon. How she found time for all this we'll never know...
Luella is now living in a nursing home. Every day, she struggles to regain control of her right arm. She struggles to regain her ability to speak. She struggles to walk. She is succeeding slowly and painfully.
But Luella is not unfamiliar to struggle. Never in her life was she afraid of struggle. This spirit, her spirit, is a source of so much strength, to her and to those around her. She is indestructible.
Luella will continue to get better. She must. She and her friends are planting a garden at the nursing home. Just like Luella, you know, to plant a garden wherever she goes.
Luella has more hope and commitment than many people half her age. I hope that I have the same connection to the world around me when I'm 86 and for that matter, every year in between.
You can say what you will about death and those who fear it, who cling to every day out of fear instead of love. You can speak about euthanasia, about the desire of some to stop living because they have lost the ability to live fully and with passion. There is a place for that kind of thinking.
But, Luella: has gotten it all backward. Instead of spending her later years obsessed with death, withdrawing from life, Luella filled each day with as many important actions as' possible, personally and politically, knowing that, in this way, she could fulfill her hopes and dreams for the world, and keep death at bay.
It is upsetting to see Luella in a. wheelchair and upsetting to see her struggle to make her uncooperative body bounce back. But I know that Luella will give it every thing she's got, just as she has given to every day of her life and to every person in her life every thing she possibly could.
And, damn it. I hope that we all have as much courage, determination and spirit as she -- and that, like Luella, we never lose sight of our dreams. For our dreams, as women and as human beings, are precious!