Remarks at Rhonda's Life Celebration
Rhonda was a lamp to so many of us. She lit our path with a brilliant intellect and consuming passion that informed and transformed so many challenging political struggles.
We first worked together in the mid-90s. It was a hectic time and when she knew I’d be working late she’d turn up at my office with an offering of fruits, to ensure that we could work all night crafting language for the UN’s population and development conference. With each creative formulation she would explain the legal precedent and rationale. These arguments, which her law students helped to research, eventually became our legal bible and many governments gratefully drew from them.
Rhonda also shed her radiant light on my more recent efforts to develop a feminist analysis of climate justice. Once again she wanted to enlist the clinic students and even get CCR on board to revive the third generation of human rights – to not only include the rights of people to a safe environment but also of the earth’s well being.
Four years ago, when she was diagnosed with cancer she had to find the strength to be a lamp to herself, as she had been for others.
We saw her brilliance and passion as she researched her medical treatments; helped women fight for the diagnostic work that is often ignored; and strenuously cross-examined those (poor) doctors, always with a determination to not just survive, but to live.
Her analytic mind was challenged to open in a different way when she pursued complementary therapies with Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, as there seemed to her to be no measurable proof of whether these treatments were having effect. However I noticed she did submit easily to the Ayurvedic massages – after her first experience of having four women rub warm oil all over her body she said “I felt as close to a newborn baby as possible, except maybe after great sex.”
We saw Rhonda learn so much about love and friendship through the experience of cancer, difficult as it was. The illness was her teacher. And being a great teacher herself, she invited us to accompany her on this journey. And many people did. People came from all over the world to be with her. An entire inter-generational feminist community of caregivers formed around Rhonda, stunning hospice workers and nurses and I think maybe even ourselves. Her eventual dependency created an opening for meaning in our own lives as we learned to give of ourselves.
But the caregiving was not without its ups and downs! Rhonda, as many of us know, was afflicted with a certain kind of… hmm, how shall I put it… chaos! Though she sought peace, mightily, her attempts to introduce additional minutes into an hour were about as successful as getting the Vatican to accept the concept of reproductive rights.
And when she tried meditation that great mind whirred. And later with the treatments, she became too exhausted to maintain focus. So then she decided that it would be better if we meditated for her. She asked my partner Joslyn if she would lead the wide circle of caregiver friends in meditation. This happened every night during the last week of her life. And while the clinking of Scotch-on-the-rocks could be heard at times during meditation, any number of people began to get into it.
When it got to the point where Rhonda could no longer manage conversation or sustain a state of wakefulness we sat with her in meditation sharing our energy and experiencing hers. The smile on her face was profoundly peaceful.
On her last day she awoke to a beautiful dawn overlooking the wide and still East River. She was surrounded by love until her last peaceful breath at sunset when the river danced in silver light.
As we continue on, my hope is that we celebrate Rhonda’s life by the way we live ours. May I please ask you to practice this with me by standing up, taking the hands of the people next to you, keeping in mind the great spirit that brought us together and saying in her words when she first publicly announced her cancer – (please repeat after me):
“I love you all - together - we make a world!”