Remarks at Rhonda's Life Celebration
After getting from Rhonda the latest report on her medical condition, I would occasionally end the conversation with “I’ll say an atheist prayer for you.” I think she liked both parts of that, so it may be appropriate if, on the day after Yom Kippur, I take Micah 6:8 as the text for by brief remarks. Diligent research led me to a version attributed to a second century rabbi which read “work hard, love mercy, do justice and don’t become too well known to the authorities.”
Work hard – did she ever. When I said, at the CCR event honoring her, two weeks before her death, that she had helped build her house in Noyac, to prove that there was nothing men did that women couldn’t do, she corrected me by saying “Not helped, I built it.” It’s true that she was involved in so many things that she didn’t always finish every article or book she had promised to write, but that’s OK; even her fragments are masterpieces.
If loving mercy means caring, she was a master at that also. The love and solicitude that she lavished on her ever changing, ever growing circle, was a wondrous thing to behold, and a precious gift for those who received it, and gave it back, with interest.
As for doing justice, that was the core of her life. It’s what sent her to law school, to the Center, to CUNY and to the far corners of the world, wherever justice needed to be done, amended and expanded. As when domestic violence needed to be recognized as a human rights violation, rape as a war crime and the oppression of Algerian women by fundamentalists as worthy of the attention of human rights advocates.
The one part of the rabbi’s admonition that didn’t apply to Rhonda was not becoming too well known to the authorities. Her modus operandi was just the opposite: Don’t get sidetracked when there are important points to be made; go to the top. That is what made her feared by the defenders of the status quo and, in equal measure, loved and admired by those who wanted it changed.
There was a wonderful phrase by James Baldwin in last Sunday’s review of the new book of some of his previously unpublished writings. “Sorrow”, it read, “wears and uses us, but we wear and use it too.” Let us wear and use our sorrow at Rhonda’s death to continue her work in transforming the face of justice and in caring for each other and for those whom Frantz Fanon called the damned of the earth.