Sharon put what was most important above all else
The air sizzled with anticipation as stars blanketed the sky above the night stage at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. This annual ritual, which occurred every August for forty years from 1976 to 2016, brought thousands of womyn from around the world to the Northern Michigan woods to sing, dance, laugh, and commune in a community created by womyn (including the construction of stages, showers, gathering areas, medical tents, transportation systems, garbage pick-up and kitchen), for womyn. While waiting for the nightly three-hour extravaganza, new friendships inevitably blossomed. That’s how Sharon and I met. Susan, Anne, and I sat gorging ourselves on pints of Häagen-Dazs® ice cream with a group of friends when Sharon turned around to rib us about it. That’s all it took for a friendship to be born.
Sharon grew up as the child of Christian missionaries living in various locales around the world, including China, India, and Pakistan. From those experiences, she learned how to make home wherever she found herself, at least when it involved finding a place to sleep. Her adaptability challenged me to examine my own flexibility when I found myself in new surroundings.
Most importantly, though, Sharon taught me about what it means to respond to the needs of those you love. When Susan told those close to her that her cancer had returned and that her diagnosis was terminal, Sharon put her doctoral program at Notre Dame on hold to go to Chicago and become her caregiver. Susan already had physical challenges that made it difficult for her to walk. As her illness progressed, even leaving her bed became impossible. Sharon stayed with her, cared for her, and tended to Susan’s many needs so she could die in peace. Sharon did everything she could for her even if it meant that her own needs, her own plans, took the backseat.
Although I had the flexibility in my work to do the same, and even though I considered Susan my dearest friend, the thought didn’t cross my mind to step into that role. In fact, I even struggled to make time to visit Susan during her illness and only arrived the day before she died. Barely coherent at the time, Susan’s only words to me the last time I saw her were, “About time you got here.” She died soon after I left to head back to my all-too-important life, and although I can’t say for certain, I believe Susan waited for me to arrive so she could let her spirit go.
That experience changed me, and I vowed that I would not allow that to happen again. That’s why I was with Joy when her partner Carla died and why I helped my former partner Anne through her death. Sharon modeled for me that taking the time to be there for the most important moments in life, no matter what the personal and professional cost, is what faithfulness is all about.
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