Appreciation and Perspective
delivered at the southern Oregon memorial for Beverly Anne Brown, November 12, 2005
I met Bev Brown at Amazon Autumn, a lesbian conference in New Jersey, in 1979. I had poetry books to sell. Her partner had an herbal. Our tables were adjacent, and we talked all afternoon. I knew she was going to be in my life forever.
At some point in the 80s, somebody complained about lack of tact—hers or mine, I don't remember—once too often, and we founded the Abrasive Women's Society. Bev had a fine mind, and not a lot of patience for people who hadn't done the intellectual heavy lifting she had, but wanted to argue anyway. I'm sure she hurt a lot of feelings and made a lot of people angry. I know I did. We were Abrasive. And proud.
Bev was very clear about what was important. The earth: the dirt. The ecosystem. She was also a student of the social ecosystem. I once introduced her to another friend, having described her as a militant environmentalist. Anne, one of god's own anti-abrasive people, told Bev how assiduously she recycled, and that she eschewed plastic. Except, she admitted, when she went up to Yosemite. She took plastic water containers there, because she didn't want to fall on glass and hurt herself. Bev scowled. "You're biodegradable. Plastic isn't." Anne looked at me, taken aback. I said, "I told you she was strict."
Another thing everybody knows about Bev is her stubbornness. Tenacity. When Bev was clear about what was right, she could not be moved. She'd wait you out or she'd run you over. When she had Right in her teeth, there was absolutely no stopping her. I understand her medical prognosis was quite a bit shorter than the length of her actual survival. This surprised no one who knew her.
Sixteen years ago, my lover Cara Vaughn was diagnosed with cancer. Nine years ago she started seriously dying, and took a year to do it. I cared for her at home, supported by overlapping circles of friends, co-workers, and hospice. Bev and Tee were in the long distance circle, offering love and support from Oregon.
Bev watched the process carefully, noting what worked and what was sub-optimal. She told me she used what she learned in arranging the circumstances of her own battle with cancer. She did not make any of the mistakes Cara and I made. If she made mistakes, they were her own fresh ones.
I know Bev. I know she was impatient, and tactless, and demanding, as well as brilliant, dedicated, and selfless. And very, very often right. It is inevitable and lamentable that feelings were hurt, and misunderstandings festered.
But I believe this: after we die, we are given the information that having flesh denies us. We finally get the cosmic joke. We understand what drove the people who have hurt us, and we see how our actions have hurt others. Some people don't get to forgiveness until they're out of their bodies. Forgiveness, however, is a paradise we don't have to die to reach.
I didn't get to see Bev before she left, but I did call her often during the last six months. She was never interested in discussing the boring details of the cancer. She wanted to talk about people, and ideas, and what was happening out in the world. She talked about gardens and walks, as long as she had them. She was grateful for the care she received, and proud of the remarkable women she'd gathered as her Death Committees.
Gratitude, I think, is another possible earthly paradise. Bev Brown tasted it before she died.
She lived 54 years at the top of her lungs. There are people twice her age who haven't lived half as much.
I'm grateful I got to know Bev almost half her life. And I forgive her for dying before I could say goodbye to her face. And for seeing Cara before I could.