I’m sitting at my kitchen table trying to get my slow-as-molasses-in-the-summertime computer connection to click through to the 29 comments on the second-to-last blog entry to Judith Strasser’s “In Lieu of Speech.”
While I wait impatiently I open her latest book, “Facing Fear: Cancer and Politics, Courage and Hope,” to the first chapter. I should’ve read it the day it came out in 2008 but instead it sat on my desk as the days’ and weeks’ mail slowly buried it beneath ten and twelve and sixteen other books by local authors I should be reading and blogging about.
The comments I'm waiting to read are in response to the post titled “Changing Voices” (which is a brilliant title) written by her sister, Susie, who signed on to let us know Judith was “declining fast.” Susie has encouraged her community of friends, fans and colleagues to write, as Judy is still "definitely interested" in hearing what people have to say.
God I want to know what people are commenting about. How do you even BEGIN to respond to such a beautiful and sad and heartfelt blog post?
I don’t even know this woman and I’m touched by the mark she made on humanity.
She raised the money to build the Children’s Museum that my daughter treasures. She is a domestic violence survivor and now that the comments have finally popped up I know she was an inspiration to the DV community. She has a loving family and a rich spiritual life. She wrote a book while she was being treated with stomach cancer.
I recognize a few of the godspeed-wishers. Harriet. Dean B. Ronnie. I’m not surprised these writer-intellectuals crossed paths with Judith Strasser, who passed away three days after the blog post.
Isn’t it funny how all of a sudden, now that she’s dead, I’m curious to know everything about a woman I’ve never known?
“Everything happens for a reason,” a brain tumor survivor was once quoted as saying in Madison Magazine. “You just have to figure out what it is.”
I found this poem on Judith Strasser's website and for some reason it feels like the perfect way to remember a I person I will never have the pleasure of knowing.
How to Stay Alive
by Judith Strasser
Trash your cigarettes. Shun restaurants and bars
that traffic in second-hand smoke. Eat organic
and low on the food chain. Steam vegetables;
don't grill meat. Just say "no" to marijuana, Jack
Daniels, and cocaine. Stay home: do not rent cars
at Miami's airport, or ride the New York subways,
or dig potshards in the Negev after massacres
in Hebron. Don't drive vans older than you are
to places you've never been. Always buckle your
seat belt. Have someone else strip the asbestos
from your furnace and heating pipes. Test for radon
in the basement, lead in the drinking water, cracks
in the microwave shield. Avoid electric blankets.
Use condoms, or don't have sex. Walk to work.
Remember your sunblock. Don't go jogging after dark.
Keep off the neighbors' grass after they've sprayed
the yard. Wear a helmet when you bike. Take
a buddy to the lake. Don't lie about your weight
to the man who adjusts your skis. Lower stress
with yoga; divorce your husband if you must. Cross
your fingers, say "Star Bright" to Venus, avoid
black cats, spit three times over your shoulder
on your thirteenth annual visit to the oncologist.
Originally published in Prairie Schooner, Winter 1995