Cynthia and I had been trying to catch up with one another for a couple of months. It had been a spell since we gathered to giggle, dig deeper into life's complexities and talk about being women of a certain age who really enjoyed being certain in the ages we were and grateful to become seasoned elders. A resolute clarity came through the phone as she said, "Dafernee, I'm in Kaiser and the doctor told me I have three weeks to live." We had terms of endearment for one another; mine for her was Cynfeeya and hers for me was Dafernee and sometimes Dazdanee. She said, "Soon as I break out of this joint we're on for lunch."
The following week, we gathered at her dining room table and spent a sacred afternoon speaking on our more than four decades long friendship, roaring across oceans of laughter, tears and moments that revealed how we held one another in our minds, hearts and souls. Cynthia and I operated in a circle of freedom far beyond the restrictive historical boundaries forged by our southern roots: hers in Kentucky, mine up South in Washington, DC. We effortlessly and with unbound trust shared the complexities, simplicities and joys of our marriages, she to her Jack and me to my David; both of whom are setting the ancestral table to welcome her. We held each other up during the challenges of our parenting and witnessed our children claim some of life's most rewarding milestones. Eric and Ivor, you were the atria in the chambers of your mother's heart. And, she lovingly embraced all in the blended family. We also recalled times we visited turmoil and our high caliber risk taking upon our own parents. To their relief, there were times we shared milestones at their tables that simmered the stew of parental angst. While navigating the thickets and thorns of life, she really knew how to live anchored in the bone marrow of her womanhood into the core of its molecular structure. I'm convinced her parents' conception tour was spectacularly divine, for it produced a remarkably visionary, and intellectually passionate being whose spirit was anchored in a sea of compassion.
We met in the early 70's while I was teaching at UC Berkeley and a student at the University Without Walls, which she cofounded with African American feminist and UC Berkeley scholar Dr. Barbara Christian and writer/educator Herb Kohl. In 1980, she and Herb asked me to work with them on producing an event to honor civil rights activists Septima Clark and Rosa Parks and raise money for Highlander, where my mother-in-law Margaret Landes also trained in the same cohort with Ms. Parks. Literary icon Alice Walker was the featured speaker. Miles Horton, Septima Clark and Rosa Parks were thrilled with the outpouring accorded them from community members, other civil rights activists and luminaries throughout Northern California.
In 1983, Cynthia invited me to a lecture given by a man whose intellect I deeply respected, and work forged my own consciousness around social justice and teaching. Afterwards, a small group of us were invited for an incredible meal featuring her legendary black beans. She learned to make them during the time she and her first husband Jim spent in Fortaleza, Brazil. Throughout that surreal evening, I sat across her table from world renowned Brazilian educator/author, philosopher and advocate of critical pedagogy Paulo Freire. Cynthia graduated from Duke in 1960, quite a fete for a woman at that time.
Across the decades, our friendship was deeply enriched, as we taught thousands of students, many of them DACA/Dreamers, and supported one another in the publication of our works. We marveled about those three weeks to live evolving into another era of our lives. The gravitas shown during the remaining months of Cynthia's life was transformative and filled with magical moments surrounded by family, friends, colleagues and neighbors. With stealth precision, she attended to the daily doings of life, organized and donated her papers to Dominican and rewrote the introduction to the Korean edition of Big History. On my last visit, I took in the magnificent view from the balcony of the home designed by Jack Robbins, the man she loved and treasured beyond measure. Her romance in higher places and wilderness treks with Jack also took her on adventures she'd been awaiting, for a lifetime.
She was woke and a balm who stood in solidarity with me in celebrating hard- won victories. She called me the night before she died and asked me to continue the lifeline of our friendship through her sister Susan. That's been a magical alignment that came into play even before she asked.
So, my dearest jewel in the crown, when you get to where you're going, holla back.
When you sit under the canopy of endless stars, with our tenderly fierce Septima, holla back.
As you ride the Rosa Parks Intergalactic Bus across the Universe, holla back.
When you ascend the steps into the Afterlife archives, call up big history and holla back.
After your first dance with Jack, holla back as a new anthem for the resistance and a love song in every language ever signed or spoken so your grandchildren will someday sing of you to their cherished ones.
And when your spirit rests, shine your light across the Universe as a twinkle from the North Star casting bold new liberating dreams upon us. Holla back my dear friend, holla back.
Copyright © Daphne Muse, 2017
November 19, 2017
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