Yesterday I heard through non-blogging channels that breast cancer has claimed the life of Plain(s) feminist. Those of you who followed her blog know that she wrote with wry wisdom and understated courage about her struggle with the disease – on what chemo feels like, the politics of breasts and wigs, and (my favorite of the series) how not to talk to someone with cancer. She wrote one of the best critiques I know of the extremes in the childfree movement. She offered a nuanced analysis of why all heterosexual intercourse is not rape. Her writing was sage, careful, passionate, and always, always compassionate. (Think it’s impossible to be both measured and politically engaged? Plain(s)feminist managed the trick!)
I met Plain(s)feminist just once, at the National Women’s Studies Association conference in 2004. We talked about the politics of motherhood, and we danced wildly at the Saturday night party. We talked about breastfeeding as experience and as a political act. She was smart, serious, and fun – someone I wished I could get to know better in a more relaxed setting. (When I later made the connection between her real-life identity and her blog, my first thought was: of course!) Her son was just a baby then, as was my second son, the Tiger. When she wrote about Bean on her blog, her deep love for him always shone through. He must be about 8 now.
Her family has requested privacy, and so I’ve said I won’t break her pseudonymity on this blog unless they express a wish (through her friend who is dealing with former students, colleagues, and the like) to publicize her identity. That makes it hard to talk about her academic accomplishments, which included excellent feminist analysis on motherhood. But without in any way denigrating those accomplishments – and recognizing that I mostly knew her through her words alone – I have a feeling she’ll be remembered above all for a life filled with love, compassion, and a commitment to justice.
One of her most touching posts dealt with grief and loss, five years after 9/11. Her words speak to us now:
There is no reason in tragedy. I don’t believe in a God who takes a mother away from a four-year-old child or who traps someone’s daughter/father/brother/lover in a burning building – and I wouldn’t *want* to believe in such a God, anyway. But I do believe that the kind of love that we sometimes show each other in the face of such tragedies is holy.
And that’s it. Five years later, this is what resonates with me – not why “they” hate “us,” or what it means to feel safe, or who is to blame, but that we have to comfort each other by sharing our suffering, by loving each other enough to feel each other’s pain.
That is where I see God in all of this. And while that’s not enough right now, it’s not a small thing.
May this god – the potential for love dwelling in all of us – bring comfort to the many people who will miss and mourn Plain(s)feminist, and especially to her husband and dear little boy. My heart goes out to them.