Saturday, February 28, 2015

Remembering Naomi

She was my first friend in California. I was newly married that summer in 1954. My ex-wife met Naomi on the City College campus and we joined her in the Labor Youth League…. a progressive social action group.

Naomi and I spoke the same language …. from Woody Guthrie’s Talking Union to Paul Robeson’s songs of the Lincoln Brigade. As Tom Lehrer put it, We lost the war but we had the best songs. We also shared the same lost causes against injustice and suffered the same illusions.

By the mid-sixties we started an encounter group and brought in 4-5 other couples. It was the fashion the day…. lay yourself emotionally bare and take on the frontal attacks. Such fun.

I’m remembering Naomi’s answering machine message, direct and simply put…You know what to do. So do it. As if to cut through all the excuses, hesitations, ambiguities and conundrums of life. It was, at once, an expectation, demand, wish and invitation. Looking back I might take this as her philosophy of life. She had no patience for the niceties and frills of convention. 

If she was talking to a friend she told you what she thought. She had her complaints and let you know them, from sending food back in restaurants to demanding the air-conditioner be turned down in theaters. If she was addressing the society, at large, the government in fact didn’t know what to do but they did it anyway or they did know and didn’t do it.

Every time we went to a restaurant or movie with Naomi she would spot a friend in the room. She was a sort of visionary. She invented social networking before the Internet, B.Z….. before Zuckerberg.

For about a dozen years Peggy & I hosted what we called our Sunday Salon. Naomi and Roger were part of the group we gathered to show and discuss a documentary film. Naomi was one of our most staunch supporters. She hung in until she could no longer manage the stairs because of a hereditary disease resulting in muscular weakness that would eventually incapacitate her.

The common denominator of all this was her love to be in social groups. That was her joy. Whether it was politically based, psychological or aesthetic she simply enjoyed the company of others.

I last saw Naomi less than a week before she died.  We were a table of eight in a noisy deli. We could hardly hear each other but it didn’t matter. Naomi was in her element awash in the decibels.

I want to think she died surrounded by family and friends in her dream life. Ultimately she may have addressed those words to herself, You know what to do. So do it. Given her degenerative condition she did. She let go. To the extent we have a say over the way we leave this world I can think of no better way to exit.

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