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Living with injustice… and with grace

March 1st, 2008 · 9 Comments

I’ve been reluctant to begin blogging again because I know I can’t get started now without first saying I’m missing Anita Rowland. And I don’t think I can write about Anita and do it justice.

I first met Anita through a trackback. It was a relationship based on blogging, with an electronic beginning. Back in August 2003, I’d only been blogging for a month or so, and although I knew I had a few enthusiastic friends who were readers, and Ted had linked to me, it was mostly quiet on the blog, with familiar faces. Then the trackback appeared in my mailbox. I had no idea what a trackback was, or who Anita Rowland was either. I remember that moment of mystery and wonder…and gratitude. Soon Anita and I were having some conversations (when I search for “anita rowland” on my blog, more than 50 posts come up!) and by 2004, I was attending some of the Seattle weblogger meetups, led by Anita.

Anita connected me to Dave Winer through her post on geek boyfriend which I described and to Robert Scoble through the meetups. She connected me to many others on the Seattle scene, and to bloggers near and far. I might not have spoken at conferences or received attention for my blogging if Anita hadn’t helped me. And I would certainly have far fewer friends. I owe her. Back in the summer of 2004 she came out to the island, along with Robert and Maryam and Beth Grigg, among others, for a fun blogger picnic. Friendships were formed, thanks to Anita.

When R –, Anita and Jack‘s grandson arrived, Anita and I started hanging out together here and there. Anita generously rode the ferry to Bainbridge. R— and our Elisabeth are close in age. It seemed to me Anita was an amazing mother to R—-, firm and sweet. Anita had fun ideas for entertainment. When we enjoyed the toys she brought, she would let us borrow the game. For example, Anita and R— introduced us to I Spy. By the time I got around to returning it, she would say they had bought another one and we could keep it. Now my children love I Spy. At the Apple store the other day they were playing I Spy while I waited for my appointment. And I was remembering Anita.

Anita was gracious and giving. She poured herself into people, into the blogging community, into her grandson R—. I admired her in many ways. It takes lots of courage to live a life like Anita’s, going forward with spunk and knitted hats, raising a grandson, organizing events, constantly reaching out and connecting people to each other, learning, reading, traveling, being herself always.

For the last year or two, the girls and I tried to help with R—while Anita was getting treatments. All the planets had to align in order for us to be able to go over to Redmond for a day, and I always wished we could have helped more often. But the girls and I had fun hanging out with R—- and it was good to see Anita. We last saw her in the spring. Before that I remember going into a convenience store in Vancouver and walking back to the hotel with Anita after Northern Voice 2006. Probably one of my most fun memories will be the time we stayed late after a meetup at Crossroads had ended and emptied our pockets of change, letting the children ride together on the mechanical toys in the mall, Anita, Jack, R—, my girls and me.

In writing about Anita, I have to write about cancer. My relationship with Anita started with the trackback email, and ended with another email on December 10th 2007 saying she had passed away after a long battle with cancer. 2007 was a difficult year to watch people around me receive diagnoses. Reading Derek and Airdrie’s journey this past year has been intense. I think of them often. In June, one of my high school classmates died from a brain tumor (here’s a blog post a friend wrote about him). I did not know him well but I went to the memorial service along with many others from our class. In his eulogy, the beloved English teacher our class had asked to speak at baccalaureate, revealed that he too was fighting cancer, for the second time. I came home from the memorial service and that weekend went into the garden ripping out blackberry bushes with clippers and vengeance. Then I sat down at the computer and wrote the angriest piece of writing I have written. I was mad. Mad at cancer for taking away my classmate, affecting Derek and his family, attacking my teacher who had impacted my life. And yes, I realized I was angry about my brother too who died from his third brain tumor several years ago. I was angry Anita was ill and so many others I knew. (Note: in the week since I drafted this post I lost yet another friend to cancer.)
Anita is one of the first friends I have lost in this new way of existing online. I still see her face on my Twitter page. Anita is still one of my Facebook friends. I can go read her blog. On Flickr I can read some of the last communication we shared, comments on photos she had posted. I miss her. Her face reminds me. Her words are still here with me. I will always be in her debt for what she gave me, and I will never be able to repay her. It is unfair she has gone. It is unfair she had to suffer intensely. There is much injustice in this life. But Anita also reminds me of the grace and generosity she gave. In this injust world, I can strive to be kind as she was, to build relationships and create community, to pour out mercy and love, to be brave in my battles until the end.

Tags: blog

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Nancy White // Mar 2, 2008 at 8:07 am

    I thought about Anita all during Northern Voice. I wanted to suggest that we honor her in some way but I didn’t do it.

    The week of her memorial here in Seattle, I participated in another online memorial for a friend in Australia, who died of breast cancer.

    The loss of an electronically mediated friend and friendship, I have learned, is just as significant. How we mark it may be different.

    I miss Anita too. Thanks for this beautiful post about her.

  • 2 Derek K. Miller // Mar 3, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    It’s good to have you blogging again, Julie. Glad I’m still around to read it! 🙂

  • 3 Roland Tanglao // Mar 4, 2008 at 2:23 am

    welcome back, i feel the same way about c*ncer and Anita.words can’t soothe the loss of her and others! i’ll never forgot the good times lindy hopping with her and at Northern Voice

  • 4 jenzug // Mar 4, 2008 at 9:50 pm

    Such a beautifully written post. I didn’t know Anita as well as you did, but I still felt quite an impact at her passing. Maybe it’s because I, too, still see her face on my twitter page, and I think about all the wonderful things people have said about her kindness.

  • 5 katy // Mar 8, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    I can imagine how hard it was for you to write this – with a big box of tissue next to you no doubt.
    I have a couple of friends now who are battling cancer. While it is certainly not a pleasant experience to say the least, I think an experience like cancer can change your perspective about life. It boils life down from all the superficial to the essential. In the end, we find there is more to life than this world. It is there that we find fulfillment and peace.

  • 6 Air // Mar 8, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    This post made me sad. I don’t tear-up reading blogs very often. You are a good writer. Thank for your positive thoughts, and remember to enjoy every day.

  • 7 Tania // Mar 8, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    hey girl,
    just googled you out of the blue. i have been missing reading your blog. there you are again. what a relief!
    welcome back and keep writing.
    love t

  • 8 chas Redmond // Mar 23, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    Julie, yes, welcome back and thanks for such a wonderful tribute to Anita. Knowing both of you makes your comments even more heartwarming. Thanks.

  • 9 Patricia Taylor // Mar 30, 2008 at 8:43 am

    Sweet Julie, full of such passion and zest for life, a loving friend and a fighter for justice. As you know, Katherine’s father died of pancreatic cancer 14 years ago, so I lost my husband, and the suffering was so hard to bear. Yet, pain is a clarifier, and suffering is a part of life. Even in the birth pangs, we can celebrate life, even the hard days. Love to you, dear one. And a belated Happy Birthday, too.
    Love you,

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