Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rachel King: Large Footsteps Indeed

Dear all,

We surely lost a beloved friend and fearless fighter for justice. Now, I'd like to share a few anecdotes about my friend:

The strong-willed friend:

Rachel was living in Philly when the Virginia Journey of Hope in the mid-nineties took place. (She and I had become friends, after being introduced at one of the first Fast & Vigils at the Supreme Court while she still lived in Alaska). She was just starting her "Don't Kill for Me" project, interviewing and photographing family members of murder victims. We decided to drive down together, and I'd drive my car. Rachel grew up in Maine and lived in Alaska. I'm from South Jersey. The cold didn't bother Rachel. I couldn't stand it. October for me is deep freeze. We "argued" the whole way down about my freezing and her complaining about the heat on in the car. She won almost the entire route, switching off the heat. I was a city person and afraid of spiders. We walked in the dark to the cabin in the woods. She wouldn't let me use the flashlight to check for spiders because it might "bother others". She said I should basically get over it. Of course I ended up not using the flashlight.

The early to bed friend:

She went to sleep early. I like to stay up late. One night we were out with visiting friends in Philly and she invited me to stay at her place in the city instead of driving back to NJ. I wasn't ready to go back to her apartment. She wanted to go to sleep. She said she'd leave the key. She did. She also had turned all the lights out, left me a thin blanket and a thermostat probably set on 45 degrees. I was "afraid" to wake her so I froze all night. That happened a few times... at her apartment in DC too.

The independent-minded friend:

We were traveling with one of the "Journeys of Hope". Rachel watched Sam Shepard shave his head. She thought that was cool. Next thing you know... Rachel had her head shaved to match Sam.

The proud friend:

After her first bouts with chemo, I met Rachel at the NCADP annual conference. We always tried to manage to either sneak away from the conference for lunch, or to sit together at the Saturday night banquet. Rachel and I planned to meet before the banquet so we'd get a seat together. She showed up dressed in the most stunning outfit, once again head bald... no scarf for her. She was beautiful that night, more beautiful maybe than ever.

The forgiving friend:

Over the past few years, I didn't get a chance to see Rachel very often. So many of us allow work to consume our time, and we think our friends will be there with us forever. I emailed and called her, and told her over and over what a lousy friend I was, because I should have been around more when she got ill. She would have none of that. She was forgiving and told me to get rid of the guilt.

Some folks wonder how you could care so much for a friend you saw so little. I've tried to explain how in the abolition/human rights movement, we more often than not, call each other family, because it just feels that way, more than a friendship. We work on tough issues, and develop strong personalities when arguing for justice. But there are some folks, Rachel for sure, that truly have and had become family over the years. We don't have to see each other regularly. Often not more than once each year. We squabble like family members do, sometimes over the issues, sometimes over thermostats in an apartment you only visit on lucky occasions when you get together away from the crowds, and get some time on the road away from jobs, etc. Only those who have experienced those bonds truly know what they mean.

So many of you know. I've seen that in just the past week or hours, in what and how you've written about Rachel.

Rachel will always be part of my human rights family. I wish we had more time. I will miss my friend always. And in the meantime hold you all dear, all the more because I know what I and we just lost. Rachel can rest now. I'll work harder because of her. Large footsteps indeed.


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