Raise a glass to Helen, the Social Justice Warrior

My dear friend Helen McLeod, some 15 or so years older than I, passed away Tuesday (7/7) from post-surgical complications. Helen was a force of nature–a vital, vibrant, active, involved, passionate advocate for social justice, as well as a kind, generous, and gentle soul. And physically indefatigable: She hiked, snowshoed, and/or cross-country skiied until maybe a year before her death. Not to mention playing ping-pong at the Senior Center every morning before the rest of us thought it was possible for the sun to rise!

None of us expected this; she had gone in for serious elective surgery, but she’d bounced back from other things, so we all thought this would be OK. If nothing else, Helen was determined; I couldn’t imagine a physical problem not bowing to her intentions.

One of those was a broken shoulder last winter. Yes, she’s the older friend I stayed with for several days when neither of her daughters could be here to help, but she wasn’t yet able to do things for herself. I’m so thankful we had that time together.

We reminisced about our days in the early 2000s as Raging Grannies–that’s how we first met–and the fun we had singing social-justice lyrics to familiar old tunes to people who didn’t want to hear them as well as those who did. She had a thick scrapbook full of photos, newspaper articles, and other memorabilia of those years. (And she was still a member of a newer local Raging Grannies group; ours dissolved several years after I joined.) We traded stories about our young days, our kids, our working lives, growing up, family dynamics, our spiritual journeys, all kinds of things–including her growing frustration with a body that was failing her. I will really treasure that time with her.

Helen is also the woman who brought me into the faith-family fold I now inhabit at First Congregational Church. For that alone, I am eternally and mightily grateful. She shepherded me around, introduced me to a variety of groups and the people who led them, and (as I’m fond of saying) let me follow her around like a lost puppy for months ’til I began to get my feet beneath me and have some sense of where I might fit in at FCCB.

In talking with people about Helen over the last several days, I can’t count how many have said she was the first person to welcome them to FCCB, introduce them around, make them feel there was a place for them. She truly had the gift of hospitality, of making others feel comfortable in new and unfamiliar situations. We all agreed how amazing this is, but I doubt Helen would think so; she was just being herself, someone who loved people and accepted them as and where they were, without question or criticism. She exemplified FCCB’s motto: living God’s love, justice, and compassion.

She was also intensely practical, and I think that fueled a lot of her activism. She knew social problems wouldn’t improve unless someone took action, so she did. Our Lenten theme at church this year involved activists, protesters, and holy troublemakers. I love this photo of her, taken just before shelter in place began:

Photo most likely by Mark Gale and used with permission (thank you!). Others were taking similar photos, so if someone else recognizes it as theirs, please let me know!

She was having back pain at the time, so she sat to greet people as they entered the church.The board behind her (which we covered with a chalkboard-surfaced self-stick paper that didn’t work very well), says, “God’s Troublemaker for Justice.” She was a warrior for social justice, and I will miss her terribly. I hope to be like her when I grow up (at least within the parameters of my own personality, which is nowhere near as outgoing as hers). She was a steadily beating heart at the center of our church and community, and we’ll all miss her quiet, loving presence.

Peace be with you, sweet Helen.

Posted by wordsmith

1 comment

Thanks for expressing some of the essence of Helen’s spirit. And thanks for your writing skills in doing so. May you find comfort and grace going forward.

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