I had the pleasure of meeting Grannie D a few years back, after her famous walk across the United States to raise awareness of the need for election reform. I’d reprinted one of her speeches in a zine I did, and gave her a copy of the zine, in thanks, and then she patted me on the head. Which was especially sweet because even though I’m quite short, she was quite a bit shorter, having lost a lot of her height over the 90 plus years she’d been in that body of hers (while clearly having grown drastically in metaphorical stature).
I found Grannie D’s spirit, her words, and her determination exceptionally inspiring. But most of all, from her, I found a path to a better future through her simple, lifelong idea of asking ourselves: “What can we do in the future so that love and respect are nurtured in the place of hatred?” I’ve been asking that question myself ever since I first looked to her for guidance after the World Trade Center buildings in New York City came crashing down nearly a decade ago. And my work today directly reflects this core idea which she offered me and everyone else her life touched.
Grannie D passed away recently, just after reaching her 100th birthday, and the following thoughts are from her eulogy, as offered by one of her best friends and political activist co-conspiritor, Dennis Burke:
A thousand people have told me that, when they reach her age, they want to be like Granny D. I have always agreed with them, but we have had it a little wrong. We must not wait until we are 90 or 100; we have to be, even today, a little more like Granny D. Our challenges will not wait for us to age.
Walking down long highways, I remember that sometimes she would want to look at the small things killed beside the road that others could not bear to look at. She was a great artist in fibers and colors, even in how she dressed. No one had a better sense of hat. She would see rich beauty in places where some would never dare look. She seems to have turned off her hearing aids for the lecture when the rest of us were told we must not look here or there, and told how some things must be presumed beautiful or ugly, true or false. She simply and always wanted to see for herself.
Too often we are told what to think, even about ourselves. We are encouraged to trivialize our lives; to participate in our own reduction to mere consumers of products, passive witnesses to history. She wanted to see for herself what she might become, what she might be capable of doing that was helpful to the people she loved, whom were honestly everyone. She could see no defects in others without measuring them against her own shortcomings. Her anger was real and righteous, but it was about things and actions — it never lodged in her heart for long against people, even those whose actions she most opposed.
The important thing Doris Haddock would have you remember was that she was no more special than you, and that you have the identical power and the responsibility to make a difference in the community and the world.
She would have us remember that our country is Our Town, that we each have the power and the responsibility to make a difference while we are alive, knowing that what we set in motion today will make a difference long after we are gone. Far more important than the old bodies we find ourselves patching up and hitching along, we are each also an idea and a vision of the world. We give the rising gift or dark weight of that vision to each person we deeply know. And that idea, that vision, is like the manuscript that grows from an old typewriter that will soon rust away to earth, leaving but the living manuscript. The Idea of us is the real us. The Idea is the living thing that survives because it lives on in our friends, survives in their hearts to help them better interpret and shape the world.
So, at the next turn of history and of opportunity, will we not wonder what Granny D would have said, would have thought? It is a part of us now, a measuring tool, something new in us that thinks like her. That is Doris alive and still walking with us.
Finally, she would want us to remember to keep working at things and to take walks every day if possible. To send Thank You notes. To keep asking for and expecting honorable change. To stay strong…
So, in memory of Grannie D, go for a walk, send a thank you note, expect and ask for change, stay strong, and continue to ask her most important question: What can we do to nurture more love and respect in the world?