Thursday, August 23, 2007

Grace Paley's Colorful Life

I opened up the Times Argus webpage today to see the breaking headline, "Writer and Peace Activist Grace Paley Dies at 84". I had heard the name Grace Paley throughout my childhood. I grew up often surrounded by the children of immigrant Jews who shared Paley's left-leaning politics and passion for learning. While I am only half Jewish and do not "practice" in the traditional sense, I have always felt more connected culturally to my Jewish heritage. I feel most relaxed at a table filled with piles of food and the sound of vibrant debate and discussion around topics ranging from poetry to politics. Reading Grace Paley's obituary, I realized that I have a role model that I didn't realize I had. The description of her life and the words shared in the article felt like home to me. One of the Paley's quotes in the article describes so much of what I connect with in the Jewish culture.

"I thought being Jewish meant you were a Socialist," Paley said. "Everyone on my block was a Socialist or a Communist. ... People would have serious, insane arguments, and it was nice. It makes you think the rest of the world is pretty bland."

I always find it peculiar when people stereotype Jews as wealthy or entitled because the screaming socialists is what I was always familiar with. Paley took her exposure to "insane arguments" and applied it to her political activism throughout her life. In the obituary by AP writer Hillel Italie that appeared in the Times Argus, Italie describes a passionate and intelligent woman who was not afraid to put herself on the line for a cause that she believed in.

At the same time, Paley was a self-described "combative pacifist" who joined the War Resisters League in the '60s and visited Hanoi on a peace mission. She was arrested in 1978 during an anti-nuclear protest on the White House lawn and for years could be found every Saturday passing out protest leaflets on a street corner near her New York apartment.

I am very aware that were it not for women like Grace Paley protesting on the White House lawn in 1978 (I was 3 years old or I would have been there), women like myself might not have the freedom to voice our beliefs and pursue our dreams with a fraction of the obstacles that she faced.

Lastly, here is another quote from Paley's obituary about her strong sense of hope, something that us lefty activist could all use a little bit of in this very depressing political climate.

"I happened to like the '60s a lot. I thought great things were happening then and I was glad my children were part of that generation. As an older person in the peace movement, I learned a lot from it. I mean I learned a LOT," Paley said.

"So, I don't know where things went wrong, except, whatever happens in society, the society corrupts, eats up and takes over. ... But at the same time there's always this really small little hill of hope that's right in the middle of this. You see people from that period doing wonderful things, all the things they meant to do."

May Grace Paley's colorful life be an inspiration to all of us who try to make a difference and fight for peace in an often uncompassionate and violent world. Mazel Tov on a life well-lived.


At 9:28 AM, Anonymous Rev. Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull said...

Mazel Tov on your own colorful life, Sarah! You're proceeding in the spirit of this Amazing Grace, with your heritage intact, your voice ready, your ears open, and, in the words of the late Rev. Bill Coffin, with your "heart a little to the left."

Rock on, dear daughter--
Your Mom/UU minister who will probably never bridle her own impatience at how slow we all are to get the reality that the big IT is so much larger than us, and we really are all in IT together,

At 12:35 AM, Blogger cait said...

Crazy....I just gave a very important little fellow a pillow I embroidered with a Grace Paley quotation for his 1st birthday. I gave it to him Saturday.

I went to see her speak in NYC a few years back and fell head over heels in love...


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