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Barbara


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You meet some folks during your life, and you wonder at them. You try to learn from them. You admire them. For whatever combination of unknowable reasons, while everyone is special, some people, those people, are beyond special.

Such was Barbara Ehrenreich. I can’t claim to have known her closely. But true or not, I felt like I knew her well.

It wasn’t that with Galeano and Roy she was to my eyes the best writer I ever encountered. It wasn’t that her incredibly focused and eloquent words always moved me, and once moved me so profoundly it occupied a lot of my subsequent life. That was her and John’s essay about a class between labor and capital.

It was that there was also something ineffable about Barbara, her integrity, her commitment, whatever.

Once at a summer institute that Lydia and I hosted, Barbara attended to speak and to teach, and like others who came, she ate with and otherwise shared casual and class time with the students. After an evening talk, some of which addressed journalism, writing, publishing, and myth busting, students had time to ask anything. One asked, over the years how did you not succumb to what must have been efforts by mainstream publishers to buy you off. And Barbara said, yes, there were such efforts, but to not be bought off is no great accomplishment if you find the offered bounties odious. The big lunches, a big car. I didn’t need it. I didn’t want it. Cocktail parties with the rich and famous. Seriously? Who would sell out for such nauseating dreck. So it wasn’t hard to be true, she told us. She modestly left out that to be in the positions she was often in and to navigate them but retain the humane inclinations and modest preferences she had, so the bribes remained unattractive, was special. Such consistency shouldn’t be special, but it was.

Another time Barbara watched Lydia perform theatre for the students. When it was over Barbara turned to me and said, do you realize how lucky you are to be her partner? I did. And Lydia is gone, too. I wish they could enjoy each other’s company but neither Barbara nor Lydia would put much truck in that. Rather, they would want folks to keep struggling, and so we must. But crying is okay too.

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