Death when one is diminished is devastating. Death when one is isolated is shattering. All manner of death is final. Lydia Sargent took her last breath sometime last night. She had been diminished with dementia for what seemed like an eternity but was only a horrid hiccup in a lovely lifetime. She was Covid isolated and personally shattered for the past months and weeks. She was moved from assisted living to a hospital mere days ago. Her last move.
Born in NYC 78 years ago, Lydia was saddled with despicable parents. She was abused by her corporate racist lawyer father, run over by her equally callous reactionary mother, treated like an investment project aimed at becoming a debutantish dutiful wife. She was exiled because she married a Jewish man outside the fold. She was made by all that simultaneously unimaginably self effacingly insecure and incomparably defensively aggressive. Lydia lived her whole life saddled by having to fight off those ill effects. But fight them she did.
Lydia was first a mother of three. Then she became a feminist, a playwright, director, actor, and revolutionary. She founded South End Press, Z Magazine, and the Z Media Institute of which I think she was perhaps most proud. I doubt even one of the hundreds of students who went through ZMI won’t fondly remember Lydia welcoming them to Woods Hole, engaging them with comedy and drama, teaching them about gender and media, organizing the whole thing, and trying to meet their every request thereafter.
Lydia and I were partners for nearly a half century. During that time, moving from alienated housewife, to fabulously effective anti-war activist, to courageous civil disobedience organizer, and to so many other pursuits, Lydia‘s focus wasn’t firstly a dramatic career, personal success, or even family. All those counted greatly for her, but living in this world and not the one she wanted, Lydia used her enormous talents for playwriting, acting, and directing, her remarkable capacities for getting things done, and even her emotions for loving always firstly to pursue better for all. She never pursued a commercial concern. She never pursued a self interested anti-social calculation. Battling insecurity every step of the way, Lydia, as we used to say, put politics in command.
No one is perfect but Lydia came far closer than anyone saddled by her early life travails could reasonably anticipate, and far closer than she ever expected. I helped her some. She helped me more.
If I ever prayed, I would pray through my tears that no one reading this ever suffers dementia. I would pray that no one reading this ever has to endure someone they love suffering dementia. Aging hurts. I confidently tell you that. But one’s past life and will to live slipping away is the worst sort of aging there is. And trying to maintain your loved one’s sense of self and efficacy against a withering relentless disease is torture as well.
I would say rest in peace, Lydia – but I can’t. Death is not, to my mind, to my eyes, to my heart, resting. It is nothing. And so all I can say instead is that I hope through some of the people that Lydia knew, some of the people that she touched, some of the people that she loved, for as long as we are here, good like she sought, and truth like she sought, will live on, and just maybe the early family-bred insecurity and defensive aggressiveness that hurt Lydia so often, and that hurts as well so many others in our upside down world, will fade away.
Your song, to you, Lydia – Hallelujah
Lydia’s song to all who she touched who will work to make her hopes real – Hallelujah