2023.32 : ¡Que Bárbara!

Circa 2023

I’m trying to find these rare moments where you feel completely illuminated. Facts never illuminate you. The phone directory of Manhattan doesn’t illuminate you, although it has factually correct entries, millions of them. But these rare moments of illumination that you find when you read a great poem, you instantly know. You instantly feel this spark of illumination. You are almost stepping outside of yourself, and you see something sublime.

— Werner Herzog

Repeatedly, I was told, ‘You absolutely must meet this woman.’ She had traversed the globe as an archaeologist, and she was eager to make my acquaintance. Being afflicted by the tendency to be drawn to the most intellectually formidable women (but more about that in next week’s photo essay), I was genuinely looking forward to our meeting.

Our connection was instantaneous. She exuded an aura of charisma and presence that only a life richly lived could radiate. I felt honored to receive invitations to numerous family gatherings hosted by her.

Thalia, as I’ll refer to her, was a remarkable 91 years old when we met. However, last week, at the age of 95, she departed from this world. This week, I attended the Celebration of Life held in her honor. Here’s a glimpse of what I gleaned about Thalia.

Thalia shared a cherished friendship with another individual I’ve known for years – her name is Joy. Astonishingly, Joy wasn’t her given name or even a nickname. One day at Thalia decree this woman would be known as Joy. And she was. She introduces herself as Joy. Everyone calls her Joy. And yes, Joy radiates joy. ¡Que Bárbara!

Thalia’s final residence was an assisted living facility situated a couple of hours away. Her newfound friends, each possessing their own fragility, made the journey to celebrate her memory. The previous community she inhabited made a public announcement of her passing. This incredible woman’s impact rippled across small communities globally, as they collectively mourned her loss. ¡Que Bárbara!

Thalia adopted a child. A child who was horribly neglected. Thalia made this so-called mother a deal she couldn’t refuse. The details are pure gangster. So much so, I won’t repeat them. ¡Que Bárbara!

Numerous anecdotes unfolded, shared by Thalia’s other family and friends. Themes of strength, unyielding determination, and a heart devoted to making others feel heard resounded throughout. One of her daughters, who grew into a formidable leader, said of her mother, “there was never a moment, not even for a second, in my entire life, that I did not know I was loved.” ¡Que Bárbara!

And then there was the time Thalia had leukemia at point in history when it meant near certain death. She was accepted into an experimental treatment. I’m not sure if it was one of the first chemo-therapies, but the details of which sounded like Medieval torture. She beat the cancer. ¡Que Bárbara!

Up to this point I hadn’t shed a tear as I had been able to hold them back. Then it happened. The story that exploded my heart. Thalia’s greatest trial. The tales I’d recounted earlier pertained to her second life, marked by a near-fatal suicide attempt, thwarted by a vigilant neighbor.

But her first life held a far more tragic story. In those early years, Thalia was a young bride, deeply intertwined with what she referred to as her soulmate – a righteous man. By the time she reached her mid-twenties, she had welcomed seven children with this man. It was during a family trip on that tragedy struck – an accident claimed the lives of her husband and six of their children, right before her eyes.

¡Que Bárbara!
¡Que Bárbara!
¡Que Bárbara!

As I bid farewell to her family, I conveyed to her daughter, ‘The example your mother has set, her life, shows I have no excuses to tell.’ She replied, ‘None of us do.’

¡Que Bárbara!

And now … know the photograph.

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