Monday, July 29, 2013

Hellen Cook: A Woman for All Times

In homage to all the gray haired women who stand now and have for decades in so many cities in the world, the gray haired women who are supposed to be invisible but whose love of life and what it could be in a world without war or extreme nationalism, pushes them out into the streets, out of the decorum of aging into an activism for the ages.

Hellen on the streets
With her WILPF banner, Marg in the background

A wonderful photo taken by a passing photographer, 2009

I received the unwanted, unexpected word last night. Our Women in Black comrade Hellen Cook had died. So quietly she left us, and the Us is huge. I will write more when night falls here.

Di, Geraldine and Hellen

For many years now, a group of us have stood vigil once a month outside the old post office here in the heart of Melbourne, like so many other groups of women around the world involved in the Women in Black movement against militarism, against war and occupations. Our names are Sue, Marg, Esme, Joan, Geraldine, Sandra, Alex, Hellen and others who know where to find us the first Saturday of every month.This is old news, gray haired women standing in the streets for almost over a 100 years one way or the other, trying to catch the eye of passer-bys, handing out leaflets, talking, talking, taking abuse and still talking.

A special comradeship is born in these groups, over cups of tea, here, making banners, preparing leaflets, filling each other in on other actions for peace, for dialogues of all kinds against social exclusions, long talks about what should national security really mean--work, health, care for children, respect for human life and the environment and the end to nationalistic bullying. We are a mixed lot, Christian, Jewish, Atheist, Radical Feminist, lesbian and straight, from several different countries . From time to time Muslim women join us, speak with us in the street and say they did not know such a voice existed, Lebanese families take our leaflets and stop to talk about hope as do some of the long time Jewish residents of Melbourne.
Hellen speaking with Alex

And always Hellen, travelling from Frankston on the train, slight, smiling indefatigable Hellen carrying her latest WILPF document (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom) along with her banner. No matter what happened on the streets, Hellen was calm and gentle, not in a Pollyanna way, but in the way of someone who has seen much of life and struggle and has her eyes on a different vision. If life had not shifted so for me in 2001, I would never have met Hellen or indeed, any of these women, would not have entered into their history of resistance going back for some, Marg, for instance, to the 1980s or Alex who was part of the original Women in Black stand in Haifa. And Hellen. Little by little she told me about her life, about her Chinese grandfather who came to Victoria to work in the mines of the gold rush in the early  20th century, about her husband who died on the edge of a volcano he had made his life's work to study, about her children and their children and about her garden. When I returned from my third cancer surgery to the group, she had  homeopathic help for me,  but the most healing of all was simply Hellen herself, playful with difference, quiet in the face of my New York bombast, her steadiness of purpose without self righteousness, her optimism built on deep despair of what the world was doing to itself. I think, simply put, Hellen was a good person, a goodness that she gave freely of. Once after a good vigil, I took Hellen into my lesbian arms and we danced a little in the streets.  We are all still taking in her loss. Not Hellen, please, not Hellen. We need her so.

Esme, Alex, Geraldine, Marg, Hellen, Joan, Savan, Karen

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