Sunday, February 17, 2013

Other Mother

I was a deer-in-the-headlights graduate student in my late twenties when I first met Gabriele Rico.  She walked into the classroom the epitome of grace.  And then, over the course of that semester and years to come, she became my mentor, my friend, and my other-mother.

Gabriele when I first met her--in her early 50s (about the age I am now)
Her work on creativity was intellectual and profoundly intuitive.  She seduced me!  Because of her, I fell in love with literature, language, writing, and teaching.  She prompted me to honor--and really see--the amazement of my own creative possibilities.

Gabriele developed "clustering."  This book changed lives.

Gabriele invited me into her home to work with her on writing projects.  I remember looking at her life and thinking, this is what I want.  A life filled with people who thrived on creativity.  A home inspired by art, and infused with books and plants and love.  And flexibility of time:  to teach, to mentor, to write, to travel, to exercise the body and mind. 

And truly:  this is who I've become.  Gabriele is woven into the fabric of my life.

Gabriele has always been open to change and growth.  In her 50s and 60s, she learned to wind surf, to rock climb, to snorkel--and she became a true yogini.  She stretched herself physically, mentally, emotionally.  She led creativity workshops all over the world.  She traveled to more and more exotic places.  And when she was diagnosed with life-threatening cancer eight months ago--at the age of 75--she dubbed the experience an adventure.
With Simone, Gabriele's youngest daughter; check out the bracelets!
When I visited with her today, in spite of the pain medications she's on, she was still her loving, funny, astute self.  Two of her three daughters were there.  In the midst of a hug, she called me her "sixth daughter."  I said, "Wait a minute, I thought I was the fourth!"  And she laughed.  Her daughter Suzanne (who has written a lot about about her family's journeys) said, "There are at least a hundred daughters."  Now there's a legacy. 

One thing I come to expect being around Gabriele is that nothing is a surprise.  There are always serendipities that arise--"coincidences" that are a given when Gabriele is around.  Today's was this:  I was wearing a bracelet my long-time friend gave me last year on my wedding day.  It has a bead on it that looks like a blue eye.  Simone was wearing a bracelet also given to her by an old friend; it incorporated the exact same bead.  Simone said the bead wards off the evil eye.

Today I realized that Gabriele is the one person in my life who has always seen most clearly the veil between this world and the next. In fact, it's not even a veil for her.  It's a continuum.  As she once wrote:

"When human beings grow creatively, they learn to  step out of categories such as 'either/or' and begin to see the world in terms of 'both/and.'"

Here's the both/and of the situation:  Gabriele is dying, and Gabriele is living. Gabriele will be gone but she'll always be here. I know I will continue to learn from her throughout the rest of my days.


Cathleen Miller said...

Amazing tribute to an amazing woman. She has been an inspiration to us all. I wrote Gabriele last semester that I used clustering in my Intro to Creative Writing course to teach the students how to write a poem. I stopped and told them the story of the woman who invented the method, and that now she was very ill with cancer. They sat quietly soaking in this fact and then wrote the best selection of poems I've ever had in that course. So Gabriele, your legacy will live on as long as we have books and knowledge. See you on the other side...

Holli said...

This was so amazing and sweet and tender and touching....

michael s. katz said...

What a moving tribute to an amazing woman, an inspiring teacher and writer, and a loving friend; you have captured the essence of her friendshp with you and reminded all of us that a true friend is a remarkable blessing, for life at its core, is about love--the love of others, the love of life, and the love of what makes life so beautiful--the creative spirit. Thanks for this--it is precious. michael katz