Revolution #58, August 27, 2006


Susan Sheppard: A Celebration of Her Life

Susan Shepard

Susan Sheppard

The following correspondence was received from comrades who attended Susan's memorial.

Lives like Susan’s mean a lot to the world. To celebrate this truly precious person, 100 of her family, friends and comrades came together in a decorated room at her work-out gym to celebrate her life. It was evident that those that came in touch with her saw something different in her and they were right.

Susan was a communist, she was an atheist, she was an internationalist. She devoted her entire adult life to bringing into being a better world for all of humanity, and she embodied that better world. She was passionate, curious, and always breaking down barriers. She was interested in people, in how they think, in what their dreams are. She had a contagious sense of humor and a completely down-on-the-ground conviction that a better world is possible. She argued with people and invited people to join her in understanding why the world is this way and that we can do something about it. Even while ill, she viewed her own fight against cancer as a fight for humanity as well—the world, especially today, can ill afford to lose someone like Susan.

From Susan's Journal:

Like so many others I thrive on the idea that life is a process of constant change—and that tomorrow there is the possibility that we can better understand some things that we don't today—herein lies so much hopefulness. Like so many others I continue to be inspired by the struggle of so many others across the globe whether they are living in Pakistan or New Orleans—addressing the aftermath of the earth’s shifts and jolts, or perhaps living under occupation and keeping their heads held high, or dealing with cancer like me.

The celebration of her life wove a tapestry of her life. Her brother spoke of how, after their father died, they didn’t have much but did have "a steady diet of political conversation at the dinner table. Conversations where everyone would try to talk at once, much as you might have seen in an old Woody Allen film." A childhood friend sent a statement that spoke of how in high school in the late '60s Susan became politically active. A film clip of a young Bob Dylan and Joan Baez singing “When the Ship Comes In” at the 1963 March on Washington captured the sounds that influenced a whole generation of revolutionaries and radicals.

Her husband and another long-time friend spoke of how Susan was not deterred in the least after being brutally beaten by police, including receiving a serious skull fracture, at the historic 1979 demonstration, during Deng Xiaoping's visit to the U.S., to protest the reversal of socialism in China by a coup after Mao Tse Tung’s death in 1976.

Several people spoke about her wedding in the late 1970s—with a ceremony delayed several hours because most of the guests were at a demonstration called by Iranian students to protest the brutal dictatorship of the Shah of Iran, just before many of these same revolutionary students were to return to Iran to participate in the Iranian Revolution (before it became dominated, and in the end controlled by, the religious fundamentalists who ultimately won in that revolution). To laughs in the audience, a relative recounted how the house band of the Holiday Inn “played popular favorites, Hawaiian-style, including a rousing ‘Hava Nagila,’ to which the elderly Jewish relatives got down. Then, after the demonstration, of course, a revolutionary folk duo played ‘The Krugerrand’ and ‘Death to the Shah.’”

Peppered throughout the celebration were references to Susan’s love of food and exercise, and as her sister-in-law joked, “We loved to exercise and we loved to eat, and one helped with the other.” A physician’s assistant who helped care for her also joked that after they were going over a potential diet to help battle the cancer, her first question was “Can I still drink coffee?” And another sister-in-law said, "I don't know if people know that coffee was the most important thing in her life [laughter]… She didn't go by clocks or watches but by coffee mugs.”

Anybody that knew Susan was struck by her unique and playful earring collection, and a short remembrance explained how that started as a gift exchange between her and a long-time friend many years back. At the celebration of Susan's life, a beautiful display of dozens of her earrings was unveiled, bringing smiles to everyone’s faces. Her husband invited everyone to take a pair home to keep a part of Susan with them.

A very moving highlight was the reading from of one of Susan’s favorite parts from Bob Avakian’s memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond, the chapter titled “Perseverance and Inspiration.” After the reading from the memoir, an announcement was read conveying Avakian’s personal condolences at the loss of Susan’s life and initiating a roster on that day titled Perseverance and Inspiration, with Susan as the first name entered.

As in Susan's life, art and culture played a big part in the celebration. A comrade sung a beautiful a cappella rendition of “Imagine” by John Lennon and also read a haiku she wrote: The peaks she climbed miss her / soaring, bold laughter, but look! / New lamps salute her! A wild song and dance excerpt was played from the Bollywood film The Legend of Bhagat Singh, where two groups of revolutionaries meet on campus during the British occupation of India. Susan’s sister-in-law created a beautiful wall-art tree and everyone was given a leaf to write a message or a word and then put it on the tree—a very moving way of creating a community out of those attending, as well as a portrait of what Susan’s life meant to everyone.

Susan had a community of friends at the gym she attended, many of whom got to know her only after she was diagnosed with cancer. Remembrances by her friends spoke to the deep bonds they forged with her, how they were profoundly affected by meeting Susan. One friend commented, “She so believed in what she believed in and it was contagious. She was a brave, spunky, fun, kind and loving friend.” This same friend read a touching poem written for the event that talked about their deep friendship, Susan’s spirit, and their political adventures and discussions together. An administrator at the health club who became friends with Susan recounted a conversation they had: “I was telling Susan how sorry I was that she was in pain and she looked me dead in my eyes and asked me why I was sorry. I didn’t know what to say and she said, ‘I am just one small piece of the big picture. There are so many other things happening in this world that are way worse than what I am going through.’” Others spoke of her “gazelle-ish run,” her wild hair, and her determination to beat the cancer.

Raymond Lotta's comments gave a deep sense of Susan's scientific approach, recounting their research together on the demographics in the U.S. that would contribute to a section of the Draft Programme of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. He captured what was both embodied in Susan, as well as what stands as a challenge and inspiration to us all: “…if she saw a wall, that wall had to be scaled. Whether it was a wall of what we didn't understand, whether it was a wall of a fortress of property relations that prevent people from becoming truly human or whether it’s the walls that divide people from each other, she wanted to scale walls and she wanted to break walls down… Her depth of feeling for people was matched only by the depth of her desire to give every ounce of her life to bringing about a world where people can truly and cooperatively flourish.”


Ode to the Plum Blossom

Wind and rain escorted Spring's departure,
Flying snow welcomes spring's return.
On the ice-clad rock rising high and sheer
A flower blooms sweet and fair.

Sweet and fair, she craves not Spring for herself alone,
To be the harbinger of Spring she is content.
When the mountain flowers are in full bloom
She will smile, mingling in their midst.

Mao Tsetung, December 1961

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What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond