It is amazing to listen to other people describing Bonnie’s lives – I say ‘lives’ in the plural not because she had at least nine of them, but because there are these facets or faces of Bonnie that I never knew. The recollections today and in the last few days make Bonnie something like a cubist painting – all these different planes all made visible at once – Bonnie the teacher, Bonnie the leader, Bonnie the den mother, Bonnie the church member. We each knew her to be an amazing person, yet she is even more amazing than any one of us knew!
Ten years ago, I met Bonnie in a different context from the usual Silicon Valley one, the one we are sitting in right now, this church. I was a relative newcomer to the church, and served on the church board with Bonnie. I know, I know, you think “church board” sounds like “military intelligence” – how did Bonnie get herself involved in something like that? Well, of course she redefined it. She and I served on the church board with some of the most amazing people I’ve known: Carol Nast, Heather Hadlock, Caryn Brooks Coleman and others. Most of us are here today, to touch her spirit again.
My first memory of Bonnie was actually a disembodied one, like a spirit: it was my first church board meeting, and Bonnie was conferenced in on the telephone because of her extensive travel. She was leading the discussion of a project she fostered, the contemplation garden that you might have walked by on your way down Waverley Street.
Why would I remember this telephone presence so distinctly? Well, an Episcopal church board is distinctly non-hierarchical, and Bonnie was one of about a dozen of us in the room. But wait, she wasn’t actually IN the room. Yet her presence on the phone was so intense that she could actually lead the discussion remotely. Now that is spirit! Spirit as sparkplug! As Caryn Brooks Coleman said, Bonnie provided the “activation energy” for things large and small, for matters of the heart, the mind and the spirit.
Bonnie’s spirit-as-sparkplug isn’t the kind of spirit we usually think of when we talk about “spirit” in a religious context. But in fact it is the kind of spirit we SHOULD be talking about in this space when we talk about Bonnie. And Bonnie of all people would smile at this because she was a word person, and she knew that this kind of “spirit”, and “spirited” and “spiritual” can’t possibly be unrelated.
And so it was with Bonnie, who was both spirited and spiritual. Bonnie is one of the reasons I’m here at this church, ten years later, and on the church board again. Ten years ago I was wondering how to “do church” in a Silicon Valley way that was more about the power of invention and imagination, than preservation and tradition. Bonnie sealed the deal for me on that.
Bonnie’s kind of spirit has a sturdiness to it that made her even more amazing in sickness than in health. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that some of us who knew her in health and followed the course of her sickness in Bonnie and Daniel’s blog were not surprised at her triumphs and how at each stage she was recognizably, resolutely, Bonnie in spirit.
Jeff Rensch described Bonnie telling through her tears, of a traumatic event in her life, the death of her sister. Jeff said, “I associate Bonnie with sunshine. And when she was crying, it was tears through sun. She looked like sunshine.”
Margaret Irwin, the rector of All Saints when Bonnie arrived here recalls Bonnie’s arrival this way: “For some time there had seemed to be a magnet drawing Bonnie to All Saints’, as she would pass by on her walks. It was death that finally brought her through the door of the chapel to the Wednesday noon service, as she mourned the death of family member.
(I note that many of us crossed the threshold today as Bonnie did then, for the love and spirit of someone dear to us.)
Margaret continues her story of Bonnie’s spiritual journey, “Although the visible manifestation of that magnet was All Saints’ Church, with its intriguing round architecture and its situation in the heart of Palo Alto, Bonnie eventually came to know deeply and to embrace the attracting force that drew her in – Jesus Christ.”
That knowledge continued to grow so that when Bonnie received the diagnosis of cancer she was ready to treat her illness as just the next leg of her spiritual journey.
When it was time for Bonnie to enter treatment, she made her isolation room into a contemporary version of a monk’s cell. The walls were covered with photos of loved ones and of All Saints’ – this particular space, with its round circle and stained glass ceiling. She brought along recordings of favorite religious chants and hymns. And she decided to do an updated version of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius with the aid of her friend Ken Ireland. (I googled these exercises; they seem to be the spiritual equivalent of the P90X training that promises “ripped abs in 90 days”; to do that in the spiritual setting sounds like Bonnie to me.) Margaret says these exercises are a daunting undertaking at any time, but to do them when in a life-and-death struggle is awe-inspiring to our spirit.
And that finally connects us back to Bonnie’s awesome energetic spirit, and the spiritual life she led. To rework Bonnie’s own turn of phrase, “remember that we are spirit, and to spirit we shall return.”
And so she has.
- John Sack, June 21 2011,
All Saints Episcopal Church, Palo Alto