Remembering and Commemorating

“…Dead, deadly, is death. Time is counted, let us not count the weightlessness of the love we experienced. When and why are altogether another matter. Is there any light ahead, any sky which would lift itself and not fear the sun?…” Etel Adnan (There)

Today we will all join to remember Leslie Kemp. I’ve been very numb over the past year after graduating from a three year MFA program. The pace, challenge, critiques, research, exhibitions, competition, rigor, and push has ended leaving me post-spin and in a daze. Grateful, yet battling the uncertainty of whether or not the sacrifice has been of value to my marriage, friendships, family, and to myself. Much self-doubt these days in spite of how things may appear on the outside. PerformanceSW bringing internationally recognized Cuban artist, Carlos Martiel for an exhibition at Central Trak and talk both there and at the Latino Cultural Center. And then my month long feat of curating exhibition at BEEFHAUS addressing the changing nature of performance art drawing on theater, dance, music, and more. Working with twenty artists, including dancers, musicians, video artists, art students, and a PhD. candidate in African Studies, the rigor was a challenge but rewarding.

Off that tangent…

Today is Leslie Kemp’s funeral. Leslie is a love and a lioness. As a social worker her work stretched over the metroplex pushing boundaries and watching families come together and mostly fall apart. She saw some of the worst neglect and abuse in both family and in the organizations with which she worked. When we met she had already retired from that particular work to join her husband, Charles, in working with refugees from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and later Iraq, Central America and elsewhere. My work with Charles introduced me to Leslie. Charles worked at Baylor’s School of Nursing and brought nursing students out to work with refugees in the area in which they and I lived. Their suspicion of me was founded yet as Charles tells others it ended the instant I brought fruit and sodas to the home of a dying Cambodian woman on day.

Leslie and I became fast friends. We are very different and similar simultaneously. This drew us close. Her real strength inspired me as mine was mostly a “fake it till you make it” type. The day things changed drastically in our friendship was the day I called her for help when I discovered that two of the Cambodian refugee children attending our after school program were being sexually abused by an adult male neighbor who was “befriending” their family. Police were called and it was a whirl of activity with Child Protective Services. After a month of being placed with a foster family CPS approached me to see if I’d act as an aunt, deeming me eligible to care for the children in my home. Yes absolutely! At 38, never being married or having my own children I had no idea what that meant. But Leslie, Charles and many others stepped in to support me in whatever way they were able. Leslie gave of herself like non other. My life is forever changed as a result.

Not only has Leslie supported me in my endeavors as a refugee worker but also as a woman, a person, and now as an artist. It was she who primarily reached out to set up lunch dates. She called to ask about my art life, and when I might have exhibitions, as well as sent me articles she thought I might find interesting or informative. This from a self -proclaimed non-artist. I love her.

In the middle of the night she’d pick me up and we’d quietly drive up to a ramshackle home and transport abused wives and children to safety. We’d take turns working on cases of severe to minor injury making sure the clinics and hospitals took care of those who had no or little idea of how to maneuver the monstrous health care systems. We were some team: Leslie a stalwart +  me a novice, loving others and one another along the way.

Leslie, I miss you deeply. I want to have more adventure lunches at the Thai Temple and those hole in the wall restaurants like Nalinh and the tiny places in those grocery market mall-like places in Garland. I want to go to Laos or Cambodia with you like we planned. Or even just San Francisco. We never did that. I was so wrapped up in becoming an artist. No trips to Southeast Asia, or Garland, not even Irving. If I decide to go though I will take you. We will be there together and though our conversation will be determined by me. I will still listen. You are still with me. You will always be.

I remember you today. Rest my sweet friend.

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