Tale of a Friendship

Shared by Kathy Bottum on September 4, 2014

Tale of a Friendship

I met Katya at Russian school in the summer of 1985 at Norwich University in Vermont.  Someone called out “Katya” and since I was going by that Russian equivalent of my name, we both turned and looked.  We laughed at our synchronized response, Katya commenting that nowhere else do other people respond to her name. 

Friendship grew fast between us, largely originating out of our shared love of God and interest in religions.  I had never heard of the Bahai faith, and her evangelical nature was delighted to have a potential convert.  Having grown up in our society and being a former Catholic school student, she knew all about my religion, Christianity, and so I learned about hers.  She took me to Bahai gatherings, gave me books and let me come with her to Green Acre in Maine.  I still have a copy of a Bahai prayer she hand wrote for me in beautiful calligraphy.  It hung over my bed for at least 10 years until it started to look tattered and was put away for safe keeping.  She used to show off my ability to answer questions about the Bahai faith, and boast that I understood more about the faith than some Bahai’s she knew.  Quite a testament to her missionary work.  When ultimately I did not convert, she took this in good humor, citing the one-ness of all faiths, and the unity of humankind as we attempt to know God.  But she would jokingly go back to her missionary crusade episodically throughout the years when the timing felt right.  It was never offensive, and never made me feel uncomfortable as the door to door Christian salesmen of my youth made me feel.  (Speaking of religious salespeople, Katya once befriended several Mormon missionaries, engaging them on matters of Bahai and Church of Latter Day Saints faith with zest, ferver and true enjoyment).

Ours was a long distance, telephone friendship.  In the 29 years I knew her, those 8 weeks at Russian summer school were the longest we ever resided in the same state.  We loved talking on the phone, and would spend hours each week this way.  Both tight on money, we agreed that $100+ phone bills were a necessary expense of living, even when they took up 1/6 of our income or more.  And what did two young, idealistic women with a deep interest in religion talk about for hours on end?  BOYS, of course.  Or rather, “BOYS, BOYS, BOYS,” because Katya liked to repeat in triplicate the name of every man of interest to emphasize her excitement over him.  I took up the practice too, but she always had way more men in her life than me.  She reveled in the excitement of her crushes, while I was more cautious, but we supported each other in the inevitable disappointments that seemed to follow, as our chosen ones seemed to always have other ideas for their relationships with us.

Of course religion was still a topic of interest.  I think we felt a freedom to be critical of our own faiths with each other, because we came from separate traditions and were not a part of each other’s religious communities.  I could be more honest about the flaws of Christianity with her, than with my church friends.  Katya hated hypocrisy, and was especially incensed when people in high religious positions lacked the compassion she knew to be integral to true expression of her faith (and mine).  This was the era when AIDS was a death sentence.  Religious people actively rejected those with HIV out of deep prejudice and fear, cloaked in religious self-righteousness and scientific uncertainty around modes of transmission.  Katya rallied to battle around this cause.  Before BNASSA she reached out to everyone and anyone HIV+ she knew.  She helped many people through their deaths from AIDS in that horrible time.  I remember talking with her after her first BNASSA conference.  She had found something she recognized as her life’s work and was overjoyed and energized.  Her enthusiasm for assisting in healing from deep wounds of any kind never waned.     

Katya and I did visit each other multiple times through the years.  She came to see me in Illinois several times, and I followed her travels with visits to Puerto Rico, Massachusetts, Seattle and back to Massachusetts again.  Unfortunately I never visited her in Pacifica, and only after her death did I see the stunning beauty of the scenery in which she lived her last years.  I remember one trip to Seattle.  Katya’s leg hurt from sciatica, sparked by climbing the streets together.  She asked me to rub her leg to relieve pain, which it did.  This was my first experience that a direct action of mine could ease pain, and I found that exhilarating.  What I’m struck with now around this memory is how so much of Katya’s life was marred by serious pain and disability, and yet how she lived so vibrantly anyway. 

Katya had been in a motor vehicle accident in her preschool years, and suffered permanent weakness, paralysis and pain on her left side.  She adapted to these problems amazingly, and I remember being surprised when I first learned of them, near the end of 8 weeks spent with her every day.  I believe Katya’s first job after college was as an English teacher in Puerto Rico.  She talked about trying to make the students laugh and encouraging them to have fun while learning.  Katya next worked in Massachusetts as a receptionist at a Mental Health Clinic.  I remember she noticed how so many people, even her co-workers, had difficulty dealing with the emotional pain of the patients.  Not Katya.   She was drawn to those suffering from any cause and excelled at comforting people in emotional distress with her wise, intuitive words; of course, her wonderful sense of humor helped too.  On moving to Seattle and having difficulty finding work, Katya applied for Welfare.  A case worker suggested she apply instead for a job with them, which she obtained.  She worked there several years, and took each person’s claim seriously, working diligently to help them through an arduous process.  She spoke about how confusing and difficult it was for many, and had ideas about how to improve the system.  She left what could have been an excellent career in social service to care for her mother in Massachusetts during a critical illness.

 Katya once proposed to me, in her playful, joking way.  I don’t remember the context.  It was several months after I had very seriously prayed that the next person who spoke about marriage with me would be “the one” I could spend the rest of my life with.  This was way before talk of marriage equality, in a time when “don’t ask, don’t tell” was considered a new step forward in human rights.  To me at that time, the idea of 2 women marrying was inconceivable, especially when both our faiths condemned it.  With all our talk of faith and sexuality, I didn’t think she could make such a break from her traditions, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to.  Besides, Katya was so incredibly, irresistibly, joyfully and overwhelmingly attracted to men.  Why had God allowed such a frivolous response to my very earnest prayer?  I did tell Katya about my confusion, and she never repeated the joke.  About a year later, she had a revelation for me however.  I kept talking about the new female friend that was occupying a bigger and bigger part of my life.  Katya’s response?  “I know you’re a flaming heterosexual, but you are falling head over heels in love with her.”  She was right, and this woman who was the second one to talk of marriage with me after my prayer has stayed my life partner for 20 years.  Katya’s proposal helped me understand this development as God’s work in my life.

Unfortunately as the years passed, Katya and I lost our regular contact.  We would connect every few years, and when we did, talking felt to me like no time had passed.  Neither of us had the same enthusiasm about talking on the phone as we did when we were in our 20’s.  Still, when I needed someone to talk to, I knew she would be there for me.  I hoped that if she needed someone she knew she could call me.  On an impulse, I called her on Christmas Eve 2013.  We hadn’t spoken in almost 3 years.  She told me about her cancer, its recurrence and her pain.  She couldn’t talk for long, so I started writing her.  In my cards I told her how much she meant to me.  I could write what I’d never said to her, that I love her, always and forever.  The last time we talked on the phone, in late April, we both said I love you to each other for the first time.  I could not be there for her in her illness, but I'm so glad she was cared for by Carlos and so many loving people.  I hope she knew how important she was in my life.  Katya was like that.  She touched so many people in so many ways…

Sweet Tea Makes Eyes Hurt!

Shared by Eman Isadiar on May 23, 2014

I met Katya for the first time at a conference in Pierrefond near Montreal in November 1999, where I performed a piano intermezzo by Brahms and some Debussy and Chopin. After the program, she said she believed the piano had been invented for the sole purpose of being played by me! That compliment, like all things Katya, was exaggerated and over the top, but I will carry it in my heart forever.

One of Katya's favorite stories was that she had asked her doctor why drinking sweet tea always made her eyes hurt. She'd let you think about it for a second before revealing the doctor's reply, which was, "You may consider removing the teaspoon from the cup!"

Whenever a discussion got too somber or serious, she would do something silly to change the mood, like balance a spoon on her nose. She loved doing that and had the perfect nose for it, too!

On my 33rd birthday, Katya gently reminded me that Jesus Christ was crucified at my age!! Of all the birthday greetings I received that year, somehow Katya's is the only one I still remember!

I remember at some point Katya's voicemail greeting had a long pause after saying "hello," making callers believe she was on the phone with them! I hated that I fell for it every time!

Whenever she recognized my number on her caller ID, she always answered the phone saying, "Bonjour!"

Katya adored caffeine. She frequented Chit Chat Cafe on the Pacifica Pier, where she was, allegedly, asked to sign a waiver of liability for ordering not a double or event triple but a quadruple espresso!

She loved slapstick comedy including The Three Stooges, Marx Brothers, Carol Burnett and Mel Brooks. Two of her favorite movies were The Princess Bride and Bride of Frankenstein.

Katya had a soft spot for Lindt chocolate mousse truffles (with the red wrapper not blue). I also remember she enjoyed buffalo burgers at Bullshead Burgers by the West Portal metro station in San Francisco. Another favorite hangout of Katya's (unfortunately now closed) was Bagdad Cafe on Market Street near Castro.

I feel extremely fortunate to have shared Katya's last restaurant dinner with her in September 2013 at Tam's Cuisine of China along with two other dear friends. She ordered her favorite but could not eat due to terrible pain. She broke out in a cold sweat. She also picked up the tab. That was the very last time she went out to a restaurant.

My dearest Katya, I knew you only as an adult, but it really feels like we somehow grew up together. We also had a few fights, which made our "sibling" experience even more authentic. I loved how you could switch from being a wise and spiritual sage to acting immature and silly in two seconds flat. The first time I came to visit you at Seton Hospital, I said I had an intuition that you would come out of this frightening ordeal "stronger than before." 

So much for my "intuition" ... 

How not to complete Book 1

Shared by Rebecca Passa on May 19, 2014

As some of us know, "Study Circles" are a component of a larger educational process called the Ruhi Institute. The Ruhi Institute dedicates its efforts to the development of human resources for spiritual, social, and cultural development of a community. The first book in the Ruhi sequence, "Ruhi Book 1: Reflections on the Life of the Spirit", focuses on three main themes ...

...but if a person is going to focus on more than being high-spirited, our technique might not have been the right one. We had a dedicated tutor driving all the way out to Amherst from somewhere like coastal Massachusetts ... Katya I'm not nearly so social as you are and I easily forget names! Do forgive me please, dear tutor, what I do remember is the involvement you had with NGO's.

Anyhow, Katya, I know you never intended that we get through the book in any manner that was not fun and hilarious! So... getting through the book not being our top priority, we didn't. My memory is vague now, but we probably lost our tutor due to his service with an NGO.

Probably my dear daughter and I -- my daughter whom Katya christened "Mortimer" before she was born -- continued our visits. My husband, who remembers driving us to Amherst, said, "You didn't study, you ordered pizza!"  Pizza that Katya paid for with $2 bills and $1 gold coins.  The deliverymen were long used to this arrangement by the time my daughter and I were on the scene.  In any event, whether before or after our "study circle", we were certainly watching Eddie Izzard together and... does the word "Duh" mean anything to you?!?

I love you, Katya "Lovely" Sousa,

With much love and affection "Beckfurd K. Gosling" (née Goding), also known by a myriad other names....

P.S., I'm still trying to finish Book 1.

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