Marjorie Suchocki: The Difference She Makes
A tribute from Barbara Mesle
August 13, 2013
Today is Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki’s 80th birthday. I carry her in my heart as carefully as I carry my passport on an international trip. She has changed the trajectory of my life’s journey. Marjorie’s ebullient intelligence, her gusto for living, her native acumen, and her flat-out brilliance couched in her fun-loving spirit, have made her a force of nature. Many of you have your own special Marjorie-stories that I’m sure you’re telling today. She is the Great Mother of many of us. In fact, Marjorie, the Great mother of Process Theology, has saved my life on numerous occasions.
I met Marjorie in 1998 at a conference in Germany. I was in deep grief; four months earlier, my beloved brother had died after an eleven year battle with AIDS. By her presence and wise listening, Marjorie saved me. When I returned to my college teaching job the next fall, my student worker brought me a package. She said, “Barbara, this is from the Vice President for Academic Affairs at Claremont. Do you know that person?” I opened the box to discover a jacket-- a jacket that Marjorie had made for me, sewn for me. I’ve loaned that jacket to various women friends when they too needed to be wrapped in her rapt presence.
In 2000, Marjorie stayed at our house because she was the keynote speaker at a colloquy at our college. Once again, Marjorie rescued me. I recall two huge issues that I was stuck on…I had given up praying because I couldn’t imagine that God wouldn’t already be doing everything God could for all of Creation. And I was struggling with the overload of other people’s pain that bombarded my spirit continually. Anyone in the process community can imagine Marjorie’s responses to my prayer dilemma. As to the excess of relation-ality in my head, she bounced around my living room, saying, “Barbara, you just have a leaky ego! Here’s what you do! Just go around and close all those blinds—just like this!”
In 2003 Bob and I were on sabbatical in Claremont. Marjorie had us over for dinner once a week. How blessed are we! We examined the collection of pictures of the Annunciation in her hall bathroom. We sampled her kumquats. We ate her delicious meals and drank tea and wine. We talked about her children and grandchildren, our children, and about process thinking. It was a particularly fun time to be around Marjorie because she had fallen in love; she passed me notes during lectures, notes that were sometimes sweet, sometimes suggestive, sometimes both. She biked everywhere. That March the Iraq War broke out and I called Marjorie to ask her, “Do you think it’s crazy if I pray for God?” She said….
The next summer, a dear friend whose father had abused him many years before, was discussing what forgiveness might mean in such a case? I ran in from our deck, where we had been talking, to email Marjorie. Here’s what she wrote back, “Oh boy, lying on a deck watching the Milky Way! Way cool (or whatever the expression is nowadays!) No wonder Kant was so impressed with "the starry sky above".....
Well, now, forgiveness--as I recall, it was to will the well-being of victim and violator in the fullest possible knowledge of the nature of the violation. In horrible cases, can only be done through prayer--on the assumption that God wills the well-being of all, and praying is opening oneself to alignment with God's own love. Also, the well-being of violator clearly necessitates transformation from violating behavior, and assumption is that raping/murdering does not constitute anyone's well-being. So even though you feel hate for a person who violates oneself or others, you can will their healthful transformation into a better person. Also, well-being of victim is as essential as well-being of violator--in cases of abuse, forgiveness may require separation. Actually, I think it took a chapter to work it out. But you know all that stuff anyhow.
Ten years ago, we met Marjorie in Budapest and we all stayed in a “splurgy” five star hotel. Marjorie led us, charging around Budapest the next morning, searching for breakfast. After our conference, we tried to keep up with her in Rome. She had on her fast tennis shoes. We celebrated her 75th birthday a few days early. She sang with such gusto, but everyone remarked on her beautiful voice.
So today Marjorie is 80. That means, of course, that she was born in 1933, soon after the Great Depression. It means, of course, that she was a young girl when World War II broke out. It means, of course, that when she was a young mother of three children, she was living in the era of June Cleaver. It means, of course, that when she finished her BA degree from Pomona College in 1970, she was in her mid to late 30’s. It means, of course, that when Marjorie finished her MA and Ph. D degrees from Claremont Graduate School in 1974, (note: only four years after her BA), she was almost 41 years old. I recall these facts to lift-up her remarkable example of how to be a woman in the academic community in the 20th and 21st centuries. Marjorie prospered in a community that, in her generation, was comprised primarily of men.
Marjorie was able to thrive without ever pretending to be, well, one of the good old boys. (Not that John Cobb ran a club like that). She chose wisely. But her remarkable success did not fall out of the sky. Marjorie has not had a particularly easy life. She herself has endured, not only divorce, but a stroke, cancer, and a heart attack, the death of her beloved son-in-law, and many other tragedies. After her cancer, she told me, “At least I got to read every novel by Trollope while I recovered.” Today she still travels with her grandchildren, gives lectures, makes jewelry, and keeps up her commitments as a “happy Methodist.”
Yep, she is writing a new book. She already has published more than 100 journal articles. (I was also saved by the article she wrote about her mother’s death—it’s called “The Birth of Death” and was published in Christian Century). Dr. Suchocki directs (plans and orchestrates every tiny detail of) the Whitehead film festival. Marjorie’s role as a Co-director for the Process Center shows the centrality of her vision, her dynamism, and her brilliance in the spread of Whiteheadean thinking.
But many of us call Marjorie our beloved friend, mentor, and teacher. My stories about her are not intended to claim any unique connection to her. Many of you know her far better than I do. But I do want to claim that she has saved my life. I hug her to my heart, more closely than the passport I keep plastered to my chest when I travel. Marjorie, I celebrate your legacy in our lives.