Grace Paley, z”l
Grace Paley died on Wednesday. She was 84 and had been sick, so it should not have come as a surprise, but when I heard the news I felt a very sharp sense of loss. So I decided I would spend the night with her, reading through my well-worn copy of her Collected Stories, her poems in Begin Again: Collected Poems, and her essays in Just as I Thought. And reading her words made it even harder to believe she’s gone – her stories just radiate life, in all its banality, warmth, irrationality, sadness, and love.
I’ve blogged about Paley here before, so I won’t repeat my paean to her activism and storytelling, in all its Jewish and feminist sensibilities. Instead, I’ll share some of her words.
First, from a very short story called “Living,” which begins: “Two weeks before Christmas, Ellen called me and said, ‘Faith, I’m dying.’ That week I was dying too.”
Faith, it turns out, seems to be bleeding heavily after an abortion, but she recovers; her friend Ellen, however, actually dies a few weeks later. The story ends with a recollection of women’s friendship, which Paley suggests is central to what living is about:
“But I often long to talk to Ellen, with whom, after all, I have done a million things in these scary, private years. We drove the kids up every damn rock in Central Park. On Easter Sunday, we pasted white doves on blue posters and prayed on Eighth Street for peace. Then we were tired and screamed at the kids. The boys were babies. For a joke we stapled their snowsuits to our skirts and in a rage of slavery every Saturday for weeks we marched across the bridges that connect Manhattan to the world. We shared apartments, jobs, and stuck-up studs. And then, two weeks before last Christmas, we were dying.”
I also came across this poem of Paley’s – titled “Here” -- about being an old lady. I love the images and satisfaction in this poem, and this is one of the ways I’d like to remember her:
here I am in the garden laughing
an old woman with heavy breasts
and a nicely mapped face
how did this happen
well that’s who I wanted to be
at last a woman
in the old style sitting
stout thighs apart under
a big skirt grandchild sliding
on off my lap a pleasant
that’s my old man across the yard
he’s talking to the meter reader
he’s telling him the world’s sad story
how electricity is oil or uranium
and so forth I tell my grandson
run over to your grandpa ask him
to sit beside me for a minute I
am suddenly exhausted by my desire
to kiss his sweet explaining lips
I know I’ll keep visiting with Grace Paley through her words. May her memory be for a blessing.
How to cite this page
Rosenbaum, Judith. "Grace Paley, z”l." 24 August 2007. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 24, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/paley>.