I still find Lila’s hair pins underneath and between my car seats. I would pick her up at the big, red-trimmed house on Wildemere for meetings. She would always be carrying several bags, and before we pulled out of her driveway, she would pin up those thick gray braids that she wore like a crown.
We share a birthday. October 23. Deep autumn Scorpios – born under a water sign. We both loved water, art, ice cream, and Jesus. One year, Maureen, Marian, Alice, and Sylvia surprised us with a birthday meal at an Italian restaurant. I still have my last birthday card from Lila featuring twin dogs and signed in that meticulous cursive that distinguished her as the queen of artful name tags.
Lila put the “act” into activism and pulled the rest of us along with her. I recall cringing (gleefully) when she coerced a group of us to wear bandit masks and carry hobo bags on sticks down Woodward Avenue on a busy Friday night on our way to protest the looting of the city during the bankruptcy.
Lila was the inspiration for what was to become the Flowtown Revue. It was her idea to rewrite Christmas carols with water justice themes to sing outside the Mayor’s home. She loved singing with Flowtown Revue and left behind a stack of blue camo water warrior babushkas that she found at a local Dollar Store.
I was one of many who received missives from Lila reminding us to rest and take care of ourselves while she worked the night away. Most of her emails were timestamped 3:00 or 4:00 AM. She did prodigious amounts of work at night . . . and during the day. I always wondered if/when Lila slept.
Lila was the spiritual force behind the Detroit to Flint Water Justice Walk. Almost nightly, we would have long conversations about the countless logistical glitches and concerns surrounding the walk. Lila’s fallback line was that she had a huge squad of prayer warriors around the country praying over the walk and that all would be well. They did. It was.
Driving back from a long day in Lansing once during a pounding rainstorm, Lila was nodding off at the wheel as we headed east on I-96. This time, it was my turn to pray.
Lila loved working with children and took them seriously. During the Children’s Water March that she organized, she elevated the voices of Nicole and Valerie Jean’s youngins and the little ones from Highland Park and Flint. Lila was the consummate teacher who knew how to empower others – young and old alike. Her mantra was “Stop holding back, step up, speak out.” Our young activists are blessed to have been taught by Lila.
I learned from Lila that you don’t do water work without the blessing and leadership of indigenous water protectors. On the morning of the walk to Flint, she handed me a skirt and explained the importance of wearing it during the water ceremony that preceded the walk. I learned many such lessons from Lila. About so many things. All the time.
Lila was a gatherer of food and people. She would scoop up leftover food and snacks from one meeting and then share the wealth at the next – throughout the day and evening. There was often an eclectic and bountiful mix of goodies that represented the countless causes and organizations that included Lila on any given day. And then there were the long parking lot convenings that would ensue under the ruse of “Can you give me a hand with my bags?” Some of those meetings were long enough to bring about world peace, but it was always a joy to hang out in the parking lot with Lila late into the night.
The last time I saw Lila, she and I were on a water panel at Madonna University. We had planned to go to dinner afterward, but she was needed at home. For the first time ever, she shared with me that she was utterly exhausted and that we would reconnect when I returned from the border where I was heading to serve on a peace team the following week. I will never forget the text I received immediately after we crossed back into the U.S. from Mexico. Nicole sent a message telling me that Mama Lila had died. I literally fell to my knees in disbelief and then fell sick for the next two days.
I have a hole in my heart – still – that is bigger than the Great Lakes combined. I miss her terribly. Lila was a friend, a mentor, and a spiritual sister.
On our birthday, I will look at pictures and give thanks. When a hair pin inexplicably turns up, I will take it as a sign that Lila is still walking with us, encouraging us to share what we gather with others and goading us on to walk boldly and joyfully – even dressed as a bandit down Woodward – for the sake of justice.
Kim Redigan is a mother, teacher, writer, and water lover. She is involved in the People’s Water Board Coalition, the Michigan Poor People’s Campaign, and Meta Peace Team, where serving on international peace teams in Palestine, Haiti, and Mexico has shown her how water, war, colonialism, racism, and migration are deeply interconnected. She believes that our only hope is to recognize the profound interconnectedness of all creation and embrace ways that are so old they seem new.