"...not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough
night." —Jack Kerouac
Akilah Oliver was a beautiful person.
That's a phrase that gets over-used, but it is easily ascribed to her. She was a hugely
significant presence at Naropa: generous with her students and colleagues, beloved
by both. She died on February 23, suddenly, at 49.
She was a singularly gifted writer and performer. Anyone who saw her onstage knew
that it came easy, but not in a shallow or showy sense. She had a formidable presence—you
couldn't keep your eyes off her.
Life isn't fair, we all know that. But it does have an innate cycle. We're born, we
age, we die. Death is part of the deal, that door we all must walk through. It's only
tragic in its timing. And Akilah's death was tragic. She had so much more in her to
write, to express and to project.
Sunday, April 17, there will be a memorial here at Naropa for Akilah in Shambala Hall.
Eight years ago, in that same room, many here, myself included, attended a memorial
for Oluchi McDonald, Akilah's twenty-year-old son who died of intestinal gangrene
and the neglect of emergency room staff, after being refused treatment by at least
one Los Angeles hospital, for lack of insurance.
I see Akilah clearly in Shambala Hall on that day, devastated, but infused with some
kind of inner-strength that somehow got her through that cruel and extreme occasion.
She, and everyone present, knew once and for all that life isn't fair. An inexpressible
tragedy is a child preceding a parent in death.
Akilah went on, somehow producing moving and powerful work, somehow teaching, and
living a life that did not outwardly seem consumed by grief or bitterness.
But she never got over it. There was, of course, not any way she could have.
So this Sunday it will be back to Shambala Hall, among some or many of the same faces.
Only this time we will be mourning a mother's passing.