Arlene Tjart, 1948—2015

Arlene’s Leaf is placed at Noel House. If you have photos or memories of Arlene you’d like to share, please post a comment below.

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  • Julia


    Remembering Arlene

    On Saturday, in our weekly Zen circle, we placed flowers on the altar commemorating those who have died and in memory of whom we dedicate our practice. I wrote Arlene’s name on the card attached to the flower that I laid at the foot of a statue of Quan Yin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy and Compassion.

    I met Arlene around 1979 or 1980 through the Cascade Bicycle club. We both liked to take weekend bicycle rides with the club and met on one of those rides. We became friends and got together for occasional hikes or cups of tea or a meal. We enjoyed rich conversation on a variety of topics. I remember one hike in particular on a trail near Mount Rainier where we plumbed some of the psychological hurdles one or the other of us was going through. Arlene was a thoughtful listener. She felt like a safe person to talk to and asked good questions. Another fond memory was of a meal we had together on the screened-in garden porch of a house she was renting. She had prepared Gado Gado from the Mousewood Cookbook with spinach, green beans and other vegetables, chopped boiled eggs and chopped peanuts dressed with a delicious peanut sauce. It was a memorable time of fellowship and good food.

    I don’t recall a lot of details about Arlene’s past before I met her. She grew up in Canada. I think she was raised Catholic. She held herself to an impeccable standard of courtesy and propriety. She was not freely self-disclosing, seemed circumspect in discussing personal matters. I can hear her exclaiming “Julia!” in a tone of both mild shock and amusement when I sometimes violated her standards of propriety or questioned the constraints of my own Catholic upbringing.

    After the first couple of years of knowing one another we both became busy with work and other life matters. Arlene was working at the time in finance and eventually became a stock broker. I began my first job, got married and started a family. Arlene actually came to sit with me during some of the 2 ½ days of labor with my first child. Over time we saw each other less and less often. There were occasional conversations in the late 80s in which she referenced tensions in her work life but never revealed any details. It was after we had lost touch altogether for a few years that I learned she had lost her job, was unemployed and struggled with what sounded like some serious mental health issues. I talked to her at one point at the urging of family members who had reached out to me, but it seemed there was no way of connecting with her outside of a seeming paranoia about being the victim of continuous surveillance. She was unwilling to reveal any details of her life or whereabouts and declined the offer to connect her to medical resources.

    Years passed. At some point my husband and I heard from Arlene. She was homeless. She wanted us to help her financially. I was uncertain of how to respond. I was afraid. My father had had bipolar psychosis. Another friend had accused and threatened me in the midst of her own manic de-compensation. I was afraid of her homelessness and desperation. My fear and Arlene’s evident paranoia left me at a loss as to how to respond. Eventually I met with her at a coffee shop on Phinney Ridge. I just wanted to honor our past connection. She seemed in many ways like the person I’d known over a decade and a half before. She was neatly dressed, seemed to be well nourished. We were meeting where we did because she felt other parts of the city were unsafe for her to be in due to the surveillance she believed was happening. By then I believe she may have been living on the east side in more stable housing.

    I was never in touch with her again. I learned that she died in 2015 just last week. We moved out of the Seattle area 3 years ago and have been slowly finishing the home we are in now. Last week, I unpacked a framed print by the Alaskan artist Rie Munoz entitled “Chasing Moulting Geese”. It was a whimsical colorful depiction of children chasing a gaggle of geese who were running away, wings flapping. Arlene had given it to us after our first child was born. My heart breaks now to realize the opportunity I may have missed to help my friend. The picture serves as a reminder of Arlene’s playfulness during happier times and how fragile life can be.

    Arlene was well educated, intelligent, generous, kind. She suffered from the effects of a genetic predisposition and life conditions that but for the grace of God might have been my own fate. I’m grateful to all who befriended her in her time of need. May she rest in peace.

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