Ann Saint John Hawley

February 1, 2011

Last Thursday, I sat with my 91-year-old friend Ann as she was taking her last breaths and slowly, with exceeding grace, slipping away from this world.

At her funeral yesterday, even as her children and grandchildren were weeping to imagine a world without Ann in it, there was a sweet sense of rightness pervading the sanctuary.  This was a life fully and beautifully lived, a death gently embraced, a work masterfully completed.  For me, as Ann’s friend, it was a balm that soothed the wound inflicted by the loss of so many loved ones who have died young and tragically.

Ann was a student of mine two decades ago when I began teaching Philosophy and Religious Studies classes at the local college.  In her 70s, she was still an active learner, stretching her vast mind ever wider as if to encompass all the wonder of the universe.  A prolific artist, life-long dancer, and widow of a much-loved country doctor, Ann had raised six children, who were now each raising children and grandchildren of their own.  In the midst of a lifetime of loving dedication to her family, Ann had managed to produce a staggering body of work.  I cherish the painting she gave us as a wedding gift: “Ramakrishna in Ecstasy.”  It depicts a nude man sprawled on his side in a yogic pose, a wild smile on his toothy face.  She said she made this piece after reading about the early 20th century saint who loved all religions and had a special devotion to the Divine Mother.  You can feel the passion and joy in every brush stroke.

I vividly recall the final presentation Ann did for my Eastern Religions class.  She gave a slide show of “a year in the life of a lotus pond” which she had shot while her husband was in residency in the Southeast, and she read aloud from her journals from that period.  She emphasized the symbolism of the lotus, whose roots sink deep into the muddy water, feeding on the muck, and whose exquisite blossoms reach for the sun.

When my mother, Susanna Starr – who is 15 years or so younger than Ann– began research for a book she was writing called “50 and Beyond: New Beginnings in Health and Well-Being (, she was looking for inspiring elders and I connected her with Ann.  They became instant soul-sisters.  My mom, too, embraces life with quiet abandon and turns it all into art.

So even though Ann took my classes, attended my readings (always sending me bouquets of flowers in colored glass vases, accompanied by hand-painted cards and heart-felt words), bought all my books and foisted them on everyone she knew, telling everybody what a “spiritual genius” I was, it was I who was Ann’s student, up to the very end, and beyond.

I am grateful for the wild and tender touch of this shaman’s hand in my life.  Godspeed, Ann.


6 Responses to “Ann Saint John Hawley”

  1. Sheila said

    Mirabai, I read your blog entries every month and share them with friends. Mourning alongside you as I would my own cherished friends, your beloved dog, uncle, and all of the compatriots you mention, we connect – as you wish we would. With your writing, I am brought that much closer to the sensual and exquisite exhibition of love.

  2. Yvette said

    a beautiful tribute, capturing the spirit of your friend, and sharing a model for living, actually models: yours, Ann’s and your own mother’s lives.

  3. What a beautiful post on a beautiful life…
    Yes by all means, “we should dig down through all our own muck and find the lotus within”. Or as Robert Johnson said in his book “He”, empty the swamp one bucket at a time and find the wild man within. And after having found him make him a friend and vital part of yourself…..become alive…..

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