Penelope wasn’t religious. I think it’s quite safe to say she was quite strongly opposed to religion. And what better proof that God doesn’t exist than the tragically early end to her life? What better argument against a benevolent omnipotent force than her pain, sickness, trauma and excruciating wait to die?
So she probably didn’t believe in any sort of afterlife. But if there is, if there’s a heaven of some sort; I hope she’s there and I hope there’s a really fucking long To Read shelf and she gets to read every damn book on it. And every time she reads one she gets to buy another three to replace it.
Because she loved books and she was so well read. She was so knowledgeable. She thought about the world so much and could turn any conversation into an erudite discussion. From the serious and important to the banal or absurd. Politics, feminism, sport, beer or Buffy. But you know what sucked? Do you know what the most annoying thing about her was? She was so often right. Which meant I was wrong and had to eat humble pie. Happened considerably more often than I care to admit. That’s not to say she was haughty or conceited – quite the opposite. She was just, right. And she was prepared to explain why I wrong. Very patiently. And often more than once.
We were never quite clear on where we first met. We definitely became aware of each other at various skeptic and atheist events, but it was such a bizarre coincidence that we had so many friends in common. We very likely had seen each other at weddings or social gatherings before, though. Penelope – never Penny, that was Not Her Name – was cute, and funny, and smart but at first she struck me as a bit… contradictory. I mean she seemed to really dig beer a lot, but she had this rule about never more than four drinks. She was a passionate thinker, who came across as a very academic person, yet she was also a crazy sports fanatic. And she loved Josh Lyman even though clearly Sam was the best I mean everyone loves Sam, right?
But we bonded over skepticism, we liked each other’s company and shared many views. Soon we’d be watching Game of Thrones together on Friday nights, complaining about chefs that put olives in everything, and arguing whether Summer was better than Winter1.
But there weren’t enough shared views and similar interests, and we drifted apart. We’d remain good friends but really would only see each other in group social events or Skeptic functions. I fondly remember last year’s New Year’s Eve party at Shayne and Eva’s – standing out on the road, watching the fireworks. No doubt she watched with a small degree of anxiety and trepidation about the year ahead, but of course she didn’t show it. Strong, stoic, brave.
That’s the sort of person she was. Penelope took life in her stride. Even when the cancer was ravaging her body, a week after bad blood test results in March this year, she did the 106km Great Ocean Road hike. Because she could. Because there was also, let’s be honest, a tiny bit of stubbornness about her.
But stubbornness and willpower can only do so much. And now she’s gone. Taken away from us shortly after her 39th birthday.
And it’s not. Fucking. Fair.
All she wanted to do was live and travel and see castles and do tapestry and read books and write the Next Great Australian Novel. And see Essendon win some more Grand Finals.
Yes, ok, she also wanted to rule the world and she had extensive plans for that. But even that wasn’t a selfish thing. Well not primarily a selfish thing – it was mainly about sorting things out. Getting rid of cruelty, unkindness and, well, stupidity. And intolerance – she hated bigotry in all its forms. She marched in protests, she went to meetings, she even got into politics and was an active member of the Secular Party of Australia. I have so much respect for people who get out there and DO good things.
But she can’t travel anymore. She won’t see any more castles, read or write any more books, and Ben (formerly known as the Giant Tapestry of Doom) will remain unfinished. Just as her rich, full life was unfinished.
Some castles remain strong for hundreds of years after the threat of war is gone. Some classic novels continue to bring joy long after their writers have passed. And Penelope will remain an inspiration to me, and to the many people who knew and loved her, for the rest of our lives.
Goodbye, Penelope. We drifted apart but I’m so glad I knew you, and I miss you terribly.