I lost a friend yesterday. An investigative journalist and rugged outdoors woman, Judith continued to forge a life of meaning and adventure well past the age when many hang up their spurs. She died with her boots on.

Judith was intrepid, outspoken and pugnacious. She was filled with a love of life, justice, humanity and nature. She did her research and called things she saw them, fighting the good fight with firmness but never meanness.

Judith and I met through dance. She started coming to my classes to regain strength and mobility after hip surgery. Finding much in common, we struck up a friendship.

Judith and I didn’t always agree. Occasionally we went a few rounds. It was always great exercise. Smart, well-informed, quick-tongued and jovial, Judith landed her blows according to Queensberry Rules. She never hit below the belt.

Sparring with her smartened me up and improved my arguments. I hope I did the same for her. Our engagements were serious but sporting. We could always shake hands afterward.

What happened to that kind of engagement? Why is everything a death match?

I used to fight. Literally.

There is something about physically engaging another in one-on-one combat that I find exhilarating. I’ve participated in fencing, Taekwondo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I suffered cracked ribs, a broken nose and plenty of bruises. I fought guys weighing up to 100 pounds more than my not-small frame, guys I knew I could never beat, policemen and prison guards. I did for sport, fun and to prepare myself physically and mentally for the possibility that, some day, I might have to fight for my life.

Sparring is serious business. People occasionally get hurt. But participants, in their efforts to win, don’t intend to inflict lasting damage. The few that reveal a mean-spirited attitude and lack of self-restraint are shown the door.

I don’t fight anymore. Several surgeries and the slower healing of my aging body make that kind of punishment unadvised. But I do miss the practice and the camaraderie.

And that’s the thing about sparring. Competition without malice spawns mutual respect and collegial relationships. Blows are exchanged, but you can go out for a beer afterward.

Some people get that. They know how to fight about content without kicking character in the balls. They don’t need to dislike their opponent just because they disagree. That ability is getting harder to find.

I stand guilty of losing my equanimity. If someone takes their gloves off and pops me in the eye, my default is to go after them with everything I’ve got. Some people are more disciplined, better able to turn the other cheek.

One such writer closed his account recently. If you’ve corresponded with him, you probably know who I mean. A believer in debate as a method of problem-solving, he became discouraged at the resistence he experienced to what he felt was fruitful engagement. I can’t say I blame him, but I will miss sparring with him. He knows how to disagree agreeably.

So here’s to missing friends, good sparring partners, fair fights, exercising our intellect, improving our arguments, and losing, but even more importantly winning, with grace.

In memory of Judith Lawson.

Writing, because talk is cheap

Writing, because talk is cheap