She was so brilliant and so creative, and her talents were so wide-ranging,
that many people whose lives she touched remember her for what she did. But
I had the great privilege of knowing Norma not for what she did but for who
Norma and I met when we were both living in the Bay Area during the late 1960s
and early 1970s. We made contact with one another because we were cousins. We
maintained that contact for the rest of our lives because we became dear friends.
During those early years, I came to love Norma's warmth and humor and, above
all, the passion with which she approached everything she did. We used to run
together in the Berkeley hills whenever we could. She would always crouch down
in a runner's stretch and call out, "Runners ready . . . " Away we
would go, propelled by her ability to make even a thirty-minute jog into an
Those were tough years for both of us. I was struggling in a dysfunctional marriage,
and Norma was struggling up the ladder of academia toward the golden ring of
tenure. We were both somewhat ambivalent about the direction our lives were
going, but we found solace in each other. I particularly loved weekend visits
to her little country place in the Santa Cruz mountains. Norma was at peace
there--at least, as much at peace as she was able to be during that time. The
simple little cabin, the overgrown vegetation, and the funny goat she kept there
provided a retreat from the pressures of her life. In retrospect, perhaps it
was a foreshadowing of the peace and joy Norma found more than twenty years
later in Costa Rica.
During those early turbulent years, I came to admire the courage with which
Norma faced her demons and the humor she used to leaven her pain. She was able
to laugh at herself and at the absurdities of our lives, and she helped me to
find a way to do the same--although I never was as honest or as truly courageous
Norma was such a Renaissance woman; it seemed that there was nothing she didn't
know, nothing she couldn't do. When she came to visit me in Southern California
in the late 1970s, my daughter (whom Norma had known as a little tot in Berkeley)
was taking tap dancing lessons. Norma wowed my daughter and me by breaking into
a credible soft shoe routine then and there!
Norma and I were both well past 50 when I visited her in Rincon de Salas. I
looked and felt every year of my age, but beautiful Norma looked younger and
more vital than ever. With characteristic energy and verve, she had created
a whole new life for herself. And, also characteristicly, she had become deeply
involved in improving the lives of those around her. Her Costa Rican community,
like the rest of her international community, are better for having known Norma.
In the very early 1970s, Norma went to China with a sociology group; this was
long before China was open to general tourism. She was excited about the trip,
and I have a wonderful memory of her posing with a fake microphone and announcing,
playfully, "This is Juliet Wikler reporting from the Great Wall . . . "
Wherever Norma is now, I know that she is learning, exploring, playing, and
improving with the same passion, courage, and love she brought to every experience.
Norma Juliet, my cousin and friend, I will always miss you.