CS: On July 14, 2011, your partner, Larry Dean Milligan, champion of homeless people, passed. You seem content despite your loss.
JA: Yes, you could say that. I feel that his life is such a gift to me. And despite the physical separation from Lar, I don’t have the feeling of being without him, unless I choose to. I can always have that joy of being with Lar, a feeling of being even closer than in our physical life together, if I so choose.
CS: Can you share something about your life?
JA: Of course. I am sharing this because Lar and I are part of the oneness that includes the reader and all of humanity.
On April 26, 1932, I was born in Sharpsville, PA. When I was three years old, my parents and I moved to Germany. I had a wonderful childhood in the small town of Stockach. My friends and I would go into the forest to pick berries. We would make visits to the Catholic Church, roller skate in the streets and toboggan in the snow.
I was brought up Catholic and enjoyed reading the stories of the saints, especially the martyrs. I admired their courage and that they gave their lives for God. I asked myself whether I would have the courage to give my life for God.
In the Spring of 1953, I married my husband, George Argoud, in San Diego, California. Together, we had five children. I worked so my husband could go to medical school in Switzerland. In one of my jobs, I worked as a secretary for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. After my husband graduated, we came back to the United States where he practiced medicine.
When George and I divorced in 1982, I felt that I had fallen into a deep hole. I just couldn’t get out. I thought my life was falling apart. My marriage… five kids. I asked, “What is the purpose of life? Who am I? Where Did I come from?”
I found refuge in meditation. I had a room built in the back of my home to be a meditation place and my meditation group met there. One day my meditation group discussed doing something to help homeless people in San Diego.
I just felt that was for me. So, I put a small ad in the San Diego paper that read, “San Diegans Help the Homeless” with my telephone number.
There was just one call as a result of my ad. The caller said that if I wanted to do anything to help homeless people that I should call Larry Milligan and he gave me Lar’s number.
I called the number, spoke to Lar and agreed to meet him the next day at the local bookstore. I told Lar that I could only be interested in helping homeless people if we regarded them with the greatest respect because as Jesus said, “What you do the least of them, you do to me.”
Before we parted, Lar said to me, “I’m ready for a relationship.”
I said, “Only a spiritual one.”
He didn’t say anything. It didn’t seem to stop him.
So I began going to the weekly meetings where Lar and homeless people met. I could see that Lar was a leader who asked everyone to participate in the meeting equally. However, he did not put himself on a pedestal — that impressed me.
For over 10 years, Lar and I served food twice a week to homeless people in Balboa Park and also at the Lutheran Church. Later on other people joined us in this effort. Lar conducted hunger strikes and we had peaceful demonstrations to bring attention to the issues of homelessness.
One of our major concerns was the criminalization of the act of sleeping in public because there was not enough room in the shelters for every homeless person in San Diego. As a result of our efforts, the case of Spencer v. City of San Diego was filed in 2004. When the case settled in 2007, homeless people could sleep on public property at night without being subject to fine or arrest.
[In November 2010, the settlement agreement in Spencer v. City of San Diego was modified so that a homeless person can be fined or arrested if a police officer offers his or her an available shelter bed within five miles and he or she chooses to decline the bed.]
Because of our activities to help homeless people, Lar and I had numerous encounters and a wide variety of relationships with individuals and groups at the national and local levels, including City authorities, the police and the press.
On September 8, 2009, Lar was the recipient of a lung transplant. For the next three and a half weeks, Lar was in a coma. While I was grateful that he was alive, I took refuge in finding that space where I could feel at one with him.
When Lar awoke from his coma, he told me that no matter how much he loved me, he hadn’t wanted to come back from that place that was so peaceful and absolutely beyond description.
He said, “I hope you’re not angry with me.”
I told him, “Of course not, no one would want to come back from there.”
About two years after his surgery, Lar became seriously ill with pneumonia. One day he said to me, “I want to be with you in eternity.”
I said, “I will always be with you.”
I experienced an indescribable feeling of communion.
When Lar passed, somehow I had the sense to take refuge in that place where we had been as one in our meditation. And somehow his passing was not real to me because in that space he was one with me.
Now when thoughts come to me about him, I come to a place we enjoyed together. When I read his poetry or I listen to the songs he loved, I never fail to take refuge to be with him in that space. I marvel and it never ceases to amaze me that I am so much a part of him and he a part of me in that oneness. All the years of meditation had given me that space.
In 2005, Lar wrote Love Poem to Joanna to me. I share part of it with you now.
I’m just right here. In thoughts of life Never to be changed. Thinking of the times we gave Serving each other. No, love can never be rearranged And someday death will sweetly come.