Remembering the life of Joop van der Grinten

{A VERY good, long time friend of the family. Please remember.}

Memorial Service

Saturday October 6th, 2007 10:30 AM

St. Joseph the Worker Church

510 Narragansett Avenue

East Patchogue, NY 11772-5132

(631) 286-9133

Donations in lieu of flowers

Pax Christi USA

Joop's favorite

HEIFER International

Remembering the life of Joop van der Grinten

Bob Keeler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.
    September 21, 2007

The life of Joop van der Grinten traced an improbable arc, from outsmarting Nazis in Holland to using
tomatoes to teach children nonviolence on Long Island, and it showed that it's possible to advocate
fiercely for peace, but be peaceful with adversaries.

Its final irony was the intersection of this tireless peacemaker and his polar opposite, a famously
xenophobic and bellicose former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jesse Helms.

When I learned that they were regularly sitting across from one another in the dining room of a
North Carolina nursing home, it made me laugh, as van der Grinten had done so many times since we
first sat quietly together in a darkened classroom in East Patchogue during the Gulf War and
prayed together over war and peace.

So, when I visited him on Sept. 1, and he talked about his readiness for death and the funeral
arrangements he had made, he didn't hesitate when I asked him how he was getting on with the senator.

"I've decided to let bygones be bygones," he said in his sharp Dutch accent, between long pauses
for breath, caused by his struggle with congestive heart failure. "He lived his life and I lived
mine." With obvious enjoyment, my friend described the senator as "shocked" when, despite 
the chasm between their views, van der Grinten addressed him with a courteous "yes, senator" or "no, senator."

Recently, Helms joined rock star Bono to fight AIDS and poverty in Africa. But in his prime,
the senator used his power to block treaties and advance a fevered nationalism that was foreign
to everything that van der Grinten believed in.

Still, as they sat across from each other, the peacemaker didn't jump on the senator rhetorically.
"Just because I disagree," he told me, "that's no reason to be impolite." One of his great
peacemaking skills was to carry on a dialogue without rancor, even with someone whose views offended 

As we spoke, he was wearing a "Still Against War" button, but his was more than a buttons-and-bumper-stickers
opposition to war. From counseling young men on conscientious objection to the draft during the Vietnam
era to keeping his income low, so the government couldn't tax it and use the proceeds to build bombs,
van der Grinten was fiercely committed to nonviolence. But finding inner peace was a struggle.

During the brutal occupation of the Netherlands, when his father's Catholic newspaper resisted the
Nazis publicly and van der Grinten worked against them in secret, it was easy for him to hate the
occupiers. For years after he left Holland, came to the United States in 1948 with almost no 
cash, and found a job and a wife in the same Huntington nursery, he struggled against the anger.

Until his death last Sunday at age 88, he believed that the poison of hatred brought on the cancer
that once attacked his body. But he vanquished the cancer and, with spiritual weapons ranging from
Christian prayer to clothing-free moments in American Indian sweat lodges, he stilled the anger.

Along the way, he became a white-maned Everyman, as hard at work in the fields of peace and justice
as he was in the soil of organic agriculture. 

Though he spent his final four years in North Carolina, living with his daughter as his health declined,
he left a major imprint on Long Island.

It wasn't just about war. It was about food and fairness for the poor and about equality for everyone.
Van der Grinten and his family picketed regularly outside Brookhaven Town Hall to protest racial
discrimination in housing. But he didn't just protest. He put in hard work seeking real 
housing solutions.

Later in his life, he became a leader in creation spirituality, a view of the Earth not as a vast
store of exploitable resources but as a single, living, breathing organism.

It was the planet that gave him his livelihood, through the trees and bushes that he grew at his
Brookhaven nursery and planted all over the Island. 

And it was the planet that gave him a way to show young people about nonviolence, by teaching them
to be gentle to the tomatoes they grew in his community garden at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in
East Patchogue.

Joop starts with a sound like a "Y" and rhymes with hope. For me and everyone whose life he enriched,
he will always be - like the trees he planted - an eternal sign of hope. He was a man of peace who
became, despite the angers born of war, a man at peace.