Sunday, December 21, 2008

Not-so-deep philosophizing

Many of you may not know that I taught high-school Spanish for two years before ultimately going to law school. I speak Spanish fairly well and have visited Spain, Mexico, Costa Rica, and various other Spanish-speaking countries. Nonetheless, I don't feel like my vocabulary has ever really progressed beyond what I taught my students. Despite what I learned in college and abroad, I have the same proficiency in Spanish as a high school senior.

I realized this weekend that my general intellect may follow the same trajectory, and, without Jeff's positive influence, may have reached the outer limits of its capacity. In other words, I think I'm as smart as I'm going to get and, without Jeff, I'm probably going to only get stupider. I realized this when I started reading "The Screwtape Letters" by C.S. Lewis for the third time and thought: What's the point? Who is going to discuss it with me? The Screwtape Letters is one of my all-time favorite books and a very easy read. Every time I read it I discover new perspectives and feel like I learn something about myself and others. Therefore, I can only assume that others would find it similarly rich and meaningful. I have attempted, without success, to persuade various friends to read "The Screwtape Letters." As a result, I have not been able to simulate the animated and thought-provoking discussions Jeff and I used to have about literature and philosophy and any number of peripheral issues. And, so I have resigned myself to the singular and lonely enjoyment of this book.

It's a little bit ironic: several years ago for Christmas, I got Jeff what I thought was a very clever gift. I bought several well-known and widely read "masterpieces" and a gift certificate to a "matching" restaurant to each. For example, I got him "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu and a gift certificate to Cheng Hwa (a Chinese restaurant); "The Communist Manifesto" by Karl Marx and a gift certificate to Cubanitas (a Cuban restaurant); "Introduction to Christianity" by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now known as Pope Benedict XVI) and a gift certificate to The Gasthaus (a German Restaurant); and "Utopia" by Sir Thomas More and a gift certificate to the George Watts Tea Room (because More was English and the English like tea. OK, I know that one was kind of a stretch, but I couldn't find an "English" restaurant in Milwaukee). So, anyway, I got Jeff all these books with the idea that we would read them together and once we had both finished a book, we would go to the restaurant and have dinner while we discussed it. Great idea, huh? Except that he dutifully read every book and I only read "The Art of War." That's right--we only made it as far as the Chinese restaurant.

So, while I am sitting here lamenting my lack of a conversation partner, I trust I am only experiencing balance in the universe--what some people call "karma." Just as Jeff had no one to talk to about the books he read, and no one to discuss his insights or to challenge his thoughts and perceptions--now, neither do I. And maybe I'm too hopeful (or maybe to stubborn), but I don't sense my loneliness in this regard as punishment or retribution. This sense of abandonment (which may be too strong a word, but my vocabulary is already starting to suffer . . .) may be, in fact, the "sign" I've been waiting for all along.

You may recall that shortly after Jeff's death, I wished for a "sign"or the smallest intimation that we would be OK without him. Since then, there has been only nothingness. But, I've come to believe that these moments of "nothingness" provide the best opportunity for Jeff to be present. It is difficult and discouraging to believe in the eternity of a soul when every trace of that soul has vanished. But wouldn't his lingering "presence" or the constant sense of him be a much more painful reminder of the time and distance between us and would it not pose an even greater impediment to the "moving on" that inevitably must occur? When a mother wants her child to walk, she must take away her hand. If Jeff wants me to know that I will be OK without him, he must withdraw so that I can attribute nothing to his intercessions or support and will be left to truly walk alone. In other words, the best way for him to let me know that I'll be OK without him-- is to allow me to be OK without him.

And so it is. I am grateful for the lesson and only hope that my life's education is not stalled. For over 14 years, my nightly banter with Jeff contributed so much to the formation of my conscience and values and priorities, that only time will tell if they will grow in their depth and breadth without his influence. In the meantime, I still have all of you to talk to :-)

Sweet Dreams!


Amy said...

Hi Kelly!

I know, you have no clue who I am, but I read your updates devoutly, and am always inspired and encouraged by your thought provoking posts.

Your post tonight brought two thoughts to me that I want to share.

One, I think you should read those books that you got Jeff (you know, the ones you DIDN'T read). I'm not sure if you will feel/hear Jeff in them, but I do believe you could think about what Jeff would've seen/said/thought (although it's impossible to know, you'll at least stretch your mind!).

Two, I think Jeff is holding out. I think once you have begun to (pardon the term) move on, that he will make his presence more known, and you will see him in things more often. Either that, or you're looking too hard/deep and missing the little ways that he is there already? To use your analogy, when our children leave the nest, I think there will be a short time where it will appear that they don't need us. However, give it some time, and they will be there often - calling, emailing, visiting, etc. They need to learn who they are without our constant presence first. I hope that makes at least an ounce of sense, lol.

Anyway, just a couple of thoughts I felt lead to share.

Jeff's cousin, Kara, and I (that's how I began to follow y'all) were talking this evening about how much you and Jeff have evangelized through this blog! You have shown God's everlasting love - to each other, to your kids, and have revealed how he has shown it to you through the many many neighbors, friends, and family that are there when you need them (even if it's for a ridiculous amount of time choosing and setting up a tree, hehe).

I can't imagine the moments or maybe continuous feeling of solitude you must feel, and I hope I never do.

Although you do not have the same companionship that you knew with Jeff, please know that you are NOT alone. People all over the nation and possibly the world pray for you and your family every single day. We read your posts, laugh at your "best made plans" gone awry and cry with you during your slaps of reality.

But of course least of all is that you are always held and comforted by the warm and loving arms of God. He is ALWAYS with you, he hears your cries, he feels your pain.

Anyway, I feel like I'm starting to ramble, so I'll close.

Happy reading :)

Terri said...

Well, I can assure you that Jeff was not the reason to your intelligence and reading books does not make you smart, maybe they make you a more well rounded person with a great vocabulary and more knowledgeable about certain things, but more intelligent - I don't think there has been a study proving that.
Anyway, I use Romeo Rivas as an example, not the most well read individual but very street smart and common sense smart. Speaking as a wife of a husband who gives IQ tests all day, I can say that intelligence comes on all different levels.
Now, I understand that talking about books was something that you and Jeff did and that's something that should just remain something for just you two. I believe that if you tried to talk about "Screwtape Letters" with me it would not compare to the conversation that you had with Jeff and you'd probably leave feeling more alone and annoyed because not only do you not have someone to discuss books with but the people that you do just won't compare to Jeff's knowledge about books and conversations about books is a good way to discover that.
I guess all I'm saying is that I think that you are staring to notice Jeff being gone on different levels and with every notice you feel alone and left without a sign, and like you said maybe that needs to happen so you can move on. Then again what is the definition of "moving on"? Jeff's passing is something that you will never forget it will always be in your head and that is something that will be with you always so, just remember that because there is always going to be something that triggers an emotion about Jeff, since this is something that will always be with you. Even when you are 60 years old there will be a reminder of Jeff somehow that triggers an emotion whether it's happiness, loneliness, or sadness, you will be hit with that feeling even when you are 60 years old and have "moved on" . So, my point is there is no moving on, but just living your life the best you can without letting those emotions (that will always be there) take over your existence, so on that note and to tie into what I was saying in the beginning-your intelligence doesn't rest in the conversations you had with Jeff over books.

PamelaB said...

Kelly, We have not had the chance to really meet since you joined the firm (I am your records manager) but I have followed your blog and have shared Jeff's last blog with everyone I knew because it was just so inspiring.

Two years ago I lost my fiance Dana and I can tell you that at times it gets easier and at times you wonder if it ever gets easier. I still cry almost daily about something, no matter how good the rest of life might be. And I can relate to the things we once talked about that now no one seems to get but I also notice that the little catch phrases that I still say catch on with other people and in that way, I know he will live on forever, both in others and in me and I just hang onto that thought.

As for the things you did together, keep doing them if you liked them, and, if you only did them for him, realize that you enjoyed it because it gave you time together (difficult with kids, I know!!) and know that you don't have to keep doing them to "honor" Jeff's memory or the time you spent together doing these things.

Life may go on, not life as we knew it, but we always have our loved ones with us, in close physical proximity or in spirit. Know that even though you can't feel Jeff like you thought you would (I know I thought I would feel Dana all the time but didn't), he is still there. Take care --- and we will meet soon (if I ever get off the 16th floor!!). Pamela

Mary M Clay said...

Kelly: I LOVE your creative Christmas gift for Jeff, and actually want to try that Cuban restaurant sometime! :) So, I've never read any of those books, but anytime you want to discuss pop culture and the latest US Weekly or People magazine, I'm your girl! Unfortunately, I don't think those mags help in any way with one's intelligence :)
Merry Christmas!

colleen J said...

hi kelly,

as another faithful reader of the blog, but also a persona incognito in your life, i still feel compelled to tell you those are the MOST clever Christmas gifts I think I've ever heard devised! THe idea of pairing a dinner setting appropriate to the thematics of the chosen discussion books is truly artful. Did you know the Screwtape Letters is playing at the Mercury Theater in Chicago - through Jan/early Feb? If you ever want to launch a "virtual" book club (with all your "spare" time), I am sure many of us would be happy to read along with you on the three remaining books you've yet to read!