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 :-)