Friday, June 3, 2016

It is Always Too Soon

My favorite professor from college, Jeanne Rodes, died last night in her sleep.  She'd fallen the day before.  I've written about her husband, who died November 25, 2014. His story tells a lot of hers, as all good real romances do.

I miss her.  It's that simple.  It makes it hard to think, let alone open a vein.

She was someone who lit a fire in me though I didn't know it.

When I met her, I did think, "I want to be like her!"  Then I thought, "What a crazy idea!" However, with her seven children, her infectious zeal for literature, her command of a quick thought and an obvious warm heart, I fell in love.  It was irresistible. I saw her speaking before us, talking to students and being both clear headed and unfailingly kind and I wanted that.  It was a luminous witness and the beginnings of a friendship that spanned 28 years.

One of our most memorable moments was a fight.

I went to see her during my 10 year college reunion. I'd brought my youngest of then three children (6 month old) with me. Fresh from two years of school working toward a doctorate, my head full of smug gobbledygook, I espoused what I thought was important jargon about epistimology and paradigm shifts and she looked at me and said, "KNOCK IT OFF!"

I felt hurt. I thought I'd joined the academic club. I thought I sounded smart, sophisticated, nuanced. I tried again.  She told me to stop it.  "Just stop." It hadn't, but the air in the restaurant felt chilly in that moment.

Sitting down at Haggar College Center's cafe at Saint Mary's, she shook her head.

"That doesn't sound like you.  That sounds like a bad warped version of you that I wouldn't want to eat lunch with." She ordered an ice tea and either an egg or tuna sandwich, I don't remember.  "The real you is much more interesting."  I ordered  a diet coke and hot dog,  and juggled my daughter who played with the silverware.  Impulsively, I gave my baby girl a kiss on the head.  

"That's the real you."   Jeanne pointed at me holding my daughter.
She saw me pull back. I didn't want that to be the real me.  I didn't want to be just a mom.  It felt smaller.  The reality was, it wasn't the role, but the me who hadn't yet grown up into the role yet.  I'd been hiding from the role via graduate school. Hiding from the stretch marks of motherhood.

Jeanne knew it.

Getting me to hear that reality took the rest of lunch, which wasn't as much fun as I wanted it to be, but was what real friends do.  They tell you when you're missing the mark.  They guide you to the better you.  The doctoral program was a way of holding something for me.  Jeanne didn't convince me not to go to graduate school.  She didn't lecture or dismiss my dreams or criticize my parenting or even my life decisions. She just didn't let me pretend there wasn't a cost, and made me think about the costs, the now costs and future costs.

Jeanne didn't let me stay comfortable in a bubble of pride and self oriented feeling of somehow deserving this cocoon from my own life's reality, without knowing  the price would be not seeing my own children grow up.

It was a discernment luncheon.  She knew the process of dying to the self I'd yet to fully allow myself to do.  She also knew the better outcome possible and sat with me and we ate and talked and talked, even ordering dessert so as to not have to leave.

We sat in the parlor and laughed well past the lunch hour. I cannot remember anything of what was said, except to say at some point, whatever it was I held onto, fell off.    Graduate school would fall that autumn.

My real memory of the rest of that day was the echoes of our laughter bouncing off the walls of the student center to the ceiling. Before we went our separate ways, she took some time to talk to my baby girl.  She said she hoped one day she would go to Saint Mary's.  This fall, my daughter, that daughter, is.

We've had other visits, other luncheons since then, and the hallmark of all of them, is the whole conversation, the entire visit is like dessert.  Each memory holds the echo of laughing; laughing until we cry; crying because the joy and the laughter can't quite capture or cover everything we've talked about, or how much we're trying to cram into a few hour visit or phone call.

It is always too soon to say good bye, but I do know, when we get to see each other again, there won't be a need to cram everything in because the feast will go on forever.   So for her life, for her friendship, for the luncheons, for the talks, for all she's given, for all she still gives, for all I miss and all I remember and all I don't,  I thank God for her.

Thank you my friend.  I miss you.


Paul said...

Thank you for the wonderful words about Mom, Sherry. She treasured your friendship and loved the person she knew from those days in her classroom. Your words capture such an important part of her life.

BobR said...

That's beautiful, Sherry. Thanks so much for sharing it. I've had my "KNOCK IT OFF" moments with Mom, too, as you may well imagine.


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