Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Family Ties

Dear Jules,
Don't worry- this is not a post about that cheesy show from the 1980's (although I doubt that they even re-run it any more, so you might have to look it up).  It's actually about the feeling of being somehow, inextricably, connected to someone: and how those connections serve to connect us to others.

I think a lot about connections every May 18th: the anniversary of my father's passing and the birthday of my closest friend, your aunt and Godmother Cindy.  It's strange that it's been fifteen years since my father died, and I often think about this quotation from Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre when I think about him:

I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you - especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous channel, and two hundred miles or so of land some broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I've a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.

I love this for so many reasons: every May 18th, I feel that I am "bleeding inwardly"; while the wound might scab over and become less immediately painful, it never really heals.  And I love the analogy of a string tying us to the people we love, tightly, so that we have an almost physical connection, a "communion," as Brontë puts it.  I feel this way about my immediate family and about my closest friends.

I've written in other letters about my dad.  On our wedding bouquet, which you will inherit someday, you'll see attached a little statue of the Virgin Mary that my dad, unbeknownst to me, carried with him everywhere.  So today I went to this little shrine and talked with him about you, about your daddy, about all the things he had missed:

It makes me truly sad that he never saw me get my Ph.D., get married...and, most of all, that he never met you.  He would have absolutely adored you.

And yet I feel that God gave me a huge gift the year that my dad died.  It was the year I grew really close with your aunt Cindy, and I think it no accident that, on a day that string snapped, I was reminded of another string: one that would only grow stronger and more enduring.  I had been living in Worcester, Massachusetts, teaching at Assumption College, and I was so very lonely, so anxious, so unsure of what would happen with my life: my career, my relationships, all of it.  My second year in Worcester, Cindy moved there to teach at Worcester Academy, and we became really, really tight.

Right after your grandpa died, I remember going back to Worcester to pack up all of my stuff; I would be heading to Chapel Hill to begin my Ph.D.  I worried that the connection between me and Cindy might also snap, and it just felt like too much to bear.

But Cindy has become part of my life, part of my family.  We do have more than two hundred miles between us, but she was my maid of honor at our wedding (for which I can't, for some reason, find digital photographs, but you have the album).  When you were born, I asked her to be your godmother, and she flew down here for the baptism:

We've made sure to see one another at least once a year since then, and our relationship has only grown.

Our last visit to Montclair was for New Year's Eve, and it was a perfect way to ring in 2016:

Losing my dad sucked, and nothing will ever, ever replace him, but I am glad that I also have someone to celebrate this day.  Your aunt Cindy has always felt like family and, in a way, she now is (if godparents count).  She is so very kind yet firm, funny yet sensitive, wacky but incredibly down to earth, and, well, just...unique.  On this day, her birthday, I'm grateful that God put her in the world, into our lives, and into my family.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Losing a Friend

Dear Jules,
It's been a while, and I need to post about a lot of things- to remind myself, I want to post all of my research about inclusion and also about running and body image.  But right now, all I can think about is my colleague, Conseula--and since that's a hard name for you to say, you might remember her better by this:
We didn't spend too much time with her, unfortunately, but let me tell you--she got so very excited every time she saw you.  I remember the first English Day, when I brought you with me, and she insisted on holding you the entire time.  "I looove holding babies!" she said, completely at ease with this show of emotion in an academic setting.  Every time she saw you, she would come in for a hug; even this year, when she was the associate provost of our College, she stooped down to hug you if ever she saw you.  I know she was busy and super-important, but she never let that get in the way of her feelings, her passion.

Sometimes I feel awkward as an academic.  I think I can't get too excited about what I'm reading, and I definitely can't admit to reading "trash," or people will think less of me.  I also remember talking about an article she was working on concerning the place of emotion in literary analysis.  And that's the thing about her: she was smart as a whip, she could talk jargon until the cows came home, but she also was okay with excitement, with reading romance novels, with squealing in the middle of English Day when she saw a baby to hold.

So many people were closer to her than I, and I feel guilty for even writing this.  After all, many people could memorialize her so much more effectively.  Other than the random run-ins with her (just recently, I dropped my wallet on the street and she brought it in to your preschool so that I would get it), and a short period of time during which she and her husband borrowed our car, we did not get to see her enough.   I do remember when I was interviewing for my job, and she took me to breakfast, and we just had so much fun chatting.  It was one of the moments that, for me, crystallized my decision to teach at the College.  Later, she guest lectured for my classes whenever I needed her to and got my students excited about Octavia Butler and comic books.

But I'm writing this because I want you, when you're older, to remember this person, and to remember how much, and how unconditionally, she loved you.  I'm sure you will get to know her daughter, who will one day be one of your babysitters (I'm getting there, Frances!  We are super bad about going out).  And I know you will see a lot of her in Frances, and you will see, through her amazing daughter, how much love, intelligence, passion, and conviction this person had.  I'm grateful that Frances--and Cate, too--live near us and are a part of our lives because I want you to get to know them.  She lives on in them and, some day, I hope that a bit of her will live on in you.