08/30/1998

Dear Diary, 

I met the remarkable Shauna Jean Malone today. 

And she is remarkable. 

I can even prove it, Dear Diary. 

Of course she’s remarkable! I’m remarking upon her right now, am I not?

Anyhow, today is her birthday. 

We were introduced at the Wren Dormitory corner of the uphill quad. The residential assistants had assembled all of us WFJs (Wren Freshmen Jumbos). They announced her birthday and she jumped into the middle, jumped up and down, introduced herself, smiled beautifully, and then unselfconsciously skipped around the circle as we self-consciously sang happy birthday.

She doesn’t know who I am. Yet.

I hope she will, Dear Diary.

I’d like to find out if she was dusted in some magic-sparkle-twinkle dust. 

It’s possible.

I think I love her. 

Brian

***

Death arrives

 

Andreas calls my cel at 8:07 on January 30, 2013 and asks, “Brian, are you sitting?”

I’m not. 

But I tell him I am. 

I’m hovering around my classroom desk. 

Getting ready. 

Five students are already in the room. 

The bell will ring at 8:20.

“Shauna died this morning.” 

I sit down and mutter a string of denial: “What?! I mean, I heard you. What!? I’m sorry. I don’t mean to say that. What?! No. She didn’t. She couldn’t have. ”

I stand. I sit and stand again. And sit again. And, stand. All before he finishes his next short sentences.

“It was pneumonia. She died. It was so sudden. I’ll talk with you later.”

“Oh, my God. Ok. Ok. Ok. I have to go teach. I mean, how are you? I mean, what? I’ll call you later. I love you. Goodbye.”

I tell all my students at the start of class that I might act differently as I’m absorbing some pretty horrible news.

But I don’t. 

I don’t act differently. 

The shock is too great.

It is not until I sit with Jane on the purple EKTORP sofa of our first floor rental next to the KFC — after tucking kids into their common bunk bed — that I un-cocoon my heart enough, let out a tear, and finally weep.

***

Besties

We were besties. Shauna and I. 

And neither Jane nor Andreas (Shauna’s future husband) were anything but encouraging of our love. 

We held hands as we walked. We gabbed on the phone for hours — just keeping each other company. In English and practicando el español, that we both became semi-fluent in at Tufts. 

We laughed a lot.

Other people would use substances to loosen themselves up so they could act as free as Shauna and I did when we were together.

“You could put Shauna on the top of a pile of garbage and she’d be having a good time,” my dad said about her once.

After her death, her family asked me to give a eulogy. Which I did. 

I mentioned how she was always trying to squeeze in one more activity – which made her constantly late. I mentioned how she loved to smell things — random things, like a pair gloves I put down on a counter. I mentioned her unending faith — her conviction people were always trying their best, nobody meant to cause harm, and that things work out as they are supposed to. 

“Us Jews were never quite as good with faith as you were, my dear friend,” I said from the altar of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church where I had stood to offer a marriage blessing an absurdly small number of years earlier. 

I asked, rhetorically. Darkly.

“Really, Shauna? Things work out as they are supposed to?” 

Twice I repeated “I don’t think so” before joining Jane in the second row where she held me as I sobbed unconstrained.  

***

God’s Will

A few weeks after Christmas break – we’d celebrated New Year’s Eve with her friends — we were in the dining hall. She was awkward. Distracted. All over the map.

“Shwinky, what’s going on?”

“Nothing. Nothing. Everything is fine.”

“No, it’s not.”

“No it’s not, you’re right”

“I know… I said it first.”

“I know you said it first. How do you know these things, Brian-no?”

“Magic powers. Spill it.”

“I don’t want to. Everything is fine.”

“Save us from making this take longer — spill it.”

“Well, that’s just it… it’s about saving you.”

She explained that the leaders of her Wednesday night campus Bible study group told her she had two choices:

  • Bring me to Jesus 
  • Abandon me as a hell-bound, unrepentant Jew

We were at college to learn from experts.

And the experts made it clear.

Only, it didn’t make sense.

Why would God not allow me in the afterlife with her? 
Because my lips hadn’t said a certain formula of words?
Did God care for loyalty oaths over purity of heart?
Was there a divine plan for us not to be friends?

Shauna decided to let God be God. We would remain friends and she would allow God to adjudicate when the time would come.

She chose our friendship. She chose me.

***

Theology Upgrade

People level up spiritually in the aftermath of a crisis for which their current worldview proves insufficient. 

When we can’t make sense of the world with the God beliefs we have, we come to a crisis of faith and two options: (1) pretend we are fine with something we know doesn’t make sense or (2) eek out new beliefs.

Shauna’s death led me to the latter.

  • How could she have died?
  • How could pneumonia so quickly catalyze her into death?
  • Where was God?

“How do you make sense of when such terrible things happen?” Mary Hynes, beloved Canadian radio personality asked me on air a month after the funeral. 

Words came from my mouth about God being limited.

“I think God gets upset about this stuff too.”

“I can only imagine that God is equally upset that Shauna’s life was so short. That God too was surprised. Like, ‘Dang! How’d that happen?’”

Mary, a veteran journalist, left me to sit in the silence that followed my vision of God somewhat asleep at the wheel. I added what was beginning to make sense, “Perhaps God messes up and needs my grace and forgiveness too.”

***

Shauna after death

My dearest Shauna,

How has it been seven years? How, ¿mi amor? How is this possible?

I miss you. And, I still strive to live as joyously as you did.

I still wish I could figure out how to love God as much as you did.

Shwinky, I might just be a Jew filled with wishful thinking. It is possible. Probably, even. Nonetheless I look forward to seeing your bright smile and holding your hand in heaven.

I love you.

Brian

###

 

 



An abundance of faith is the antidote for our crippling despair. 

An indwelling of hopefulness is the helpful cure for our debilitating cynicism. 

A loving spirit is the corrective response to the anger and indifference we encounter daily in life.

***

Faith – faith that no matter how grey the skies, the sun still shines. Faith that no matter how horrible the situation looks, it is not permanent. None of it is.

Hopefulness – hope that the future generations will continue to bend the arc toward justice. Hope that one day nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Hope that love will win out.

A loving spirit – a loving spirit of generosity, empathy, and kindness will soothe our aches. A loving spirit can make us feel connected, despite how it seems. 

Faith.

Hope. 

Love.

***

Of course you and I are tired, my friend.

The cognitive load of being scared is real.

Fear tires us.

All of us.

Let us not waste the precious energy we have picking fights – even if American Honda Motor Corporation has promised us a loaner car.

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