I met the remarkable Shauna Jean Malone today.
And she is remarkable.
I can even prove it, Dear Diary?
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) into a circle. Then they announced it was one of our group’s 18th birthday today. And, this tall brunette with a beautiful smile jumped up and down and then into the middle of the circle. She then, seemingly without guile, skipped around the circle as I, and the rest of us, self-consciously sang happy birthday to her.
She doesn’t know who I am. Yet.
I hope she will, Dear Diary.
I’d like to find out what type of magic-sparkle-twinkle dust she was bathed in.
I’d like some of that.
Andreas calls at 8:07 and asks, “Brian, are you sitting?”
I’m not but I tell him I am.
I’m hovering around my classroom desk.
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. I wanted to let you know.”
“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—like when you cut your finger with a sharp knife and see the cut, but before the blood gushes or any pain registers.
It is not until I sit with Jane on the purple _EKTORP _sofa in the first floor rental on NE 48th—after tucking kids into their common bunk bed—that I un-cocoon my heart enough, let out a tear, and then finally weep.
We were besties. Shauna and I.
Neither Jane, my bride, nor Andreas (Shauna’s future husband) were anything but encouraging of our love.
Shauna and I held hands as we walked. together. We gabbed on the phone for hours — just keeping each other company. In English _y practicando_ _hablar_ en _español. _
We both became semi-fluent in the same class at Tufts in our sophomore year.
We laughed a lot.
I loved to make her laugh.
After her death, the Malones ask me to give a eulogy.
I reference something my dad once said about her: “You could put Shauna on the top of a pile of garbage and she’d be having a good time.”
Anywhere she was was superlative.
“Isn’t this the best restaurant?” “Best view?” “Best price?”
“Doesn’t this placemat smell the best?” she’d ask, nose to the table.
She loved to smell things that I’d never consider putting my face to.
I mention this in the eulogy as well as her well known predilection for trying to squeeze in one more activity—causing her to be perennially late.
And, her unending faith.
I speak about that.
Because it pervaded her short lived life.
Shauna was convinced people were always trying their best, nobody meant to cause harm.
She was convinced things work out as they are supposed to.
“Us Jews were never quite as good with faith as you were, my dear friend,” I say from the altar of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church—the same exact spot where I had stood to offer a blessing at her marriage only three years earlier.
I ask, rhetorically. “Really, Shauna? Things work out as they are supposed to?”
Twice I repeat “I don’t think so.”
And, then I join Jane in the second row where she holds me as I sob unconstrained.
A few weeks after Christmas break our first year at Tufts, we are in the dining hall.
She is 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 pause. She deflects: “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 explains 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?
It takes a few weeks, but she decides to let God be God—she will allow God to adjudicate when the time comes. She chose our friendship and me.
People level up spiritually in the aftermath of a crisis for which their current worldview proves insufficient. That’s what Shauna had to do when she was faced with reconciling our friendship and what people told her the Bible said.
I learn that when people can’t make sense of the world with the God beliefs they have, they come to a crisis of faith.
I learn this in my training to become a rabbi.
There are always two options: (1) pretend we are fine with something we know doesn’t make sense or (2) struggle through the discomfort and grow into new beliefs.
I couldn’t make sense of Shauna’s death with the theology I had.
How could she have had an undiagnosed, under-productive spleen, which would quickly catalyze pneumonia into a quick death?
Where was God? How could God have allowed this?
I struggle through the discomfort until a new belief arises—God was upset about this too. God is crying along with me, exclaiming as I do, “How could this have happened?”
Perhaps God—as inadvertently as I went to put the milk in the cupboard instead of the fridge this morning— just let this one slip and perhaps God needs my grace and forgiveness too.
I’ve found out some places to get that magic-sparkle-twinkle dust.
It’s all around.
Though often hidden in plain sight.
When I delight in the smile of a stranger, I sense it.
Or when I enjoy seeing someone dancing without shame.
And, it’s in children.
Sometimes, the magic-sparkle dust is hidden in the smell of a placemat.
I just need to put my nose to the table to check for it..
I look forward to seeing your bright smile and holding your hand in heaven.
I love you,