“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
-2 Corinthians 4: 16-18 (NIV)
I don’t know how to write this post.
I’ve thought it through multiple times, but I still don’t know how to capture the last few weeks of my life. Surreal, overwhelming, life-changing—are words that instantly come to mind, but they fall short. It’s not that “there are no words,” but more like there’s too much to say. From making important career decisions to coping with loss and mourning, I have a lot to process. A whole cocktail of emotions—too incomprehensible, terrible, and wonderful for a 800 word blog post. This is real life.
There are things I can’t write. Things too painful, too raw, too close to home. Things that weigh heavy on my soul, yet are also so much bigger than me. Even so, I feel compelled to write because I don’t want to forget. And aren’t these the things worth writing about?
This month, my aunt passed away. She was like a second mom to me. I feel her loss everywhere. I’m not sure what’s worse: waking up and remembering I’ll never hear her voice again; or going to bed and having nightmares, reliving her final days fighting cancer. I know I’ve shared this quote before, but Blair Hurley puts it so nicely: “What they don’t tell you about death—or what you don’t really understand until it happens close to you—is how permanent it is.”
“What they don’t tell you about death—or what you don’t really understand until it happens close to you—is how permanent it is. In the months afterward I kept thinking to myself, all right, I get it. This is too painful. Let’s just take a little break from the loss. Let’s have a weekend off. A day. Or an hour. Just one hour when it’s not true, when she is allowed to speak to me, or to rub an absent-minded hand through my hair. But the wall is high and fissureless. There are no breaks, no time-outs. The loss is final, and the you that you were with her is nowhere, gone.”
-Blair Hurley in “My Mother is Gone, but Her Edits Remain: On Grief, Writing, and Jhumpa Lahiri”
In the midst of my aunt’s death, I also had to decide on a grad school. I’m overjoyed that I get to continue studying linguistics, and even better, that I got funding to do it. I’m excited to keep learning, writing, researching and teaching. Through all the chaos, I’ve been reflecting on how lucky I am to have the opportunity to pursue something I enjoy, especially since it’s all about STEM fields these days.
It’s a strange mix of emotions. I’m anxious one moment, happy the next, and every now and then, I just start crying. My combination of academic success and family circumstances brought to mind an op-ed I read a couple years ago by David Brooks on resume virtues vs. eulogy virtues:
It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?
We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.
-David Brooks, “The Moral Bucket List” (emphasis added)
My aunt got it right. She radiated that “inner light” Brooks describes with that sense of awe and mystique. She was someone who loved others with her whole being. Towards the end of her life, I told her “Tia, I love you so much.” She responded, “Ah well, I love you even more. I loved you before you were born.” Those two sentences capture the kind of person she was.
I, on the other hand, struggle with the dichotomy between resume and eulogy virtues. It’s clear to me what I want to live for. I just worry sometimes that I’ll miss the mark.