As I limp and teeter towards verticality, there is no telling about what subject I will suddenly experience a bout of certainty.
I waffle over the simplest things. I may be utterly unable to decide whether or what to eat or drink, or what semi-read book to pick up next. I have begun to realize that my equivocation is most paralyzing when I am alone, when I have to make a decision without any cues or guidance from people who know me.
The person who forever will know me best is gone.
I would know what my husband was thinking from the look on his face. He had such nuanced expressions, on a face I knew so very well, that I could tell from his profile exactly where we were in FAFSA season. (If you have to look it up, then you need not develop a customized expression of concern about it.)
We often didn’t need words at all, and could answer one another’s unvoiced questions.
In thinking back over the time I have spent without my husband, I see a period of vacillation punctuated by certitude. As my husband always did, I decided to look further into the data, seeking truth in its innermost parts.
I thought about the rare instances in which I have an overwhelming sense of certainty: something I feel compelled to do, as if my husband is answering a question for me. It was like this in planning my husband’s Closing Ceremonies: I hemmed about numerous questions, and then was unequivocal about my responses to others. In retrospect, the certainty seemed to depend upon how the question was framed.
“When do you want to speak?” the Reverend asked me.
“Uh. . . ” I shook my head, giving the universal palms-up shrug of indecisiveness.
“Let me put it this way,” he rephrased the question. “What do you want to follow?”
“I’ll follow Jupiter” immediately rushed out, in my voice.
I could not answer the open-ended question, but I knew the answer once the questioner read me and knew how to pose it. Suddenly I knew what he was asking: he wasn’t asking me for a time slot in a ceremony, but for a tone and a context for what I wanted to say about my husband.
Once I really understood the question, the answer was so easy as to be reflexive: I needed to follow Jupiter. In order to speak I needed to have in my head this beautiful musical movement, which had swelled unlike any other in Jim’s and my hearts as three of our children had contributed different musical parts on different instruments, in one band.
I did not know that our friend Randy’s remembrance of Jim, which would precede mine at the service, would feature a story about our four-year-old son Sam quizzing Randy about the names of Jupiter’s moons as proud dad Jim chuckled knowingly at Randy.
If I had paused, I would have remembered Jim taking his telescope outside and pointing out Jupiter and its astronomical brethren to our children.
Jim did not launch into answers. He waited until he fully understood the questions and thought about what they meant.
There is so much temptation to jump in with an answer–or a non-answer–when someone poses a question. Silence needs to be filled; people babble to fill it. I am among the worst offenders when I am with others.
I think this is what my daughter meant when she alluded to my talking “at” her. Jim never talked “at” our children, or anyone. In conversation, as when he listened to music, he thought about context and meaning and not just words. I need to pause and process before I speak. I need to think about the innermost parts of a question. I need to be more like Jim.
(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon