One of the greatest gifts of my life has been and will always be, meeting my best friend at college and being given her as my kindred sister.
Five years ago today her beautiful body left this planet and I have missed talking every day since. Those who know me, know I am not a phone talker. Even my kids.
But Nettie and I talked every day on my drive into work. It was our thing. We talked about everything from weather (how beautifully hot, or rainy cold), to weight (usually up), to our latest and greatest idea, or our biggest worry (usually money or kids). We knew each other’s secrets and we held them in the vaults of our hearts. We knew the good, the bad and the ugly of each other … and we adored each other just the same. It had been that way since college. There was just something beyond us that made our love for each other unconditional. Her gifts in business, negotiation, writing, strategic thinking, design, and diplomacy weren’t mine. And my gifts in medicine, sexuality, human behavior, patience, and optimism weren’t hers.
We were constantly leaning into each other, and standing on each other’s shoulders.
That is what I am so aware of today as I write this. I am still standing on Annette’s shoulders. In these past five years, I published the book I began long before she got sick. Her signature is in between each line and the book is dedicated to her. Over this past weekend, I was honored for my contribution to the field of Medical Family Therapy – a field that allowed me to fight for her care and hold her, her husband, and her daughters as she fought with the courage of a thousand freedom fighters.
In so many ways these past five years have been the full catastrophe of deep grief, mountaintop accomplishment, daily trudge, and radical transitions for all of us – five years is both short and exorbitantly long. We are all in very new places – yet in some ways – it seems like yesterday we said “good-bye”. Time can be weird that way.
However, there is not a day that my life is not still lit by her brilliance.
In honor of her – let me share a piece of her writing. Here are three sections of a longer piece.
Our Immaculate Conception – By Annette Moser Wellman
Some say at the end of our lives, we look back over our existence and a logic appears. Schopenhauer said, retrospectively it looked as though “life was composed by some novelist.” Patterns emerge from the discreet set of choices we’ve made and it seems a guiding intelligence eased us along the way.
My first sense of the logic beyond my own was as a girl of twelve. Stretched out on my bed, resting in the slanted light of adolescent boredom, a crystalline message came. It was my first conscious word of self-advice. “When I grow up, I must have sons, becauseboys are the only ones who ever do anything in the world.” The annunciation had come as it had to the Virgin Mary. You will give birth, and in so doing, find a purpose.
But when I reached 24 the waiting stopped. I stumbled into seminary and I fell into a short essay written by a woman theologian 25 years earlier. I consumed Valerie Saiving’s article, The Human Condition. Her primary premise – the root of sin is not pride but, often for women, the negation of the self. As I lay waiting, preparing to support the purpose of others, I was neglecting my own. Hamlet’s question became mine: “Are you up to your destiny?”
During my years in management, I married and gave birth to two daughters. I suppose the furies laughed when I didn’t have sons. The girls were born while I was working hard at “doing something in the world.” Children throw into high relief the rift between self-giving and accomplishment. Now I had to span the rift, not just for my own sake, but also for my daughters. Rather than choose between Gilligan’s poles of relationship and competition, I had to fling a line between them.
Answering “What were you put on earth to do?” is for some a simple multiple-choice question. Mine has always been a complex essay. You can argue humanity struggles with the question of purpose because meaningless shocks the higher lobes of our brain. You can argue purpose is a resolution of the infantile need for security. You can argue destiny is a function of social biology. Or you can stop arguing and start creating.
Virgin Mary was a mother. But she is also more than a mother. She is a model of creativity. She created ex-nihilo – from nothing. When we create, we perform our own virgin birth. We co-create with the eternal partner some call God, others call mystery. We bridge the gap between “being” and “doing” and make a unique contribution for the sake of the world.
My seven-year old woke doughy-eyed one morning and declared to me with the force of a magnificat, “God told me we need to solve the problems on earth before we solve the problems of the universe.” This is the question of the heroine’s journey: What problems will you creatively work to solve? What will be your immaculate conception?
Also by Annette Moser Wellman