“Do not look sad. We shall meet soon again.” “Please, Aslan”, said Lucy,”what do you call soon?”
“I call all times soon” said Aslan; and instantly he was vanished away.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
For the first four months of the pandemic, I could not read.
I mean, I could technically read. But I could not sit and enjoy a book. This was somewhat concerning to me, but I took it to be symptomatic of my anxiety, overwhelm, and general distraction. It wasn’t terribly concerning and anyway, I had other things to which to attend.
Recently, I happened to pick up Villette, Charlotte Bronte’s last and often most acclaimed novel. To my delight, I’ve been not only able to read, but to enjoy the lush and complex Victorian prose.
I’ve read Jane Eyre over 20 times. It’s my favorite novel of all time. Each time I’ve poured over her pages, I’ve found new meaning, new truth, and deeper love for the gothic romance. I still have the copy I used my senior year in college, when I was taking a class called “Justice in Literature.” I’d taken the class because the professor teaching it had grown quite beloved to me. It was because of her I developed a passion for Victorian literature.
Dr. Gold (not her real name), was a diminutive woman in her 50s who had a voice like a tittering fairy. She had a shock of red hair and sparkling eyes. Her face was blessed with the loveliest laugh lines. It was like her entire body would crinkle with delight when she giggled about something. Despite her enchanting outward appearance, there was a fire in her for truth, mercy, and compassion. She adored children’s literature, especially the Chronicle’s of Narnia which she quoted often and from which she drew great comfort.
She walked with a lopsided gait from a number of incredibly severe health issues, an autoimmune disorder among them. But her thrill for life and her ability to love entirely whatever she was doing at that particular moment, would never have given away her disabilities.
When I think of the humans who have shown me truest compassion in my life, Professor Gold is at the top of the list.
To say I fawned over her a bit is not far from the truth. In fact, it is probably more truthful to say I absolutely idolized her. I spent as much time around her as humanly possible, learning not only about literature, but about her life and her gift for love.
When I tried to end my life in my early 20s, it was June Gold I called from the emergency room. It was a horrible thing for me to do, an imposition, a boundary violation, but I needed her support and she was there for me. The memory of that time fills me with deep shame to this day. June was stern with me and she made it clear she could not be my therapist, that she would continue to support me as long as I got proper help, which I did and which she did.
Several years later, after I graduated college and was floundering in the “real world,” I sheepishly called June and asked if she’d write me a letter of recommendation to get into grad school for my MSW.
“Let’s talk about this,” she said. “Tell me more.” Instant terror flooded me at the thought she’d think I was too damaged and wild to ever make a good social worker.
I explained I’d been working with kids with autism and I wanted to go back and become more professionalized so I could make a life for myself. She not only wrote a letter to the graduate program, but also sent me a copy.
When I read the letter, I wept. She told my graduate program-to-be that their greatest regret in admitting me to their program would be that they could not have me as a student forever, and that they would long to have me in every class for my enthusiasm and a bunch of other nice stuff.
I remember reading her letter and feeling deep disbelief anyone could feel that way about me, knowing what they knew about how tragic and flawed I could be.
Turns out understanding flaws and tragedy make me a decent therapist.
I think that was my last interaction with June. I might have sent her a thank you card, but we are going back about 20 years now, and I don’t really remember.
Over the years I’ve certainly thought of her from time to time. I’ve attempted to channel her belief in me, and as I’ve grown out of a bunch of my 20 year old dysfunctions, I’ve wondered if she’d be proud of the little pod of humans I’ve managed to assemble and call a family of my own.
Picking up Villette brought June back to the front of my mind with a sudden and visceral reality. It occurred to me I might write her a letter or send her a card and let her know how she’s shaped my life. It seemed like good timing, being the pandemic has us all connecting or reconnecting with friends, family, and significant people from our past.
Google churned up her obituary front and center, dead first in my search results.
June Gold died a year and a half ago after developing a rare cancer on top of her other dire health concerns.
After an hour and a half diving through dusty boxes in the 90 degree summer heat of my attic, I could not find the letter she wrote me for grad school.
I did find my senior thesis for her on which I’d gotten an A. In her tiny, delicate script, she’d written “This is very fine!. . .” The topic of the paper was Themes of Injustice Toward Women in Jane Eyre and the Tenant of Wildfell Hall. In her comments, she went on to praise an oral presentation I’d done as “splendid!” although in all fairness I have zero recollection of that.
It’s a weird thing, discovering someone you loved so deeply once upon a time has slipped beyond the veil and you didn’t even know about it.
Why do we grow so far from people? I think part of me was still ashamed of my younger self and didn’t know how to go back and face June, was scared that after so many years maybe she’d see me differently or with colder eyes. It’s entirely doubtful that would have been true, and yet it kept me from connecting with someone who meant a great deal to me, who shaped a huge part of my life.
Part of me wants to cry. But another part of me hears June’s favorite literary character, the lion Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia, roaring, “Courage, Dear Heart!”
It’s a weird thing, discovering you know exactly what someone you loved dearly would say to comfort you 20 years after your last interaction with them.