How do you measure a life?
I boxed up books to donate to the library bookstore today. Some were from my personal classroom collection, but the rest were my late husband's.
Next week will mark the second anniversary of his death.
It confuses people when I am matter-of-fact about his death. After all, most people only knew us as a couple, and we were together for forty-two years. They don't know that I nearly ended the marriage in 1984, and that only our mutual love for our two sons kept me where I was for decades.
He wasn't a bad man. In fact, he was a good man with his heart in the right place. But, as my older son once pointed out to me, he wanted to be the center of attention at all times.
Not quite twenty-one when I married the thirty-two-year-old who had been one of my college professors, I grew up. And I outgrew the role of adoring fan. So he found others to fill that role for him. Not physical affairs, but I think most women - and maybe some men - would understand when I say that the emotional damage that comes from being treated not as an equal partner but as an irrelevant footnote in a spouse's life takes its toll.
He did good work, but he did it for others and at the expense of his family.
Enough. That part's over and not what I intended to write about, anyway.
It was his books that struck me today.
I labeled him a fundamentalist atheist when I married him. The grandson of one of the first celebrity evangelists (first to transmit a ministry via radio in the 1920s), he had turned away from Christianity before I met him. Which was no nevermind to me, as I had not been raised in religion.
But he never really let it go, and was searching for some spiritual connection despite his professions. As I boxed up his Zen collection, I remembered the times when I would come out to get the day started for our boys and find him in sitting in the dark in his time of meditation. He didn't keep it up, so I assume he didn't get what he was looking for.
I didn't give away all of his books. I kept the old Bible from the times that he did believe and taught Sunday School. The coffee table edition of The Power of Myth, the Bill Moyers - Joseph Campbell interviews. The Time Life Latin American cooking book with his favorite mouth-watering green chili enchilada recipe. But from this room, anyway, most of the books will likely be picked up by someone new who might find more enlightenment from them.
It has been a long, deep process. He had kept financial secrets from me that I will be dealing with for a long while. (I AM dealing with them well, so no worries.) But in the end, he had very little in the way of possessions.
I am grateful when I run across something that makes me smile. When I met him he used a gold fountain pen - always a fountain pen - that he refilled from a bottle. Left-handed, he would never allow anyone else to use it or - he claimed - the nib would be ruined. When I found it, happy memories came with it. Memories of the man who introduced me to Ed Ricketts and Big Sur and nudibranchs. Who shared with boyish glee the hand-blown marbles that came every month until he filled to overflowing the crystal bowl I'd given him to display them. Who took me to see Willie Nelson sing about a red-headed stranger. Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins and Dick Van Dyke as Professor Harold Hill. Anna Netrebko as Juliet. And Dolly Parton's first ever stage performance, where he brought a giggle from her when he asked her to autograph his shirt. "Raght on yer beely?"
Old books, worn-out clothes, antiquated computers and an ancient television that had been left behind in the HD revolution.
It has an effect on me every time I deal with something of his. His legacy cannot be this trash that I have sorted and discarded. It must be the students that he encouraged, the foster youth he supported and the beautiful, talented, brilliant boys we both raised.
The rest is just stuff.