If you spend any time at all perusing this blog, you will no doubt notice that I write quite a bit about my family. You might also notice that in all of that, there is very little in there about my wife. You might ask yourself, as I have, why this is the case. I’ve often thought that, being the most important person in my life, she should be most prominently featured here, rather than suspiciously absent. In my mind, I’ve rationalized that this is the product of the personal nature of our relationship; not to be displayed for the world. Or, I could never decide what sort of writing would best do her justice; poetry, prose, narrative, etc. and so I’ll just put it off. I’ve even thought at times that her absence here was because my thoughts on her were too complex to be put into words and that any attempt to do so would somehow lessen the depth of the sentiment as opposed to voicing it clearly.
But the truth is, none of these things are really the case. I’m not that private. And great minds have been putting matters of the heart into words for centuries so whatever I said would be no less valuable than any of those, regardless of my skill (or lack of) with words. And failing to express content over squabbles about the delivery method is simply the creative mind’s oldest scapegoat, so I can’t really use that as an excuse either. No the truth is, she’s not in here because writing about her is too hard, and I’m lazy.
In order for me to write anything of value, I have to start by creating a kind of mental vacuum. I block out everything that normally bounces around my brain and I fill my mind with everything that pertains to my subject. The sounds, the smells, the memories. The pain and elation that filled my heart during an event, or the fear of losing a moment. I pull all of that together, let it swirl around in my mind like creamer in a cup of coffee until my brain is so saturated with that imagery that I can write out words and thoughts that I had never consciously had about a subject before that moment. From the outside this might seem like a discipline, but really, it’s more of an indulgence. I only do this when it comes to me easily. And the complexity of my feelings and thoughts about my wife is so robust that it is simply too much work to try and get into that mode. I’d rather say something nice to her and get back to my web browsing.
But this should not be the case. The greatest of pursuits is always the one that requires all of your body, mind, and soul and this is no different. So rather than trying to encompass all of my thoughts in a poignant poem, or recount some funny story that makes you laugh just before bringing you around to some deep underlying understanding of her character, I’m just going to tell you about my Jenni:
In science, there are certain elements that, upon being introduced into a new environment, leave a permanent mark. For instance, when the first atomic bomb went off in the 1940’s, the element Caesium was released into the environment for the first time and can now be used to verify the age of a bottle of vine. Anything bottled before the 40’s does not have any Caesium in it, and everything after does. When you meet Jenni, you might think that you are just shaking hands and exchanging words with one of many people that you will encounter in your life. But what you don’t know is that any encounter with her, even a small one, leaves an indelible mark on you that will never leave. You may not know it, you may not feel it, but you have changed on a fundamental level. And the more you encounter her, the more this effect takes hold.
I’ve observed this dynamic in myself and others over the course of my life since meeting her and it remains consistently true. It’s not something that she’s aware of, nor is it something that a person could intentionally generate. It is, simply put, an fundamental effect of her soul on all that she encounters.
I’ve often considered why this would be. It doesn’t seem to be the case with everyone. In fact, I’m not entirely sure that I’ve ever seen anyone else who has this effect on the world. I’ve also observed that there are some people who are drawn to her because of this. They don’t know why but they simply like life and the world more when they see it though the filter of who Jenni is. There have even been others who, when encountering Jenni, subconsciously withdraw from her, as if they sense the change at a core level and are unsettled by the nature of it.
In all of this, Jenni is utterly unaware of this dynamic and so the variety of responses that people have is at times perplexing for her. It’s not that I haven’t told her my theories, but her deep humility makes it difficult to accept the idea that she is so distinct in her nature that she could affect others as I describe and she quickly dismisses the idea as more flowery flattery and wordy nonsense from the halls of my brain (silly as I am).
The more that I have observed this, the more I am beginning to think that the root of this dynamic has to do with how Jenni is unlike anyone else I have ever met. What I mean is, there are very few ‘pure’ people in this world. I don’t mean morally pure, or theologically pure; everyone is tainted by sin and everyone fails (That’s another post altogether). What I mean by pure is that for Jenni, there is no grey area when it comes to the world. But even in this, I’m not talking about the put-on, external imposition of boundaries and lines, rules and expectations. What I’m trying to express is that, on a core level, at the deepest part of the soul, Jenni sees the world in absolutes. Black and white, right and wrong, 100% or nothing at all.
What this produces is a clarity of vision that effects everything. Everything. From broad-sweeping perspectives on the world to the kind of laundry detergent we choose. Everything has meaning. And everything is significant. I have a Russian friend who has lived in America for about 15 years. One evening, over gypsy piano tunes, we were discussing what it was like to go from Communist Russia to free America. In his words he told me, “buddy, when you grow up in Russia, you don’t know any different, and so you think that life is the same everywhere. I didn’t know until I got to United States that it was different here.” When you have always been a certain way, you don’t always realize that not everyone is like that, and I think that for Jenni, the world is clear and easy to understand. She’s not limited by the hazy, uncertain ambiguity that plagues most of us and makes life complex.
And so, when an emotionally and spiritually healthy person sees the world this way, it produces certain character traits. These traits are, I believe, at the core of what makes an encounter with Jenni so affecting. She is unflinchingly passionate, about everything. She is fiercely loyal. She is utterly self-sacrificing and she overflows with compassion and mercy, such that when she sees people suffering, she would very literally give everything she has to help them. She has an ironclad integrity and finds it impossible to compromise morally. It’s even difficult for her to compromise creatively or aesthetically.
She is utterly incapable of lying, or even sugar coating things and has no tolerance for ambiguity and double talk. She has a well of creativity that, as I have discovered, only grows deeper as she experiences hardship and suffering. Where pain makes most people close up and shut down creatively, she seems to bloom all the more as life presses in. We even have a saying in our house; “never the same way twice”, because even our meals are a chance to explore new terrain and recycling old ideas is just not in her vocabulary.
I find that fighting with her is something of a surreal experience because even when we are fighting about trivial things, Jenni has a clarity of vision that cuts through every argument and sees straight through into the real crux of the issue. This makes fights both explosive and quickly resolved because as soon as you realize that what you are fighting about is not really what you are fighting about at all, you can easily dismiss the anger and have a simple and humbling talk about what is really going on in your heart.
She also has a passion for God that regularly shows me just how spiritually complacent I allow myself to become and all of her traits seem to only be magnified when it comes to issues of God and the gospel. She even wrestles with God in a way that I found difficult to understand at first. Only later did I begin to see that every great lover of God in history has also been a great wrestler with him as well.
You can imagine if a momentary encounter with such a person could alter you forever, what an effect a lifetime would have. My sister once remarked to me that once I had met Jenni, I was never the same, and somehow she and I formed a unit, long before we were ever married. I think that’s in part because when I saw her for the first time, I knew in an instant that I wanted to be with her for the rest of my life, and I moved heaven and earth to make sure that happened.(I’ll tell that story some other time) But I now know that it’s because the moment I met her, I was changed, fundamentally and irrevocably, forever. She is my best friend and the greatest companion a person could ever hope to have in this life. She is my love, my all, my Jenni.