Sunday, March 22, 2009

Treasures Dug, Things To Hold Onto For the Storms Ahead

I could tell you some days are all right and some days aren't but that's not really exact. It's more of an hour-to-hour thing... minute-to-minute. 


Whole blocks of time may go where I feel engaged, happy, and optimistic. But there has not been a day gone by when I have not had to think about loss. About never having one more lingering conversation, one more revelation, one more laugh. To know she's gone.

This is inevitable. I stumble upon articles on anthropology, lefty politics, child rearing, and start thinking: "What would Jennifer make of this?" I hear songs and I think of her and then all the books and films that I knew she enjoyed or would enjoy. There are so many things in this world, that only with her I could share, for we had our own language, with its own codes and symbols and jokes. As a friend wrote me of a memory from 2001 of witnessing the two of us after drinking way too much coffee:

the two Lotmans turned into a pair of flying, autistic monkeys, bouncing off walls, dodging, and running in and out of doors, little kids with their private language and unbounded energy. It was something to see, that is, from a middle-aged perspective. And that's when I knew that you and your sister were twinned, not by birth but by disposition and circumstance.

This cache of sibling ciphers now amputated, means so much more than it once did but has no more energy to run. It's gone.

So I go on, without her, but wonder how much will be lost when I "move on." Will "acceptance" entail putting it all in a tiny box, only to be taken out when crying is permitted, when sighing is the only sound I have in my heart? Will that box within eventually be misplaced so that what was once was my sister, Jennifer Lee Lotman, slips into abstract form? What then? 

The wise people remind me, Be thankful for what you've got. 30 years of Jennifer in my life is more than anyone else in the world save my parents. It's to be celebrated as much as mourned. 

There are things we can hold, thoughts we can cherish.

I want to share with everyone this video, which Jennifer discovered somewhere. It is a Brazilian anti-globalization video from the 1970s that she translated and then recorded in English for an anthropology class that she was teaching in Binghamton. I know how much she appreciated clarity of thought and in just under twelve minutes, these filmmakers reveal the tragedy of our economic system. It is wonderful for me, not only the content, but the chance to be able to hear her voice.

You would not believe how something like this affects the preciousness of everyday objects.

Scouring through computer files and old journals for traces of the past, I get lucky occasionally. For example, I found this video, where she sings to Miles:

Four years ago I went to visit her in St. Affrique, France, via an eight-month journey through the Middle East and Africa, where I had enjoyed many adventures and undergone difficult trials. I was feeling tough and brave and very much my own man.

But arriving in St. Affrique I discovered my sister had become a woman, a mother, a pastoral goddess. Miles was just five weeks old and very much in love with his mother. The French countryside, as lovely as you can imagine, was just a five-minute walk from their doorstep.

This is a diary entry I have from that time: 

It was mostly foggy with winter moving in but the one day we had a perfect sun we hiked through the forests to a Paleolithic tomb. Along the way we picked mushrooms. Jenni knew which berries were edible and which were poisonous, what was ripe and what was not worth picking. We plucked grapes and spat out the seeds.  She could spot a fig tree from a kwong (sp?) and praised fig leaves for their use as an alternative to toilet paper. She was in touch with the land in a very unique way, benefitting from its yields in a method I thought that many of the people I'd met in the Middle East and Africa--in their rush to modernize--were forgetting.

We had waked over six km and decided it would be sensible to hitch back. Because there were four of us Benoit walked ahead while Jenni and I remained behind at the T-junction. She'd done her masters thesis on hitchhiking and was teaching me the nuances. Full cars were obviously forgivable but single passenger vehicles could be condemned as it was Sunday and they likely knew that there was no public bus available to us. Drivers paused at the junction, looked us over, and drove right past! Four-wheel drivers, forget it: heartless, ungenerous personalities. There wasn't much traffic and the passing motorists couldn't be bothered to consider our circumstances. I grew despondent. I felt the human race was selfish, lacked empathy. Samaritan instincts had dried up and chivalry was an antiquated virtue. "Don't worry," my sister consoled. "Don't lose faith. I get depressed too and then one car will stop and pick you up. They take you where you want to go, expecting nothing in return except a little conversation, if that. One good person makes up for all the bad."

Within five minutes of her solace, we were picked up by a chef on his way to work. He took us home. Again, her faith in humanity had been redeemed.

More difficult for me to move through was this entry, which described our last night together before I was to board an early morning bus to Montpellier and the train onwards to Barcelona:

Back in the apartment Benoit picked up two Guienneses and a bottle of wine. He said they'd have failed as hosts if I didn't leave with a hangover. Jenni cooked stirfry tofu while I packed. We talked to Mom and Dad separately. We mulled over our fates. Benoit wanted to play dominoes but we talked about our past and the future if we could buy a house anywhere in the world and live together with our families. We looked at a map of the world for a long time and decided on Vermont, Chile, Morocco, and Thailand--somewhere stable politically but we were aware that nothing in the world was forever. But this house wouldn't even have to be a place to live; it could be a refuge. We talked well into the night--what would have become of us if one of us had never existed?

Sadly, the question has evolved into something else entirely. Another dream is farewelled for good and I can only wonder at the laughter and love lost in its passing. 

I look into her son and the stories and memories of her friends. 

There, she lives on. 

1 comment:

  1. Sean, I am the aunt you have only heard about, but I am your cousin David's mom. I have been following you and of course Jenni through your cousin and my daughter Leah. I had not seen you or Jenni since you both were very little, until the time I saw Jenni when she and Benoit went to your cousin Naomi's wedding.

    Now that I have introduced myself, I want you to know that I somehow know part of what you are feeling. I also lost my sister, although I had about 53 years with her. It doesn't matter how much time we have with someone we love, it never seems to be enough time. My sister and I were often thought to be twins because we looked and acted alike. People would even get our names confused. So, I understand the concept of twins in spirit.

    Yes, you are lucky that you had 30 years, but that does not diminish or mollify the grief of losing someone with which you had such a spiritual connection. Know that what you are feeling is natural, but also know that you will never forget the dream, the box will always mean something.

    I still have frequent moments when I have the need to tell my sister something that she always wondered about, or the feeling that she is over my shoulder counseling me about what I was about to do. We too had dreams of the future, old ladies living next door to each other, laughing about incidents and inside jokes we shared. It is still painful to know that those dreams were just that.....dreams.

    Recently I was at a family get-together and a box of photos was produced. In that box was a photo of my sister taken about 30 years ago.....a photo that I had never seen. I broke into tears, missing her so much, such a sudden display of emotion. Six years, and it still happens. It is like a chasm that is covered with a thin layer of life's flotsam and trivia, suddenly jolted like an earthquake exposing the deep chasm of loss..........

    There is some truth to the trite saying that the pain is part of the love.

    I hope that someday you will be able to gather Jenni's writings, thoughts and deeds, and with your gifted writing, produce a book about Jenni. She was and can still be an inspiration to others.....she made a difference in the lives of many, and perhaps through you she can continue to do so. Whether you find a novel or perhaps a screenplay as the perfect medium, I think Jenni has a legacy to leave, both to her son Miles, to Benoit, to you, her family, and most of all to the world she was so passionate about.