Back in July of 2011 I had the privilege of traveling to Graz, Austria. I had been invited to present a paper on the relationships between seventeenth-century pietism, Kierkegaard, and twentieth-century existentialism. I had the pleasure of reading aloud a paragraph by Heidegger and then exclaiming to the audience, “Why the hell do we read this stuff?” And then try to explain it in simpler language, which is always a perverse kind of fun to have with Heidegger. I was lucky enough to meet a young woman who wanted to meet me because she’d read something I’d published on a blog in the late 1990s and was inspired by it. I was lucky enough to meet some great scholars of the eighteenth century whom I’d only known previously from email lists and their publications. These were great and generous people. And I was lucky enough to sit next to a beautiful thirtysomething woman named Anna on the transatlantic part of the trip.
We talked, we flirted (nothing serious, and okay, mostly I did), and she told me about her battles with cancer. She only lives about an hour from me in Ohio, and I always meant to stop by to say hi, maybe meet her husband (no children), but never had the time. Just today she came to mind and I went looking for her online (yes, I was creeping her on Facebook and Google — so shoot me), and I found out that she passed away in November of last year. The cancer won. Worst of all, she passed away one day after she and her husband moved into their new house.
I wish I could remember more of our conversation.
I’m glad I remember many of her facial expressions. She had a great laugh and a big smile and was very generous with both.
I could tell from our conversation that she was loved by many people. It’s always great to meet people like that. The love tends to overflow and spill over and messily splash around, randomly, on everything around it. That’s great to be around.
I wish I could say something to her husband. Something substantial that I remembered about our conversation, or about her. But because I have never met him, I don’t know what would be right or best. All I can do right now is just feel really bad for him, for what he lost, but grateful for what he had, though for too short a time.
So I will wish him a future. I hope, maybe five years from now, maybe more, maybe less, he meets someone special. Someone who will help him heal. Someone whom he can love and who will love him. And I hope they have a daughter, and I hope they name her Anna — I hope he marries a woman who would be willing to do that. And then I hope, when he gets his Anna back that way, he loves her for the rest of his life, and tells her about this great stepmom that she has waiting for her in heaven, her namesake.
I only met you once, Anna, but I’ll miss you. You made my life better for a few hours on a plane one day. Thank you.