Reflection on Handwriting

If you want to have a really bad day, I recommend reading the sentiments written by others about your father shortly after he died. Because if there is anything worse than your own personal grief and pain, it’s reading about the pain of complete strangers almost two years after the fact.

When I was walking down the hallway and ran into the chaplain, I knew we were going to talk about my dad and I knew that she was finally going to give me that little book that had been displayed in the hospital chapel so that faculty, staff, coworkers, and colleagues could reflect upon what a {insert your preferred adjective here} guy my dad was. And, of course, it was fitting that she present me with this neat little package of highly charged emotions right before the highly charged, emotional event that has come to be known as “Dad’s Dedication”. Needless to say, the notebook sat in my backpack until I passed it off to my mother after the portrait had been unveiled and canapes had been consumed.

It didn’t occur to me until yesterday when I was thinking of every way possible to procrastinate, and further put off writing a rather tedious research paper, that I decided to rifle through my mother’s room to find the notebook. I clicked over to Hulu on my computer and put on “Parenthood” for background distraction and proceeded through the pages. It’s never good to attempt these things with complete silence. If reading the sadness in another person’s handwriting is much more difficult than thinking about your own sadness, then not being able to fully deduce what someone has written because their handwriting is illegible is infernally frustrating.

Wait, what did you say about the time when _____ happened? Is that a ‘k’ or an ‘r’? Reading someone’s thoughts about another person is like an archaeological dig where you discover things that you never ever knew. Things that suddenly put that life into context and unravel mysteries. Couldn’t you have thought to print neatly? When someone dies, you realize just how much you didn’t know about that person. Even when you shared the same living space with them for 24 years, you still weren’t privy to the day-to-day goings-on of another man’s life. And why would you be? We all lead separate lives to some extent. There is no possible way to completely know another human being. I find myself wishing for just another snippet or anecdote that will allow me to better hold on to those memories that are already seeming very distant and murky.

[This is for another entry, but if I could have a superpower, it would be that I could read minds.]

The best part about reading those two dozen or so entries was realizing how devastated other people felt. When someone dies, people offer their condolences because it’s considered polite human behavior. I am still shocked and awe struck by how sincere and genuine other people’s sentiments have been, how emotional they still become when I pass them on campus or in hallways. It’s almost too much to bear. And that’s the worst part. Because if there are other people feeling as ridiculously awful as I feel, then the whole terrible bad dream of prolonged illness and death must certainly be true.

If some people had better handwriting, though, I’d at least be able to thank them for taking the time to share their sadness.


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