Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"I have not been tested."

I've been writing this blog for over 10 months, about Leif's life and my feelings about his life and death. There is no lack of memories, and no end to going over the end of his life and trying to understand. The other day, a phrase came to me, "I have not been tested." I have not been put to the tests that he had to face. If I had been, how would I have fared?

It's a version of the old saying that you shouldn't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes. None of us can ever walk in Leif's shoes, and no matter how we try to fathom what he thought, felt and experienced, it will always be at a distance. He is not here to tell us. We will not be tested in the same way that he was. I pray that none of us ever will be.

He must have wondered why his life was so hard, why his loves went wrong, his career didn't develop, his military service took his health and self esteem, why he never could get ahead, find love, achieve his goals.

I look at this photo of him when he was about five-and-a-half, shortly after we moved to Japan. He looks so innocent, so sweet. He had hurts even then, but they were the smaller hurts of childhood, the ones that pass without the scars and wounds that stay. Five is a wonderful age. Five-year-olds are cheerful, cooperative, usually helpful, ready to have fun. Leif was like that, and also ernest, thoughtful, though at times he could be moody and pout.

It was that school year in kindergarten that he was referred for testing to find out just how smart he was. The school psychologist was astonished at how high he scored and asked Leif where he learned all that. Leif's reply was that he learned it all from a "silly little game called the 'Little Professor.'"

This, of course, wasn't true, but what was a five-year-old to say to such a question? The Little Professor was a children's math "trainer" that looked like a calculator with an owl on it. The instrument would give the child a math problem and the kid would have to key in the answer. Leif was quite good at this early on. (For those of you who never saw a Little Professor, I'm posting a link in the links section to a site that has a photo and explains it.)

Electronic learning toys are much more sophisticated now, but I don't know whether kids learn any more than ours did from the early examples they encountered when we got to Japan.

"I have not been tested." That doesn't mean I have never dealt with sadness, disappointment, death, hard work, hurt feelings, health problems, deep worries. I am being tested now. How will I ultimately deal with Leif's death and my sadness and grief, not only because of his death but because of the terrible knowledge that my son was so unhappy he chose to end his life and that I could not help him, or was not allowed to? It is a hard test, but even that test does not compare to the crushing load he faced.

Being smart did not help him make the choices he needed to make. Being smart did not insulate him from loneliness, disappointments, and pain. Being smart did not give him the power to achieve his goals. Being smart may have even contributed in some ways to his isolation.

I have not walked in Leif's shoes, though I daily try to understand what that was like. I have not faced his tests and I hope I never do, but realizing that, I cannot judge him, for I have not walked in his shoes.

This photo was taken of Leif in the fall of 1980, not long after we had moved to Japan. He was five-and-a-half years old.

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