signore fa di me uno strumento

Assorted images from this summer in Italy: Orvieto, and Convento dei Cappuccini.


and it was good

These beautiful new bowls came in the mail the other day, one of the many gifts we have been given, and which I love. I keep remembering people who I have yet to thank for the ways they helped during our wedding: the many friends who baked cakes, the ones who drove back-and-forth again and again to the airport, those who hosted out-of-town guests, put up garlands in the church, delivered donuts, volunteered as parking attendants, or cleaned our house after we left for the honeymoon. We were given so many gifts, and, at times, it is overwhelming to even begin to know how to say thank you.

I kept telling myself that the wedding day did not have to be the best day ever, because I know myself well, and the perfectionist tendencies latent within me, and I did not want to put that much pressure on one day. But, it was a very good day: full of rain and early morning yoga and prayer and dancing and all the people in the world who I love the most in one place at one time, and then, at the end of the day, we were married. Just like that. It is still surprising, and wonderful.

And these words, from the book I brought along to read on our honeymoon: "Love of music, of sunsets and sea; a liking for the same kind of people; political opinions that are not radically divergent; a similar stance as we look at the stars and think of the marvelous strangeness of this universe —these are what build a marriage. And it is never to be taken for granted." These things, and grace.



I have been weighted with sadness and grief these past few days, reflecting and remembering the life of Brett Foster, a beloved professor, mentor, and friend. Austin told me the news quietly Tuesday morning, before I even dressed for the day, the blinds still shut in our bedroom. The only words I could muster in that moment were no, and then slowly, the day happened: I dressed, ate breakfast, made my way to work, and tears came when they did, reading a poem, or my last email from him just a few short weeks ago, which he started, as always, with how delightful to hear from you.

It would be presumptuous of me to assume closeness with him, when there are so many others nearer to his life, but I do not know many other ways to grieve except by writing. Those two final years in school, I would spend a good five or six hours each week in his office, or more realistically, at the copier right outside the door to his office, scanning and copying papers, articles, sometimes whole books at a time. He would read my bad poems, and comment gently on them. During those hours, he would inquire about my life, how my senior exhibit was coming along, or comment on the latest sermon at All Souls, or relay some adventure with his children, perhaps the boy-scout submarine trip with Gus, or that time playing Uno with the cursing French exchange student.

I remember being stuck in traffic on our way to O'Hare, when he asked if I would clock hours and give him a ride to the airport. We talked mostly about graduate school, and some of the academic politics at Wheaton that frustrated him at the time. Much earlier, I remember long afternoon stretches sitting together in the journals section of Buswell that one summer, a thunderstorm outside. I don't actually remember what work I did for him at that point, but I do remember being glad to be there, feeling more brilliant to simply be in his presence.

Later that summer, when I was doing an internship in Seattle, he happened to also be there for a conference, and took the time to stop by my office and pass along his greetings. It was a brief visit, but I gave him a tour of the office, and we exchanged an awkward hug. He told me about his plans to take his daughter on a trip. I confessed my doubts about going to Italy. At a time when I felt particularly lonely and friendless in an unknown city, his visit was a momentary relief.

And then, the next summer, and the news of his diagnosis, which he relayed to me in an email, ever optimistic and hopeful. I wrote then: "I don't mean to sound sentimental, but there have been few people at Wheaton that I have learned to respect as much as you, not only in your academic pursuits, but more importantly in the way you live your life so faithfully and humbly, which is only demonstrated more so in times like this. I hope you know that." I am glad I said that, however sheepish I felt about it then.

We had plans for dinner out with him and Anise, but because of his health, we suggested we bring dinner to their home instead, which I recall as one of the happiest nights that summer. Austin got a whole chicken from the Saturday market, and I roasted it with lemon and rosemary, spending a few hours in that sweaty kitchen on Front Street preparing the meal. It was a damn good chicken, and I believe Dr. Foster was the first to say that. Gus was skeptical of the goat cheese on the salad. We talked about poetry and Friday Night Lights. Anise brought out cinnamon rolls and ice cream for dessert, and Dr. Foster shared some port with us.

He wrote my reference letters for graduate school, and the same week that I was rejected from Yale Divinity School, he too received a rejection for a fellowship at Yale. I remember telling him my news, and him saying, "Well, at least we can commiserate together!" He had that way of balancing us out, I the student who had only read three Shakespeare plays in my life, and he the articulate scholar, friends with "Chris" Wiman and Harold Bloom. But that never seemed to matter, and as Wesley Hill wrote, I felt wanted when I was around him, as if "he couldn’t get enough of my attention and presence."

Over the course of my knowing him, he gave me three gifts: first, a collection of Elisabeth Jennings' poetry, which he found in a thrift store while we were in England, and gave it to me knowing I was doing on a project on her. And more recently, two other books: Incarnation: Contemporary Writers on the New Testament, and Flaxman's Illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy, in which he wrote: "For Jessina, on occasion of your graduation from Wheaton, as a show of my deep gratitude for our work together this year, this little book seemed wonderfully fitting, with its Christian, Italian ethos and its mix of art and literature. Buon viaggio on your way to Duke!" And signed,"Yours fondly and gratefully, BF," with a smiley face.

I am unexpectedly traveling to the memorial service this weekend, and go with grief, sadness, and my own deep gratitude for having known him. I want to be more like Dr. Foster, with his largeness of spirit, passion for gathering the good and beautiful, and always, his unassuming kindness. 

"There’s a hypothetically bright future for everything,
each wounded creature that is bitten, or bites.
And speaking of things overheard, you heard right:
if I have to go out, I am going to go out singing."

[I don't have many photographs of Dr. Foster, so this is one from that summer in England together, with him, Dr. Jacobs, their families and our sweet camaraderie of students; just down the street from Saint Anne's College, Oxford. 2011.]