Remembrances: Friends from the Claremont School of Theology

Jessica Lathem:

Dear Mary,

This is just a little note to tell you how much you mean to me. I am so glad I went to Claremont School of Theology and that we became friends.

I always tell people how awesome and everywhere you are, and how I want to be you when I grow up. The reason I say that is because I want to have written a novel and articles and guidebooks. I want to have traveled and enjoyed each place I went. I want to know interesting people and do interesting things. I want to have a lot of friends who love me. I want to have a zest for life like you do. These are all the things I think about when I think of you. Of course, there are others, too.

When I think of bacon or chocolate or cupcakes, I think of you. When I think of New Orleans, or India, or Bali, I think of you. When I think of naps, I think of you (and Shannon).

I think the most important thing you have taught me is talk to people. Talk to anyone and everyone, learn their stories, be kind to them. When I talk to strangers, I think of you.

Another thing you taught me, back on our Plucky Survivors roadtrip, when I was contemplating whether to take the Greyhound bus back to Birmingham or to have my sister pick me up, was to do the thing that will give me the best story to tell at the end of it all.

I like thinking about you and the choices you would make if you were in my shoes. And from that moment on the side of the road in Montgomery until I die, I will think about you when I make choices. Whether it’s about a cute new purse or a major life decision, I’ll think about you. Though I don’t know what-all choices I will make from here on out, I know one thing: Because I have known you, because you have been my friend and I have been yours, I have a better story to tell.

And that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

I love you,

Shannon Ulrickson:

As Mike Nichols Used to Say…
From Merry Maladies
November 13, 2009
…”The champagne is flat and the caviar has run out–will it never end?”

I really don’t have anything to complain about.

Right now, that is. Really. I’m not saying that to impress anyone with my stoicism. I’m certain I will have lots to complain about in the future, and believe me, Beloveds, I will. I’m saving up whinges and cuss words! But I might as well save it; there’s only so many different ways to say the same thing. Right now, I might as well talk about food. What I’m eating now (pate and bread), what I plan to eat this weekend (bacon-wrapped hot dogs), that incredible sounding mole place the Times wrote up a couple of days ago (Wouldn’t that be a fun place to have Thanksgiving dinner?)

Okay, has she lost her mind? Is she heavily in denial? Is she that shallow?


But also this: It’s been twelve years. (The anniversary swooshed past us this year.) We have, and are doing what we can, within reason. We still will. The outcome may or may not be written already. So I could spend time brooding, or I could spend it living. What, exactly, does it mean, to be a fighter? I really don’t know, but to me, it feels like a hearty dose of shrugging is involved. That’s why I’m not going out of my way to have an existential crisis; it feels like a waste of precious time. Like having a generic Thanksgiving dinner.

Patrick Horn:

My name is Patrick Horn. I am a professor at Claremont Graduate University and Mary was my teaching assistant. I’ll let you guess who assisted whom. I’ll be reading from one of Mary’s “Merry Maladies.”

Stay Me, Oh Comfort Me
From Merry Maladies
January 6, 2010
So far, this is just a day like any other day. I feel pretty good, Diana’s coming over, we are all going to the fabulous sashimi place, and then there is the Elizabeth Gilbert book. I may be in heavy, heavy denial, but it keeps me from feeling ghastly dread, and look at it this way; either there’s just a whole lot of unavoidable bad coming at me, in which case I don’t see the need to rush up and greet it, or I feel pretty swell, psychically and physically, and roll out with cookies and good books. Perhaps this latter course of action is unbearably shallow, or ungrateful, but I don’t think so; if we can all agree our time is finite, then I might as well celebrate/take ruthless advantage of the goodness of this time, rather than fret about the unknown ahead.

My title above, Stay Me, Comfort Me, in the King James version, reads in its fullest “Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I am sick.” It seemed appropriate. Actually, I just lied; it really reads “for I am sick of love.” (Never trust anyone using the Bible for their own purposes.) Which is part of why we love but can’t use the King James Version as the linguistically dated narrator really means “I am sick with love.” Full of love. That’s a luscious kind of sick.

I am, I am sorry to say, Beloveds, sick, but I assure you that in addition to a clinical way also in that voluptuous way as well, that kind that comes smothered with love. And cookies.

Fay Ellwood:

Three days before she passed away, Mary received a Master of Arts in Religion from Claremont Graduate University. Her professor and dean came to her house in cap and gown to confer the degree. Everyone, including Mary, felt the pain of knowing she would never receive her doctorate and tears streamed down Mary’s beautiful face. But it was an incredibly important moment to her, and seems to have brought her tremendous closure. She surprised us all, in true Mary fashion, by giving a powerful and indescribably gracious speech after the ceremony about how much it all meant to her and then came upstairs to join in on her own cupcake reception and to visit with friends.

Even so, talk of degrees seems so small in light of Mary’s stunning intellect. We all know that Mary was absolutely brilliant. In school she was always a step ahead of us all, but the thing about Mary was that her brilliance was eternally delightful to those around her. She loved learning, loved teaching, and to be taught something from Mary was wonderful.

I won’t read from her academic writing – her master’s thesis will be bound and available at the Claremont Colleges library in a few months and published with the Center for Process Studies. So I’ll just share two snippets from her letters that teach what Mary was always so good at teaching us: the kinds of things we need to appreciate.

Mary and I first connected over our love of Anne of Green Gables. In a letter she once wrote: You know, an interesting thing about LM Montgomery is that bad things happen in her books. People die, babies die, lovers break vows, girls are left pregnant and unmarried, beloved places are destroyed, people are sometimes just mean and they don’t change. Yet the world is full of poetry. This is a good lesson.

Mary even wrote me what to do when we miss her: She writes, “Just watch the LIVE STREAMING FEED OF A LITTER OF PUPPIES. Time flies by. I have learned this to my sorrow. Seriously, I can’t leave. I leave and I think “what are they doing now?” and I go back to my computer. Steve had to literally shake himself last night to get back into writing head space, he was so hypnotized by them. I want to write and thank the people who put that camera up, what a generous thing to do, to share this with us all, to help our hearts.

Our hearts are all bigger and tenderer and wiser because we’ve known Mary. Thank you, Mary. We all love you.