IT IS not often that I use this space to talk about people close to me. I beg your indulgence as I pay tribute to my dear friend and soulmate Dottie, who was also my wife of 38 years.
It was 42 years ago that our paths - that of a student nurse from Chelsea, Mich., and that of a surgery resident from Peshawar, Pakistan - crossed at Maumee Valley Hospital in Toledo.
It wasn't the proverbial love at first sight. On the contrary it was the battle of the minds and principles that defined our friendship. She was an idealistic young nurse who placed her profession and its integrity ahead of all other considerations. And I was an impatient young man incapable of distinguishing between ideal patient care and insubordination. In my Pakistani mind, doctors gave orders and nurses carried them out. For that irrepressible girl, things were not that cut and dried. A few years later the man from Mars and the girl from Venus decided to tie the knot.
There could not have been two more incompatible people. In due course, however, religious and cultural differences gave way to mutual love, respect, and admiration. That was the mainstay of our life together, and in that milieu we would raise a daughter and two sons.
It was with considerable apprehension that she moved back to Pakistan with me in 1970. After all, when the news of our marriage reached Peshawar, the family had mourned and friends and neighbors had come to offer their condolences. But it took no time at all for the family to welcome and accept the new bride into the clan. For her part, Dottie lived the traditions, and established bonds with the family that endured the rest of her life. Knowing my deep emotional attachment to Peshawar, she spent the rest of her life nurturing my yearning for that place and helped me with a score of educational and literary projects for the city.
She joined me on many of my foreign trips, and when she would not or could not travel she took care of the home and hearth and waited for my return. At times she was apprehensive when I took our boys on expeditions, but she never wavered in her support of what I wanted to do.
It was not, however, the big or glamorous stuff that highlighted our life journey. The mundane everyday little things defined her life and accented our marriage: soccer games, piano recitals, school plays, parent-teacher conferences, daily pick up of our granddaughter Hannah from school, and, above all, the gathering of the family around the table at dinner time.
Nursing was her passion and she excelled at it. So it was startling when in 1996, at the age of 52, she decided to call it a day. She had made an error in calculating the dose of a medication but had caught herself in time. That misstep affected her deeply, and she decided to bow out while she was still on top. In her mind there was no room for acts of omission or commission. No persuasion on my part could make her change her mind. She was an idealist and also very stubborn.
As the relentless march of ovarian cancer took its toll, she wished to visit Peshawar just one more time to say farewell to our family. But it was too late. In the end she accepted death with the same quiet dignity that she had embraced life.
On her passing there was a flow of family friends, relatives, and even strangers to our ancestral home in Peshawar. This time they came to pay respects to the American girl who was able to narrow the East-West gap. She had lived seamlessly in two disparate worlds and in the process touched many people with her grace. As Ezra Pond said, the quality of affection, in the end, is in the trace it leaves in the mind. There was plenty of it in Peshawar and Toledo these past two weeks.
Throughout history the prophets, sages, and wise men have tried to unravel the mysteries of life and death, mostly in vain, and fell short of explaining the stubborn "why?"
One could rely on science to understand the cannibalistic orgy of cancer consuming the body or playing havoc with the delicate biochemical symphony that makes the music we call life. But there is really no good explanation. Prayers cannot alter what God wills.
"I have no more words," said Rumi, the great 13th-century Turkish poet, "let the soul speak with the silent articulation of face."
Thank you for listening.