You Live On in Us
Dear Dr. Ball,
That's what you were to so many of us...a dear, wise man, the likes of which we'll rarely encounter in a lifetime. There you were, assigned to freshmen in 1961, almost as new to Whitman as you. Immediately, I got to know you, for you were my four-year academic counselor; little did I know how I'd rely on your insight later in my life. You officiated at so many events, all for people who adored you and knew that with your fresh, direct perspectives, and whimsical humor, it would be an event not to miss.
After Mike, who had arrived with you in 1960, died so young and unexpectedly in 1987...our daughter, Jennifer, was a high school junior and three months later off we went for her to visit Whitman. I headed down to your cozy office, and thankfully you were there. Our next hours, and visits over the next year or so, helped define my path to our family's recovery. When I asked if you really believed in any form of afterlife, other than the effects of our lives here, you candidly said, “I don't know. I have no proof! I know what I hope...I'll just have to wait and see!”
Can’t you just see him on the edge of his chair, eyes sparkling and that rhythmic voice? He reminisced about his memories of us on campus, especially of Mike carrying me in a cast, up and down stairs to classes in Memorial. I told him it seemed the universe was out of order to let someone so wonderful die. What could we count on? “Ahhh, he said, but in fact the universe asserted perfect order in not allowing a configuration such as cancer to survive. Unfortunately, Michael the person, was caught up in that biology.” That got my thinking shifted.
He turned around and pulled a book from his collection and told me to keep it...”A Severe Mercy” by Sheldon Vanauken, includes the correspondence between him and his Oxford days' friend, CS Lewis. Both lost their young wives to cancer and it details in letters, their caregiving, confusion, grief process and recovery...CS Lewis had already written “A Grief Observed,” which I had read by the time I was in his office.
He hugged me saying how sad he was, in our prime, so young, etc...we talked briefly about Emerson, whose essay “Compensation,” my Whitman grad mom, always told me got her through the rough times, knowing somewhere, sometime, some little good would come out of it. I left hopeful, my confusion and sorrow understood, and with confidence I could deal with so much alone. He had added that sometimes we try too hard to understand and by so doing we risk staying in the problem we are trying to move beyond. I returned that book to him years later for him to pass on to another.
He called occasionally, and when my younger daughter also went to Whitman, he requested she be his counselee. It was such fun to have him as a doubles partner at a reunion! Whenever I saw him he would ask of the girls by name...apologizing in later years that his memory was slipping!
So, Dear Dr. Ball, there you are...It's amazing that you were similarly significant to thousands, a gift, all wrapped up in a small, energetic, bright, loving package, pushing out the seams with your boundless love and energy. I do hope your “proof” has arrived and that you are riding your bicycle in some other dimension. If not, rest assured that you live on in us and we will be doing it for you. Take care to all he loved.
Carolyn Woodward-Wheatley ’65