The Book of Mev according to Amber Von Bokel
â€œAnd a husband shouldnâ€™t have to write his wifeâ€™s obituary three and a half years into their marriage, either. But that second week of January, as we kept vigil through the night, we were expecting Mev to die any minute. And, reckoning that I would have far more urgent matters to attend to within a few days, and with the New York Times obituary page as my guide, I finally made space at my desk and took a stabâ€¦â€ (Chmiel 16).
The first few years of a marriage are supposed to be bliss. No one ever really thinks about burying a spouse when they first get married. The idea itself sounds horrible and unthinkable. Because the idea of spousal death sounds so horrible, one shrugs it off as: â€œI will worry about that when I am eighty.â€ Since the possibility of death so early into a marriage is so unthinkable, when it actually does happen it is all the more painful for it. Writing an obituary is a difficult endeavor in itself. Writing a young womanâ€™s obituary is even more tragic. Writing an obituary for oneâ€™s young wife is a daunting, nearly impossible task. I cannot fathom how difficult such a task would be.
â€œI talk about not taking ourselves too seriously. I believe that humor is something that allows us to take a certain distance from things so we donâ€™t feel too much in the center of everything. I often fear that living in the midst of such severe problems we understandably tend to think that ours are the greatest problems of humanity. We even tend to take theology and people doing theology too seriously. I also consider humor important in life because it helps us not to be close to other things and persons. I believe that one of the greatest victories of those who oppress the poor is if they can make the poor bitter. Bitterness makes us close to other people. One thing I see and admire in poor persons is that they know how to keep up a certain capacity of happiness, and humor is an expression of happiness. The joy of the poor is not superficial.
The poor have a sense of humor, though not intellectual or refined humor. The children in my neighborhood have a great sense of humor. The intellectuals, on the other hand, tend to think they are the center of the world. Also, people who are worried, tense and busy tend to think that the whole world revolves around them. For people like this humor is great therapy.â€ (Gustavo qtd. in Chmiel 32).
I think it is slightly ironic that I read this passage during the busiest time of the year. This passage relates so much to my personal life, rather my academic life. This year, I put too heavy of a load on myself. I am taking twenty-three credit hours, fourteen credits of which are science classes, and I have a job. These days, the world seems to revolve around me. Humor truly works wonders. Without it, I would be losing my mind. Laughter makes it all seem so much easier to handle.
â€œâ€˜Youâ€™re not a coward, Mev. It takes a lot to know when youâ€™ve had enough. No, it would have been silly to stay and really do damage to yourself.â€™
She glared at me, and said slowly: â€˜No, you donâ€™t understand.â€™
And I didnâ€™t. So much of Mevâ€™s identity was invested in her work, her abilities, her successâ€”the one thing to avoid, the number one calamity to stave off at all cost was failure. She didnâ€™t take too kindly to my efforts to shore up her self-assurance and I learned very quickly that she hated it when she perceived that I really wasnâ€™t listening. Thatâ€™s all she wantedâ€”just to have me hear her anguish, confusion and self-doubt; but, true to the social construction of my pragmatic American gender, I wanted to fix her problem. There was no fixing this. Mev came home from Brazil broken, emptied, wearyâ€ (Chmiel 74).
I really can relate to Mev. A couple of weeks ago, I had a similar experience. I had a missed call on my cell phone from my mom. I called her back to see what she wanted, and after she was done, I gave her my news. â€œI did horrible on my chemistry test.â€
â€œIt is okay if you get a C. When I took that accounting class, I was grateful to come out with a C.â€
â€œNo Mom, it is not okay!â€ I snapped. â€œI have to get a B.â€
And she did not understand. She tried. She wanted to, and she wanted to make me feel better. It is difficult for me for two reasons. The first reason is that I need to get at least a B for my pre-physician assistant scholars program. Another reason is that I have always identified myself as a good student. I always wondered what my life would be like without school. Though I claim to despise it, it is part of me and a central part of my life. I value myself as a person through my success in school. When people ask about my talents, school and learning always pop into my mind, but now, I do not even feel like a good student. I no longer feel smart. I feel less like myself. I feel like a failure.
â€œWhen you have everything, you value nothing. Iâ€™ve seen people with ten brands of cheese in their refrigerators. Their biggest problem is choosing what kind of cheese they want! How many times I traveled by horseback in the backlands and arrived at the house of a peasantâ€”and the only thing they could give me was a little cup of water! But, that cup of water is so valuable! So welcomed!â€ (Casaldaliga qtd. in Chmiel 143).
This rings true in our society that revolves around consumerism. Everybody has to have the latest material goodsâ€”the newest game systems, the most high tech computers, iPods, you name it. People are still not satisfied. The more they acquire; the more they desire. A gift is all the more precious if one has very little. After awhile, nothing is precious, because people are used to having everything they desire. If people learn to value everything, they will be satisfied with less. On the first day of one of my high school English classes, my teacher placed a chair on his desk. He told us to describe the chair. Then he told us to write about what we would think if we were given the chair. Next, we wrote about how we would feel if we were rich and received the gift of the chair. Finally, we wrote about how we would feel if we were poor and were gifted with the chair. The descriptions of the chair were vastly different. When one was wealthy, he or she was tempted to throw it away or stash it in an attic; after all, it was ugly and uncomfortable. On the other hand, when one had very little, the chair was beautiful and a wonderful place to sit and rest oneâ€™s feet. It gives one a good idea of how little we value material goods in the United States.
â€œSad. Disturbing. Excluding. A vision of church I donâ€™t hold. I am a part of this church, I choose to remain a member, but there is something very flawed in this order, this structure, this theology. Even with an all-male clergy concelebrating, imagine the symbolism if there was a half-circle of seats for bishops right in the middle of the thousands of youthâ€”a more inclusive image of church. Not to happen.
All men on stage, in robes and hats and crowns, their time had come. We can do the warm up, but the youth, women, blacks and Hispanics become spectators to the spectacle of the male. To be a part of this multicultural worshipping community is a joy, but who and what are we worshipping? It is so top heavy, so male, such a pyramid. This is our church.â€ (Puleo qtd. in Chmiel 210).
Unfortunately, sexism is prevalent within the Catholic Church. It is ridiculous that women cannot become priests. Sexism is also apparent in many of the readings within the Catholic Church. I understand the Bible is a very old text, and one can expect to find the women in a more subordinate position, but that does not need to be preached to the modern Church. A couple months ago in church, the one of the readings taught, â€œWives, be subordinate to your husbandsâ€¦â€ It angered me that this was read in church. The book actually had this enclosed in parenthesis and said, â€œOmit for shorter massâ€. Would it have been so bad to have a shorter mass just this one time, so as not to preach that husbands are superior and dominant over their wives? I would not have had any problem with the passage had it taught, â€œWives, be subordinate to your husbands, and husbands, be subordinate to your wives.â€
This last passage, I am going to write about a little differently. Originally, I had marked this quote, not to include in this commonplace book, but to talk about it with my boyfriend. I thought that the passage and my thoughts on it were personal, and I was not sure that I would feel comfortable writing about it. In class, we wrote about our reactions to The Book of Mev, and my reaction was centered on this passage. An excerpt from my journal:
November 28, 2006
My reaction to The Book of Mev…
Sad. Terribly sad. Touching. â€œHe and I both knew that Mev didnâ€™t have much time left. It was startling to recall that just four months earlier, she and I were riding bikes around Forest Park. As we zoomed down the Skinker hill, Mev was cheering, she was so thrilled to be moving so fast (I often tormented myself this way, with odious comparisons: â€˜Ok, five weeks ago, we were making love in a frenzy and now, nothing, except holding a weakened hand.â€™)â€ (Chmiel 312). Such life! Such vitality! Fading. Only a shadow remains. The difficulty of seeing the one you love fading into a mere shadow of his or her own self. For a man to lose his partner, his partner in life and love. His confidant. His wife. His lover. To be so young and no longer able to express the physical love that a marriage entails. To see your soul mate fading away. â€œThe friend then looked up at me and said, with gravity, â€˜Mark, we just donâ€™t know why God is taking Mev away from you.â€™ Pause. â€˜But who knows? Maybe in a few years Heâ€™ll give you somebody elseâ€™â€ (Chmiel 312). To lose your other half, and to have someone tell you that you may find someone else, while still knowing in your heart that there will never be another to fill the hole in your heart.
Amber took Social Justice at SLU in the fall of 2006.