Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Guest Blog: Alison's Time

Note: This is a guest blog by Brian McGee, Alison's husband.  

To share a life with Alison Piepmeier was to be constantly aware of her uneasy relationship with time.

Alison’s unaffected brilliance, which she wore as casually as her Star Wars tee-shirts, was enough to assure her professional success.  On the strength of intellect alone, Alison had the ability to stand out in a crowd of the smartest and best-educated people on the planet.  And she did.

But wit and erudition weren’t sufficient to make her the enthusiastic presence, the cheerful dynamo so many of us came to adore.  Often, it was Alison’s anxious awareness of the passage of time that provided the abundance of energy she channeled so effectively to teach, to serve her community, to mentor students – and always, always, to write.  It was Alison’s anxious awareness of time that frequently had her finishing tasks and moving on to the next challenge hours or days before deadlines. 

For Alison, doing more was always the goal.  Spending more time with students in need.  Creating a more just and inclusive campus and local community.  Writing more articles.  Spending more time with her family and friends.  Organizing more learning activities and adventures for Maybelle. 

Alison seemed to do everything, and she did everything well.  Always, though, she wondered if she was doing enough, even as she wrote books, journal articles, columns, and blog entries.  Even as she taught, parented, and seemed to go and be everywhere in Charleston. 

Of course, a brain tumor, surgery, and chemotherapy changed her relationship with time.  Alison now had to sleep more, live with the constant possibility of a seizure, and take medications at the right time.  She had to organize a life in which she relied on a bicycle as her primary transportation, because for several years her condition prevented her from driving a car.  (Happily, she was able to drive again in her last few years.)

More fundamentally, Alison had to confront a steady drumbeat of reminders about her own mortality.  She had to live with the ability of medical professionals to predict however imperfectly, the most likely dates of her demise.  For Alison, memento mori was no gentle warning about a distant future.  Tempus fugit

Focus was never Alison’s problem, but nothing was quite so focusing as her physician’s affidavit stating that she had 6-12 months to live.  Nothing was so anxiety-inducing as the realization that she had to prepare for her daughter’s life after her own death. 

As she approached the end of her own time, Alison was magnificent.  She remained an engaged parent, even as her physical abilities noticeably declined.  She also wrote, and wrote well, and wrote movingly, even in her final weeks of life. 

We all wanted, desperately, for Alison to have more time.  No one deserved time more than she, and, if given, no one would have made better use of it.  But no one who knew what she accomplished would question what was done in Alison’s time. 

There was no better physical evidence of Alison’s relationship with time than the cheap watches she constantly wore.  A publicity photo many of us have seen of Alison shows her wearing an all-black, plastic watch that cost $12.  More recently, she wore a slightly more expensive Timex.  The luxury of a $25 watch was permitted only because I bought it for her. 

Alison's watch.  She never, ever set the date.
Alison wanted her watch to be plain and functional, preferably with a glow-in-the-dark setting.  And her watch had to be waterproof, because Alison desired never to take it off.  Alison needed to maintain her constant communion with time, a need that a cell phone couldn’t satisfy.  In the shower, or at 3:00 in the morning, Alison always could measure time’s passage against her goals for the week and the demands of her schedule. 



In her final days, Alison slept constantly, and peacefully.  She opened her eyes only a few times a day and was never truly awake. 

But I wasn’t surprised when the slumbering Alison occasionally lifted her left arm and turned it, very deliberately, as if to consider the patch of untanned skin where her watch should have been. 


Even as her time on Earth ended, some part of Alison could not leave time be.  

21 comments:

  1. Why do you write like you're running out of time?
    Write day and night like you're running out of time?
    Ev'ry day you fight, like you're running out of time
    Keep on fighting
    In the meantime
    Non-stop

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That phrase was going through my head reading this, too.

      Delete
  2. Why do you write like you're running out of time?
    Write day and night like you're running out of time?
    Ev'ry day you fight, like you're running out of time
    Keep on fighting
    In the meantime
    Non-stop

    ReplyDelete
  3. Brian: I have never read your writing until very recently. You write very well — something you and Alison share in common. Also, upon reading this, I understand more fully why my "Running Out of Time" guest-post (from January) really resonated with her.

    Thank you for writing this. And thanks for letting us know (via this blog and via Facebook) how you and Maybelle are doing. I hope that time's passage eventually affords you both some solace, even though I know full well that any solace will always be partial. In other words, I hope time helps you both better bear the weight of a loss that will always be with you.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you for writing this, and for loving Alison and Maybelle.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Robin. Loving them is a great joy. -Brian

      Delete
  5. So beautiful Brian! It makes my heart happy to know that you will care for Maybelle and she will have siblings. xoxo

    ReplyDelete
  6. Good work, Brian. I believe Alison would approve, both of the portrait of her and of your dispatch and skill in putting words together. Thinking of you and glad you could share this with everyone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Julia. Much appreciated, on all counts.

      Delete
  7. A thought about Alison as I was reminded of all her accomplishments: she was also very humble, and kindly interested in others, even acquaintances like me who she saw infrequently. She treated me like an important person even as she was accomplishing so much more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, Bob. She was always fully present and fully engaged, in any conversation. Thank you for sharing this. -Brian

      Delete
  8. Thank you for sharing this intimate, character detail with those of us who admired Alison from afar.

    ReplyDelete
  9. How utterly beautiful. I am sitting here weeping at your words and so filled with gratitude that you had one another these last years. Thank you and may you be comforted and held in love by all those who loved Alison.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. I am grateful, and comforted. -Brian

      Delete
  10. "No one deserved time more than she, and, if given, no one would have made better use of it. But no one who knew what she accomplished would question what was done in Alison’s time."

    This is so beautiful and perfect, Brian. I so wish that this world would have had more time with Alison but I am so in awe of all she did with the time she had. A brilliant and beautiful person. So grateful for her. And so grateful for you keeping her community connected through beautiful writing and photos. Thank you! xoxo

    Katie Stoll

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I couldn't agree more, Katie. Alison was a beautiful, and rare, human being. I will always be in awe of how she conquered every day.

      Brian, although I haven't had the privilege of getting to know you, anyone who knew Alison knows that, like Alison, you must have a huge capacity for embracing life. Your writing exemplifies that!

      Thank you so much for sharing!

      Delete
    2. Thank you, Katie and Holly. Brilliant, beautiful, rare -- Alison was all that. -Brian

      Delete
  11. What a beautiful tribute - thank you for loving Alison & Maybelle and for being with her at the end. We miss her so much. xoxox

    ReplyDelete
  12. After being in relationship with Wilson for seven years,he broke up with me, I did everything possible to bring him back but all was in vain, I wanted him back so much because of the love I have for him, I begged him with everything, I made promises but he refused. I explained my problem to someone online and she suggested that I should contact a spell caster that could help me cast a spell to bring him back but I am the type that don't believed in spell, I had no choice than to try it, I meant a spell caster called Dr Zuma zuk and I email him, and he told me there was no problem that everything will be okay before three days, that my ex will return to me before three days, he cast the spell and surprisingly in the second day, it was around 4pm. My ex called me, I was so surprised, I answered the call and all he said was that he was so sorry for everything that happened, that he wanted me to return to him, that he loves me so much. I was so happy and went to him, that was how we started living together happily again. Since then, I have made promise that anybody I know that have a relationship problem, I would be of help to such person by referring him or her to the only real and powerful spell caster who helped me with my own problem and who is different from all the fake ones out there. Anybody could need the help of the spell caster, his email: spiritualherbalisthealing@gmail.com or call him +2349055637784 you can email him if you need his assistance in your relationship or anything. CONTACT HIM NOW FOR SOLUTION TO ALL YOUR PROBLEMS'

    ReplyDelete

  13. Your soul anxiety awareness may be very evolved and ahead of your brain in terms of understanding leaving you unbalanced... not knowing what to do with your new or remembered knowledge.
    You can remove the blocks that are stopping you from living your best life.
    Take a look:anxiety awareness

    ReplyDelete