Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Smart's Just Not Good Enough, I Guess

Like many intellectuals, he was incapable of saying a simple thing in a simple way.
- Marcel Proust

Dear Rachel,

I always thought it was funny that you believed I was so smart. I remember you filling out one of those Internet surveys in which you answered, “My dad” to the question, “Who is the smartest person you know?”

It’s natural for a daughter to believe one of two things about her father: Either he’s brilliant, or he’s a complete idiot. Luckily for me, you opted for the former rather than the latter.

As you grew up, I was engaged in what might be viewed as intellectual pursuits. (I suppose that’s a fancy way of saying that I’ve never really worked for a living.) I was a teacher, then an editor, then a software developer, and finally, toward the end of your life, an editor again. To an adoring daughter – and you were always that – I suppose these would seem like vocations that required intelligence and training and skills of an intellectually demanding nature. Then again, you might just as easily have been asking yourself, “Hmmm… How come Dad can’t hold a job?!”

At any rate, while I never thought of myself as stupid, I also never believed that I was quite as smart as you thought I was.

This is especially true now. If I’m so sharp, why didn’t I know you were in trouble? How did I not see that your personal life had gotten to a point at which you were in physical danger? Why didn’t I see what was happening?

This, I know, is part of the dark, brooding blanket of guilt that hangs over all of us who’ve lost a child to violence: We tend to feel responsible for things over which we really had no control. I realize that, but it still pains me that, as well as I knew you and as much as I loved you, there could have been looming in your social orbit a danger so violent, so predatory, and so malevolent. And all without me suspecting that you were at risk.

And now that it’s happened – now that I’ve lost you to that malevolence – I’m not sure I’m smart enough to know how to get through it.