Cardiologist and director of admissions at the medical school, poet, philosopher and ultimate storyteller John Stone related his story of grief and hope during a Feb. 19 lecture, part of the Great Teachers Lecture Series.
Stone, who read excerpts from a work in progress, A Bridge Across the Dark, chronicled his life with his wife of 33 years, Lu, her death in 1991, his subsequent grief and the beginning of healing.
He recounted their first meeting at the state fair in Mississippi as 15-year-olds. He took the audience on the journey of their lives together, from St. Louis to Rochester to Atlanta, with the road marks that accompanied that journey -- the pain in her fingertip that warned of things to come; spending Christmas together in the cabin at Big Creek; to the cataclysmic loss of Lu, felt by everyone.
Stone said he found out late about the beauty of the North Georgia mountains and took his first trip there in 1986 to the cabin of an Emory colleague, Tom Sellers. During that visit, he awoke early and went for a walk: "It was just sun up as I stepped lightly onto the bridge," he said. "I thought I was alone. Fog hung low over the meadow. Through it, I could see Tom inspecting his raspberries. He waved to me silently in a scene so peaceful he might have been the first person on earth greeting the second." At the end of that first trip, Stone and his wife had decided they would build a cabin some day by Big Creek near Butler Mountain.
A first-grade teacher at McLendon Elementary School, Lu died 12 days after emergency surgery to have her colon removed. Even while intubated, she wrote, "I'm ready to get on with my life." Her death left Stone struggling with grief and guilt. He suffered from blurred vision and weight loss, and found that he had begun sleepwalking. "I do think I know what these night wanderings are all about in my own life," he said. "They are attempts to do that which can't be done in the light -- to say things left unsaid that still need to be said; to try somehow to touch, to reckon with, the ghost in every darkness."
But life does gone on, said Stone, and he shared the many ways he has dealt with grief and begun to experience the healing process. He spoke of the solace he found in music and in physical labor at the Big Creek cabin, of the importance of friends, of his son's wedding and the birth of his first grandchild, Sarah. Sarah was named for Lu, whose full name was Sarah Lucretia Crymes Stone. Lu always loved the name Sarah, and as a graduate student at Emory, she was called Sarah by her professors and classmates.
The cabin at Big Creek remains an integral part of John Stone's life, and his plans to build a bridge across Big Creek have sparked thoughts of a metaphorical bridge. "With the bridge built, the sides of the creek finally joined, I will think of its simple structure as one that links the definite and distinct past of my life with its predictably hazy future," he said.
President Bill Chace is the next speaker featured in the Great Teachers Lecture Series; he will address the topic "Writers and Politics" on March 7 at 7:30 p.m. in Cannon Chapel.