I Love You More Than You Can Know

My grandfather had chaired an English department for many years and had watched me attend his alma mater for my first graduate degree. When I came home, he would sit back in his recliner, tapping his fingers on the arm. He would quote a line or two from Shakespeare or talk about how mad he got at his dissertation director once. Sometimes he would sing a few bars of a song, his hands thumbing through very thick books.

We were an academic family, and we were interactive about it. My grandparents’ former students would sometimes come for a visit. My grandfather’s younger colleagues occasionally called him Papa, like Papa Hemingway, only not. There was always something going on at the local colleges: a play, a speaker, an award ceremony, or a dinner. The neighborhood where my grandparents lived reached up into some curvy hills, right by the homes of an assortment of faculty members. This was a community of people who valued knowledge and prized a long day of work at a university. It was important to remember which notable writer said what, to whom, and in what context. This was our way of service. This was our shared way of being.

The value system that prizes intellect, knowledge, success, and long hours at the university was supreme. It was what we knew, what I knew. Although I don’t remember my grandfather directly influencing my decision to get a PhD in English, we silently held our shared work together. That is, until we didn’t.

“I don’t want you to be surprised when you see how much he’s declined,” my father said.

When I saw my grandfather, I knew what my father had meant.

“That’s Christina! I know Christina!” His face lit up when I walked in, but then he turned to me.

“You know me, right?”

“Yes, I know you.”

“Who are you to me, exactly?”

“I’m your granddaughter.”

“Oh. That simplifies things for me, some. Where do you live?”

“We live in Washington, D.C.”

“Is that near here?”

I paused. My spouse and I were sitting in my grandparents’ house in South Arkansas. “No, it isn’t,” I said.

“Oh.” He nodded, confused.

“Where do you work?” he said.

“I teach English at a college,” I said. It took me a couple of tries to say it where he could hear me.

He suddenly stopped, a solemn look on his face. He held up a thumb of approval.

He had recognized me, at least in a way. He had been happy to see me, but as the questions went on, I realized he knew very little about me. He knew an intuitive connection, but he had no wiring to hold together my experience with his. While it was horrible to see that the man who could once read complicated books was missing the contents of his own life, I began to look at this a second and less common way.

My grandfather didn’t know my accomplishments, my failings, or anything that had ever happened between us. Yet he knew me, at my core. “I love you more than you can know,” he said, as I walked away from his chair. To me, that resonated with more connection than anything he was missing. He could love me without knowing. Perhaps that is one lesson people can teach us when they do not know anything else, and we are heartbroken over their absence. Perhaps it is the one lesson we can teach ourselves, our clients, and whoever we meet. It is possible for people to love more than we can know, and it is possible for us—any of us—to love more than to know.

Christina graduated from the Professional Coaching Course in 2015 and currently uses her training as a coach in higher education. She has recently finished writing a novel and has begun talking to literary agents and working on new writing projects.

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