Finding meaning in the space between

Years ago, when I began writing for The Hinsdalean, I was asked to introduce myself in a short column. I described myself with a string of nouns: “wife,” “mother,” “daughter,” “doctor,” etc. These words, I thought, summed me up quite neatly.

Decades later, I’ve changed my mind. I offered readers my roles, the hats I don and exchange as I move through my life. But roles don’t define a person, do they? Rather, I think the essence of a person lives in the spaces between her roles. The filmy energy that reveals itself in quiet moments when we aren’t “doing,” but are just “being.” Not like the mortar between bricks, because without the bricks, mortar is shapeless, meaningless. Instead, think of the lines connecting numbered dots in a dot-to-dot puzzle. Even without the dots, the lines exist. They may be incongruous, disordered, confusing, but they are there. The lines, in fact, give meaning to the dots, create shape, infuse our roles with uniqueness.

At a memorial service several years ago, a eulogist described the man who passed in humorous and loving words. I never met the deceased — I attended in support of my friend — but after this remembrance, I felt as if I knew him. I understood his connecting lines, who he was. What a gift, to be known in that way and loved so thoroughly.

All of this as preamble to the sad fact that my dear friend, Joanne Smith Repicky, passed away. Under another hat, she was known as Joanne C. Smith, MD, a visionary in the field of rehabilitative medicine and the CEO of Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. Google her and you’ll find numerous publications about her remarkable accomplishments. She had enormous influence both locally and internationally. She executed her roles perfectly.

Morever, the essence of Joanne was known and loved thoroughly.

The lines of Joanne’s dot-puzzle-life include the ferocity with which she loved her family, how she flew to meetings in Europe in the morning, home in the afternoon, to attend her kids’ games or chaperone field trips. How she credited Rory with supporting and sustaining the SRALab right along with her. If you saw her without her various hats, you’d know she hardly ever swore, even in texts. She was a woman who listened so intently, she made you believe you had something important to say. She was fiercely private, sometimes frustratingly so. She never met a stranger, or an underling. She was goofy and girly and optimistic. She loved pedicures, wine, dark chocolate and a dangerous alcoholic concoction she called “blue Koolaid.” She gave awesome presents and wrote notes by hand. Rory said that we couldn’t overestimate the importance of love to Jo. Jo said, “Love first.”

The lines and the dots. Essence and roles. This was my friend Joanne.

— Kelly Abate Kallas of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].