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Clues from my twin’s short life and unfinished epic

As a young adult, Maria Janette Teigrob was strikingly single-minded, unapologetically unconventional and enviably attuned to life’s gifts.

Whether striding the Manitoba prairies for exercise till her eyelashes frosted up in winter, working as a field hand for 13-hour, parched days in summer or studying her stacks of books in the tiny, red-carpeted attic of her parents’ home, Maria lived like life was one grand, purpose-filled adventure, particularly her last few years.

As her twin, I watched that confidence electrify Maria’s days with both some puzzlement and a bit of guilt. In contrast at the time, I was distracted and unsure, windblown and easily swayed.

Long after Maria stepped onto the other side of eternity’s curtain at the age of 21, when the car she was driving collided with another, did understanding begin to seep in for me, like a slowly spreading sunrise.

      

A sample of one invented language.

A Spellious Land
Will you come with me to High Shamyim?
To the Hanging Gardens of Rur rdu?
Nine there are
Above Urdur dusk the Tree of Life
and the High Road of High Shamayim
and the Tower of Shiii mring
Rearing is the wind there, and reeling-blue
There the storm crouches cold-clawed
and the wind is there.
A spellious land is the land I tell of.

When I could finally work through my twin’s many scrawled notebooks, I unearthed this poem at the centre of an immense, creative work I’d only been vaguely aware of before.

It turns out my twin had been secretly weaving together a massive opus of remarkable imagination and originality complete with four invented languages. In one notebook I read of her yearning to create something as momentous as John Milton’s Paradise Lost or Homer’s The Iliad.

While the strikingly original setting and characters and brilliant wordsmithing of her creative work impressed me, what dragged at my heart was discovering her awareness of death and eternity.

The work is drenched with references to death and life after this life, though, oddly, not in a way that makes the reader depressed. If anything, I find myself stirred with yearning and anticipation.

Here’s one “death-song” for a key character, Besethr:
Reeling, reeling, reeling
is the soul in its rising
at the wind-rise.

Clue # 1: Finding yourself and finding adventure may begin with being keenly tuned in to life’s brevity and to eternity’s real-ness. Consider the sect of monks who would regularly trace the lines on their hands (all shaped like an M) as a symbol of the Latin phrase Momento Mori, meaning “Remember, you will die.”

Seeking Iiithmir
While my twin’s epic is full of delightfully strange yet noble creatures such as juegrens (think part dog, part dragon), juagars of the sea and sea-elves, there is one character with a mystery and magnetism who is completely different from the others – Iithmir iith iith iith ibix.

Iithmir reminds me of Gandalf, Aslan – and Jesus. He appears, stirs purpose, sometimes only by his mere presence, and then is gone for a time. Then, there he is again.

Maria had asked Jesus into her heart at the age of four, and spent the rest of her life seeking to know him and his will and his way. 

      

Michelle at Maria’s grave in Belize, Central America, where they grew up.

She was an earnest, vibrant person who loved her family most of all. In her last years, some of her greatest joys included simple food, challenging books and long walks in rain, blizzard and burning sun. She also obviously drew deep satisfaction from realizing personal goals such as mastering Icelandic, learning physics and working on this massive creative work. In other words, she was gloriously distinctive, resolute and alive.

“Sameness is to be found most among the most ‘natural’ men, not among those who surrender to Christ,” writes the late author and Oxford University professor C. S. Lewis. “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints.”

And another quote by Lewis:
“Look for yourself and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay. But look for Christ and you will find him and, with him, everything else thrown in.”

Clue # 2: Seeking Christ deeply may be the shortest path to a unique, vibrant existence. Consider the practices of renowned author John Ortberg, who besides studying and memorizing Scriptures has fostered habits intended to help him keep focused on Christ – like having an extra chair at mealtime to remind himself of Christ’s presence.

A tiny band of travellers
The plot of my twin’s epic could be summed up this way: Tiny band of other-worldly travellers seeks “spellious” land they’ve only heard about called High Shamayim. Their journey is filled with failure, inertia, frustration and danger – but they are always pulled forward by faith that someday, someday, they will discover what they are looking for. Shamayim is Hebrew for heavens or sky. The travellers set out together. They follow Iithmir and look for Shamayim together – in community.

On the one hand, my twin was known as an introvert who had no trouble being alone; she could always find things to do. On the other hand, as her twin, I knew how vital some of her closest family members and friends were.  

Clue # 3: We find ourselves and find adventure most fully in the company of others. While alone time is also vital, consider the practice of “going on retreat” into your community, rather than away from it.  

My twin’s epic is unfinished. That’s bothered me for a long time. How could she have been given this great dream – and then die before she could fully realize it?

The book of Hebrews presents a list of real-life people who all died in faith, “not having received the promises.”  

But that isn’t seen as a problem. No, they saw the promises and embraced them from afar, and “having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth . . . they are seeking a country of their own . . . they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11).

This life isn’t the only one we have. Sure, you start here. But the curtain between here and now and “there” is much wispier than it can seem. The journey continues on the other side – much more gloriously, brilliantly and awesomely than any of us, even my twin, could ever imagine.

 

  • A journalist for 15 years and mother of three, Michelle Strutzenberger shares her twin’s love of a good hike and a good read. Connect with her on Twitter at @michelle_strutz and Facebook at @NewShemayim.

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