Still glides the stream, slow drops the boat
Under the rustling poplars’ shade;
Silent the swans beside us float
None speaks, none heeds—ah, turn thy head.
Let those arch eyes now softly shine,
That mocking mouth grow sweetly bland:
Ah, let them rest, those eyes, on mine;
On mine let rest that lovely hand.
My pent-up tears oppress my brain,
My heart is swoln with love unsaid:
Ah, let me weep, and tell my pain,
And on thy shoulder rest my head.
Before I die, before the soul,
Which now is mine, must re-attain
Immunity from my control,
And wander round the world again:
Before this teas’d o’erlabour’d heart
For ever leaves its vain employ,
Dead to its deep habitual smart,
And dead to hopes of future joy.
And sometimes, by still harder fate,
The lovers meet, but meet too late.
—Thy heart is mine!—True, true! ah, true!
—Then, love, thy hand!—Ah, no! adieu!
On many occasions, I have remarked to you of the inexplicable contradictions wedded to my existence. To most anyone on the outside looking in, my life in narrative could seem impressive and satisfying. Here, after all, is a chap who spent his last weekend swimming several hundred meters in the water and a sunny poolside visit with Hemingway. Yesterday, a visit to the archery range, a twelve mile bike ride, a dinner by himself with a Dickens novel. Business degree, nursing degree, published, credentialed, all that nonsense.
I have near-constant occasion to reflect on my life as a summary, because in my job new encounters are constant. As support staff across the healthcare enterprise, I’ve worked day shift and night shift for two and a half years on over twelve floors, across thirty different wings and eight ICUs, meeting literally hundreds of nurses and probably thousands of patients and family members. They think it’s wit that allows quick answers to their questions. It’s only that I’ve heard them in nearly every incarnation imaginable. I have to delay my response to avoid sounding sarcastic.
But what does it seem to me? Where does Beren see himself in all this? Does he enjoy this biking and hiking and swimming and arrows? Right now, they’re just another skill, another means of distraction and escape. Need I tell you again how I really feel, Darling? Lonely and aloof, like on a pedestal through no fault or credit of my own, unable to be helped, living an illusion, spending too much time completely outside of my own head — or too far inside of it. People my age…they’ve already their careers and families with which to gratify and identify. They’re stabilizing financially. They’re buying houses, getting married, settling down. The people still swimming upstream don’t.
I plan my days from week to week, but with an incurable bent towards Tomorrow, always Tomorrow. Not in the sense of procrastination, but weighing a moment by its lasting outcomes, so much that I can’t “live in the moment.” Things are always a Big Deal, and there’s always a “now what?” when the work is through. I like to read, but I don’t like to stay at home and read. Staying home at all seems a torture and I always have to find somewhere to go. (This city is short on such havens and refuges, quiet reading nooks or splendid sunset overlooks.) Relationships, like work, seem both a curse and a cure.
“You can do anything you want!” the actor exclaimed to the movie’s hero. “What makes you happy?”
“I don’t know,” the hero replied.
I don’t know.
Tell me…where do you go in your times of weakness? Who lifts you up and who do you turn to? That’s where I am tonight; weak and wounded. Only difference is, when I look around for some place to go or someone to call, no one is there. At times, I just look for a book to read, a song to hear, a movie to distract. I know Alegfast struggles with uncertainties and anxieties too, though he seldom talks of them. And I hesitate to voice my own.
You see, in our world, it’s not okay for men to be weak. We can’t be weak, and we can’t be hurt. If you are, you don’t talk about it and you don’t let it show. You man up. You be assertive, not weak, decisive, not needy. No matter the songs, don’t confess your need for a friend in the lonely hour. (Such a perfect song for tonight!)
There is a friend who, it seems, desires to be closer to me. She took it upon herself to address what she felt was my lack of joy, which she termed a serious issue in my life. I took to explaining the various attacks this week which have eroded such joy. Financial concerns. Ailing or unemployed loved ones, disputes with the family, disputes with the world, disputes in the workplace. You know I’m comfortable with disputes, Darling. “The gift of confrontation” some call it. But lately, I view disputes with a tired and grim resignation. A nurse began vigorously lecturing on her political beliefs while we were involved in patient care, and I knew I could quite convincingly construct and prove my case, but why bother? People will think what they will. There’s no reasoning with them.
I’m feeling defeated, that’s what. In most depths you have hope, but right now I’m just hoping to regain hope. There’s a lot to carry, but the people who matter are far worse off, and the ones who don’t matter dry up. When you stop checking on some of them and let them fend for themselves, the airwaves go silent. People who have been friends for years say not so much as a “how are you?” You wonder sometimes if it was an illusion, or just a one-way ministry. And the ironic thing is, whenever someone shows special attention as a giver, it’s rare I will receive it passively. Instead, I recognize a giver like me, and I will take compassion on you because I know what it feels like to burn with a compassion for people that is seldom requited. (Mind you, there are some people ill-pleased with me right now who would snatch up a chance to publicly scorn the notion that I am a giver and compelled to give.)
I’m not the only one fighting these sorts of battles. Browse WordPress for lonely souls. They’re all out there, and all of them hope someone is listening. They don’t want to ask for help. They can’t or don’t know how, or they know no one will come. I’ll wager most of them would be the greatest givers in the world — certainly if they’ve found they must give to others to be satisfied. If the world were to invest just a little nourishment to them, how inestimable would the benefit become?
And I have something they don’t all have. I know I serve a God of providence and grace. I know that it is in defeat that we become wise. I have a job and am happy when I work, even if that’s the only time I’m happy. I know that I don’t live at all without you, but that you’ll come one day and my life will be full of everything again. I know that when I have you to look after, how I feel will matter less. Looking after your needs will become paramount.
Anyone who knows anything about relationships will tell you they take work. And that’s exhausting sometimes, isn’t it? My job already saps much of my investive energy, and at times it looks like a mountain to climb every time. Men take the initiative, or we should. We carry the load, assume the risk. We can’t be afraid, can’t ask for help, can’t admit we’re weak. Women, for all your saber-rattling that you are strong (and you are) you also have license to be weak. Sometimes nature conspires to make you look and feel weak.
Maybe it’s just an excuse for the abdication of leadership to which we men are so prone, but sometimes, I don’t want to do the heavy lifting or take the initiative. Sometimes men want someone who will tie the knots in our stomach into butterflies. I want something senseless and intoxicating; something to escape the fetters of rationality and reason; an inexplicable draw and desire that I simply have to be with you, put up with you no matter the cost. I want an easy ascent for at least part of the journey, not this plodding climb. I want an onslaught of love so great it overwhelms my resistance.
And what of you? Will you attach yourself to be me with the conviction of Ruth — “where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay”? With beauty of Esther, loyalty of Sarah, wisdom of Deborah? Someone of strong will and unwavering conviction? Can you be not just the woman who needs a man, but the woman a man needs? Someone with a heart like mine?
Where do these sad and lonely people go when they aren’t online? There was a girl in line at the restaurant last night by herself. I would have bought her dinner just to be kind, because she’s here by herself. But she bought for two, and bought it to go. When I am older, maybe I will build a place called The Lonely, a place where people go if they’re lonely and alone. Then at least people will know where to go not to feel quite as alone. No one can un-lonely themselves.
Everyone is lonely, and everyone has demons nipping at their heels. Maybe I write so that you know I am honest, even when honesty isn’t attractive. Maybe writers are the only ones brave enough to give form to the dark thoughts which others push to the fringe.
At any rate, I will not bow to the world’s defeat. Despair is for the sons of Satan with whom the world populates its kingdoms, and to this I will not yield, if only for refusal’s sake. Tomorrow shall find me a brighter and happier man, and if not then, the day after. Autumn will be upon us, the home stretch of my studies begins, and there are many ripe fields of happiness yet to be discovered. Tread them yourself, as you may, until we meet.
In the deserted, moon-blanched street,
How lonely rings the echo of my feet!
Those windows, which I gaze at, frown,
Silent and white, unopening down,
Repellent as the world,–but see,
A break between the housetops shows
The moon! and lost behind her, fading dim
Into the dewy dark obscurity
Down at the far horizon’s rim,
Doth a whole tract of heaven disclose!
And to my mind the thought
Is on a sudden brought
Of a past night, and a far different scene:
Headlands stood out into the moonlit deep
As clearly as at noon;
The spring-tide’s brimming flow
Heaved dazzlingly between;
Houses, with long wide sweep,
Girdled the glistening bay;
Behind, through the soft air,
The blue haze-cradled mountains spread away.
That night was far more fair–
But the same restless pacings to and fro,
And the same vainly throbbing heart was there,
And the same bright, calm moon.
And the calm moonlight seems to say:–
Hast thou then still the old unquiet breast,
Which neither deadens into rest,
Nor ever feels the fiery glow
That whirls the spirit from itself away,
But fluctuates to and fro,
Never by passion quite possessed
And never quite benumbed by the world’s sway?–
And I, I know not if to pray
Still to be what I am, or yield, and be
Like all the other men I see.
For most men in a brazen prison live,
Where, in the sun’s hot eye,
With heads bent o’er their toil, they languidly
Their lives to some unmeaning taskwork give,
Dreaming of naught beyond their prison wall.
And as, year after year,
Fresh products of their barren labor fall
From their tired hands, and rest
Never yet comes more near,
Gloom settles slowly down over their breast.
And while they try to stem
The waves of mournful thought by which they are prest,
Death in their prison reaches them,
Unfreed, having seen nothing, still unblest
And the rest, a few,
Escape their prison and depart
On the wide ocean of life anew.
There the freed prisoner, where’er his heart
Listeth will sail;
Nor doth he know how there prevail,
Despotic on that sea.
Trade-winds which cross it from eternity:
Awhile he holds some false way, undebarred
By thwarting signs, and braves
The freshening wind and blackening waves.
And then the tempest strikes him; and between
The lightning bursts is seen
Only a driving wreck,
And the pale master on his spar-strewn deck
With anguished face and flying hair
Grasping the rudder hard,
Still bent to make some port he knows not where,
Still standing for some false, impossible shore.
And sterner comes the roar
Of sea and wind, and through the deepening gloom
Fainter and fainter wreck and helmsman loom,
And he too disappears, and comes no more.
Is there no life, but these alone?
Madman or slave, must man be one?
Plainness and clearness without shadow of stain!
Ye heavens, whose pure dark regions have no sign
Of languor, though so calm, and though so great
Are yet untroubled and unpassionate;
Who, though so noble, share in the world’s toil,
And, though so tasked, keep free from dust and soil!
I will not say that your mild deeps retain
A tinge, it may be, of their silent pain
Who have longed deeply once, and longed in vain–
But I will rather say that you remain
A world above man’s head, to let him see
How boundless might his soul’s horizons be,
How vast, yet of what clear transparency!
How it were good to live there, and breathe free;
How fair a lot to fill
Is left to each man still!
I have seen flowers come in stony places
And kind things done by men with ugly faces
And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races,
So I trust too.
- John Masefield
I made it a week without writing, or needing you, or even, almost, without thinking about you. And then I reach another week’s end. Last night and the night before were two of the most trying nights of my career. I watched the tears of a family gathered around one man’s bed as they were told his life was waning. I saw the slow, tearful defeat welling up in the eyes of another man, speechless and tired of fighting. This is why I do what I do. This is who I am. And yet, I think how nice it would be just to sit on the couch after a long day and talk. To tell my thoughts and hear yours; the simple pleasure of knowing you’re only a heartbeat away. I think I would find it exceedingly precious to hold your hand and feel your pulse, or to put my stethoscope against your chest and listen to your actual heart.
I’m on about hearts tonight because I held someone else’s in my hands last night — a girl not much younger than I, for whom death was knocking. I confess, I don’t wish death to come for anyone, but come he must, and when he does, I want to be there. So through her chest, her heart having stopped, I became her heart. Her frame was small, the effort was minimal. With a small army crowding into a smaller room, we brought her back. Such order and anarchy striving together after one imperiled soul.
A short eternity later, the ordeal ended. The exchanges of “good job” were made. And not long after, we turn control over to the next watch, and we each of us get into our cars and go home. They to friends, family, love. Doubtless to share their modest but poignant roles in the saving of a life, the restarting of a heart. I come home in silence and to silence, an uncaring house occupied in its own musings.
Thousands of shifters are coming home from their watches at the same time as I, fading to silence and quiet. Police. Medics. Firefighters. Nurses. Soldiers. They pour out themselves for the simple and noble task of preserving the lives of their neighbors. To take a bullet, tread the flame or thread the needle. And for whom? Someone’s mother or grandmother; a wife, an uncle, a husband. Behind every hospital door or curtain, some-one’s world may hang in peril of crumbling. And to what thanks do these simple warriors return? To an applauding public, a grateful city, a generous paycheck? Folly. Money brings not life, nor preserves it. No-one courts their favor as they would businessmen or politicians, because their giving is a foregone conclusion. The daily victories won or lost on ten thousand bedside battlefronts between sun’s rising and setting are too numerous to applaud each as they deserve. Affliction and illness are tireless foes, and although we cannot unburden ourselves from the weight of the world in a single night, we return to the battle the very next night.
The ringing of summons, the fittings and fixtures of each room, the coughs and calls, the needs and protestations, all fade into a deafening silence when I go home, as though it never were.
“I helped restart a heart last night,” I might say to one friend or another. “That’s nice.” “You’re not a marine!” someone else retorted as I related some of these thoughts once before. I changed the subject. Not everyone’s mettle is cut for the thickest of the fighting. And of course, some would rather turn a blind eye to it entirely, embracing denial until their own lifestyles catch up with them. Truth and reality make poor drinking buddies, and people are never grateful for the rope-holders, until they’re off a cliff’s edge.
The job is fulfilling. There’s no money as could pay for what any of us do. And from patients themselves, “thank-you” is heard just often enough to be routine and therefore of diminished significance, much as you would think the barista who hands you the coffee you ordered. Only those that do it know what it’s really worth.
Before leaving, I went and found the nurse alongside whom we’d fought to restart the girl’s heart. She’s my age (married of course) but becoming a good friend. We work as a team, and working as a team to survive a crisis creates a unique bond. She was near tears as I hugged her. She told me she couldn’t have done it without me. (Yes, she could have.)
You see then why I privately hold some complaints of “bad days” contemptuously. I have seen survivors of attack, abuse and trauma. Horrific crashes, mountaintop plunges, gaping wounds; scars of the body and mind, the slow decay of time. We brush the ash and darkness off those who survive, and honor the ones who don’t. You mean to tell me that car parts, splinters, demanding clients, bent nails or challenging coworkers compare?
And Darling, when I walk through the door to eat, wash and surrender to the silent (and occasionally elusive) indifference of sleep, I don’t only wish I could unload these thoughts on you and demand of your sympathy and affection in return. I want also to hold you and cushion the tears wrung from you by a difficult day, and share a hug of greater duration and license than a chaste hug among friends and co-laborers. I want to fold you into the richness of the same compassion that drives me at work, and share this love, this heart without caution or reserve.
Time grows short before studies resume. For the second week in a row, none of the dozen invites I sent out to join me for a movie were answered or accepted, so I spent an evening in a restaurant with a Dickens novel. I went for a walk under the bright glow of a full August moon, one of the year’s brightest they say. Mists are rising from the ground as I walk and pray. Someone drives past and a woman shouts out the window something to the effect of “see you later, baby!” Yes my lady, if you continue your habit of weekly inebriation and driving, I expect you will.
My mother herself had surgery this past week. She seems to be recovering.
And I, at last, seem to have depleted either the words to write, or the will to write them. I hope your week has been of equal significance but less challenge, and you know already that my prayers accompany you on whatever difficulties you face. Even a bent fingernail.
The fireflies are gone from the meadows, their light replaced by the whirring buzz of cicadas.
I don’t find a lot of answers hanging from the overhead limbs near the bridge as I walk tonight. Maybe that’s because I’m too tired to ask the questions. Last weekend, the lightning lit up the sky terrifically and while it quite reflected the disquiet within, it also shortened the time spent outdoors. And yet, sometimes the best shelter is the storm.
The moonless night offers very little sympathy, and off yet another long week of shifts, with barely time to wash, dine and sleep before rising to repeat, I find myself mentally probing through the lack of havens I have. I have plenty of friends with whom I can call up and go see a movie. Plenty that identify with the dim and daunting view of a rotting society. But no one that’s proved much of a shelter, nurturing, energizing, pleasant, and yet without sacrificing the knowledge and understanding that might contribute to such concern. It’s uncanny that some of the people with whom I am on best terms are at work. Long labor is, like people themselves, both the curse and the cure.
“What’s really wrong?” I imagine you asking, as if you were in spirit at my elbow and writing the question across the page.
Darling, you know enough, and I needn’t multiply these thoughts by spreading them.
You’re hurting. Tell me.
Very well, you asked.
What’s wrong is that I’m tired, the kind of tired that cannot be fixed by a vacation. It dawned on me this week that for the first time, I grow a little tired of this job, or at least of its dominance in the schedule I keep. Whether clouds or sun, there is a tempest within that cannot be fled.
I grow tired of an amoral society. Of mediocre friends who neither understand nor support nor share my fledgling attempts at righteousness, who don’t see the storms forming in the eastern sky. Of working and eating and showering and sleeping, and then working and eating and showering and sleeping. Tired of dwelling with those who put forth a fraction of effort and reap far more generous harvests, enriching businesses but not lives. He produces value for companies; I produce value for people, one tender and failing soul at a time. Everyone looks down on someone whose job expects of him to bathe old people for a living — until it’s their grandmother that needs a gentle hand. I don’t understand the people who live for themselves and their personal pleasures. “Day is done, now my life can resume”; the people who get loud and drunk, who have card games and drinking matches, club binges, all-nighters.
I’m tired of being inundated by sex; of seeking a quarry so necessary and yet so elusive. Tired of needing someone who understands, but too tired or or too unwiling to lift the weights and raise the gate. I don’t want to feel invaded, nor to be someone’s burden. Tired of seeming worthwhile and impressive to everyone except the people I find worthwhile and impressive. Tired of making sacrifices which are seldom seen and less often appreciated. Of giving all night and being underappreciated. Of sleeping through the choice times of day because I need the money by night.
I met a man who told of revitalizing the asphalt industry by infusing greater percentages of polymer into the mix, at a time when it was most needed. Then competing companies orchestrated false reports of danger to undercut his efficiency and maintain their lucrative contracts. There now, you see? Everyone who does important work is overlooked. The cleaners and bakers, the butchers and road-makers, pilots and engineers. I suppose in the end, everyone’s story is forgotten, even if their labors live on.
I’m tired of eating right, living right, exercising right, working right, and sensing no reward. Of all that I need being all that I lack. Of the song and singer, act and actor, the poet and lover, all confessing “You are all I need” and “how could I live without you?” and knowing their fear has been my reality I every day of my life.
Tired of feeling like I have no true haven. Tired of being suspicious of those that portend compassion, holding people at arms length because I distrust the ambition behind their kindness.
I’m tired of a ceaseless flurry of thoughts unfulfilled. Of becoming dull and witless, by virtue of time spent in the company of the dull and witless.
Of loving more and not being able to. Of hungering and thirsting and not being filled. Of seeking the kingdom of God and not having the rest added. Of being told God is enough, yet feeling empty as often as not. I’m weary and heavy laden, but not given rest. But then, maybe Jesus didn’t mean those choosing to work overtime hours to put themselves through school.
I’m tired of civil enemies and uncivil friends. Of waking up on a Friday and having no idea what to do with the evening because places are closed and you aren’t here to spend it with.
Of looking for something new. That’s why a stranger saying hello at the theater was welcome, even though I was guarded against it. Even though I had to tell her I wasn’t looking for a relationship, not with someone who wasn’t in the kingdom. It’s also why I bought a trove of new books recently. Maybe one day I’ll take you to that store and buy you some books.
I suppose, in the end, I see very few caretakers left in the world, and I worry that I won’t be able to find someone to take care of me.
I flatter myself in taking for granted that I will care for you. Caring is in my DNA. To protect you, I have worked federal and private security, trained with weapons, my hands and my mind. I am tall, my gun is never far, and I train to be strong. To provide for you, I have left the calling I thought I knew to pursue a sure career. It will provide opportunity to grow and advance. I have given of my life to learn how to save the lives of others. To look after you, I’ve learned about how your body works, and the battle-plans of the many diseases which afflict mankind. To please you…well, we will discuss that when the time comes. To plan for you, to prepare for you, to listen to you. I’m ready for that. I’m ready to try. I’m not afraid.
One reason I hesitate to venture into the land of internet matching is because I am ever the writer; in my head, the story you and I are writing separately, but will one day harmonize, writes much better if we meet and happen to hit it off unintentionally, rather than selecting each other as acceptable to meet in hopes that we will hit it off. There is so much less pressure, obligation, expectation.
There you have it, dearest. There’s the lion’s share of the clouds in my heart tonight. Thank you for asking, and listening. To know you care, well, that is a gale that would daunt any dark horizon. They aren’t always yours to drive away. Sometimes God drives away the storm…and sometimes His greatest lessons are taught in its midst.
I remain ever
Yours most sincerely,
“Do you go to the movies alone a lot?”
That’s the question she asked me as we both headed towards our cars. It was one of those nights where I’d awoken in the late afternoon. Remarkably, I’d managed to have two bad nights at work and decided I needed escape, even if alone. And alone it was. The movie wasn’t worth much, and halfway down the theater, a silhouette indicated someone else was also staying for the credits. As she rose to leave, she picked up her small daughter, and we both headed the same direction.
“Tonight I do,” I replied, figuring that would suffice for the present. My whole week hasn’t been great, and she didn’t need to know the full extent. We made some brief exchange of small talk about the movie, and, satisfied that she was capable of juggling her drowsy daughter and her keys, I bade her good night and walked on to the car. It occurred to me that perhaps I’d prejudged her. Nowadays, single moms are most often the result of living apart from God’s will, whether through casual sexual encounters or flippant attitudes towards marriage. But husbands die or sin so greatly that the marriage must be dissolved. There are Biblical reasons for it that are no fault of the woman. So I stood by my car and breathed in the luxury of silence which had often eluded me during the week. She drove back by, and rolled down the window. We talked for about 20 minutes.
I suppose I just want you to know, I gave her a chance. She is not a believer, a single mom and a waitress. I’m afraid that’s just too many strikes for me. I do think, if you’re a single mom who has had the misfortune of living out a Biblical divorce, you should probably identify those reasons as soon as possible, especially if you seek a Christian man who might naturally be wary of a single parent.
She was a nice lady, and she seemed to be a good mom. (Aside from letting her daughter see a frightening PG-13 movie, but she seemed to be questioning her own choice on that) And as we made conversation, it occurred to me: Is this is how the world does it? To consider the thought of being touched and loved on and rank it above all else that reason and wisdom could argue? Easily could I have invited myself to follow her home and talked more. That option was clearly on the table. And who knows what could have followed. I wasn’t tempted; I was observing a potential “one-night stand” specimen under a microscope.
And how does a Christian immediately indicate disinterest to avoid leading someone on — without being rude? How do you maintain proper friendship, civility, kindness, without signaling romantic interest? Christ never had to be anything less than kind because He didn’t want to send the wrong signals.
Anyway, with an exception or two, she was the first soul to speak kindly to me in a few days, and it wasn’t unwelcome. But if it was a test, I believe I passed. It’s possible I should reevaluate the wisdom of going out alone, given that last time I encountered that wild child girl who was so pretty on the outside and so uncouth inside. Visiting with family was an option, except that I was worn to barest patience, and one does not visit the family these days without a moderate reservoir of patience.
Yes, I’m afraid it was another long week at work. I was unfamiliar with my colleagues and prefer to remain so. I took a particularly unpopular stand for an issue, and found myself sharply criticized not just by friends, but by the very friends to whom I’d endeavored to reach out in one form or another. It’s a given that I try to be there when people are hurting or needy. After all, these days it’s not good form to break down and simply ask for help, especially if you’re a man. You set your jaw, you man up, you get over it and you move on with life. Some people don’t have any other option. So I include them in movie invites, ask how they’re doing, listen, encourage, pray and help practically whenever I can if need arises. To have them quickly leap to the worst conclusions and sharp rebukes ranked among the unkindest cuts of all.
Still further, many of them seem to wonder (or ask) what my problem is, relating to the topic discussed, which was whether or not a woman should be allowed to dress down or show skin. I’ve explained to some of them that being a man with honorable intentions is a daily battle. Among the voices inside each man’s head, the drumbeat of sex is ever-present. Books, magazines, advertisements, movies, TV shows and music all beat that drum until it is nearly inescapable. Sexuality pervades my culture; it is inescapable. I strive to master these thoughts, to take them captive, to discipline them and to continue looking at women as human beings, not objects. It’s hard when even women objectify women. For a woman to step out in varying states of dress (and summertime is notorious for such displays) only cranks up the volume and feeds the very desires we’re striving to master. For Christian women to assert their right to wear whatever they want, that it’s the man’s job to discipline himself, is the height of insensitivity and offense…to say nothing of naivete when it comes to taking precautions against the wiles of a predator.
So they ask me what my problem is. And because I’ve been a compassionate listener in the past, I know each of their stories. I know that each of them has either quietly given up their attempt to remain pure, or has quite flagrantly cohabitated with their boyfriend or girlfriend. They have cheated their way out of the frustration latent to doing things God’s way. And then, the gall to suggest the problem is mine?
“One day you’ll find her and none of this will matter,” sighed a good friend I later spoke with on the matter.
I don’t know that I have a hopeful plea to encourage you with in closing, my dear. What more can I say? Only that with each passing day, I strive to become a better person, and I look for you, and pray for you. And that I hope you’re doing the same…that you can be a quiet voice of reason and strength and compassion when the world turns against me. I know such expectations voiced aren’t nearly so entertaining to read. When you’re looking through a glass darkly, not all of the promises and hopes read as they ought.
Every fibre of my being awaits your unveiling. I hope you’re holding out for me, my dear. Always, always wait for me. Once I know where you are, I’ll always come for you.
Be Not Weary
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Sometimes, when I am toil-worn and aweary,
All tired out, with working long, and well,
And earth is dark, and skies above are dreary,
And heart and soul are all too sick to tell,
These words have come to me, like angel fingers,
Pressing the spirit eyelids down in sleep.
“Oh let us not be weary in well doing,
For in due season we shall surely reap.”
Oh blessed promise! when I seem to hear it,
Whispered by angel voices on the air,
It breathes new life, and courage to my spirit,
And gives me strength to suffer and forbear.
And I can wait most patiently for harvest,
And cast my seeds, nor ever faint, nor weep,
If I know surely, that my work availeth,
And in God’s season, I at last shall reap.
When mind and body were borne down completely
And I have thought my efforts were all vain,
These words have come to me, so softly, sweetly,
And whispered hope, and urged me on again.
And though my labor seems all unavailing,
And all my strivings fruitless, yet the Lord
Doth treasure up each little seed I scatter,
And sometime, sometime, I shall reap reward.
The days and feelings all jumble together.
Two nights ago, there was a great storm. Alegfast is away and I’ve the house to myself, and my heart smiled to hear rain on the roof. The clock struck midnight, and the lightning flashed on the horizon. I chanced to venture outside before a particularly close bolt strongly recommended the indoors as a safer alternative.
What phenomenal creatures, lightning! Transient suns in forests of rain, huntless game both proud and wild. They contain more power than we could hope to harvest, and yet are casually wasted in errant displays of might, flashing as if only for their own sport. They outpaces the blink of an eye, creatures “which doth cease to be, ere one can say it lightens” leaving its footprint on the ear only in the wake of departure. Yet they are idle enough to meander in their path. Fearsome to hunt indeed, would be the lightning.
The following day is mild and beautiful; it wants something done with it. It wants wordless enjoyment and appreciation, it beckons to be celebrated and reveled in. Yet, here I am torn, for words are all I can avail myself of which affords any sort of connection with you!
Changing winds always stoke up the restlessness, and this preview of autumn is no different. It wants for impatient chasing through pastures and by creeks, it wants for hiking and biking, snuggling and conversing. It challenges us to chase starlight and hail the smiling moon. There is nothing I can contrive to satisfy what this day wants of me. It wants us. Fleeting winds brush the skin only remind me they can’t be caressed in return, nor do they care. They only whisper “She’s not here. She’s not here. She’s not here.”
Uncertain of how to answer these challenges, I load up my bike and drive to the southern trail. The rain-washed sky against the vibrant green fields makes the perfect backdrop, and I listen to sermons as I ride.
Telling myself I can still go to work later in the evening, I open the windows, wash and lay down to rest. Hours later, I awaken halfway through the night, well-rested and faced with a neighborhood submerged in silence. Circadian rhythms are overrated once you break out of them. Now, with nothing better to do, I dress and go for a walk. It’s a morning crisp and chill, promising another mild and inviting day. Prayer and memory mingle with aromas and essences, some of them unexplainable. Why do I smell the old motorhome that my grandparents once brought to my childhood home? Or why the disinfectant which recalls a class three summers ago? How inextricable are the aromas from their memories.
Wherever you are, I imagine you are somewhere adrift on the high seas of your dreams. Your chest is rising and falling amid slumbering sighs, missing me during your days too if I’m not mistaken; you’ve no idea that you’re being prayed so intently while you sleep.
I’ve examined this paradox before, but I remove it from its box to ponder yet again. Contained within this life of mine are all the ingredients that should make a body happy. (And indeed, coming off one of my longest stretches yet, logging nearly a hundred hours at work, there is a sort of blissful content to be had, the kind only wrought by cessation of an unpleasant task, or a pleasant one maintained too long.) My work has purpose and meaning. I seem to find favor with my colleagues and clients alike. The path none too distant can only improve. During intervals in which I don’t work, I collect whomever will follow and find some dinner or a movie or both. I owe no financial attachment to anyone, and the Lord is attending all my needs. My prayers ought to consist only of thanks and gratitude. Indeed, for the present, there should be no petitions to present, no pleas to proffer. The Lord knew them before they were spoken the first time, and they’ve been spoken often enough since.
And yet. And yet, when I’m out here, I am aware that in a way, life hasn’t truly even begun yet. That’s a harrowing thought, considering the ages and afflictions of some of my patients aren’t so much greater than mine. This life misses the care and companionship of someone sensible, gentle and devoted, someone made kind from seeing enough pain and loneliness. The kind of person who wins me over with the little things.And you know, it will really be the little things. It’s always the little things that catch my eye, that give grounds for a second look. Someone using a minced oath rather than a true one. Someone who ignores or walks away from the obvious vulgarity. Something as simple as handing someone else a piece of cake before taking yours. The way you interact with children. There was a girl with whom I worked some days back. A patient, half out of her head, expressed fear. We attended her physical fears as much as we could, and as I left the room, I heard her gently ask if she was a woman of faith. Halfway out the door, I was awestruck as I listened to her unfold a prayer before the throne that would make any minister’s congregation proud. Oh, she’s taken, never fear. But it’s little things like that which grab and hold my attention. It’s the behavior of an outlier, and seldom have I seen such deeds as make me give glory to God.
She later confided troubles she faced between her family and her current suitor, troubles which I could tell she would not tell just anyone. (I’m always so infernally safe for people to confide in.)
And look at all my friendships. Most of them seem to be ministries of a sort. I wasn’t the sort of kid when younger whom others came up to and invited me along. I learned how to grow up on my own two feet. I can’t immediately think of someone who isn’t family that I’m not on guard against in some small way. Some nights, I conclude I need to leave people to spin on their own wheels for a while and attend my own needs. But only for a night. A full night’s sleep later, I’m fresh enough to start the circuit of checking in on people again, because I know they need someone to check in on them. I can’t really think of anyone who’s doing the same for me.
You know, I was listening to a radio program on my way home from biking, one of those programs that troubleshoots and advises couples on love and marriage. The wife interviewed spoke of mismatched blind spots she didn’t anticipate, like being a morning person versus a night owl, or serving someone who’s laid up sick. Surely these are the words spoken this side of ignorance, but the warnings mentioned did not even faze me. I’m both a morning and an evening person as need calls; and pull 24- and 36-hour shifts when need arises. I’m used to attending the needs of seven and twelve patients at a time, laid up sick and hurting and all having needs to be prioritized and met. Do you think one wife laid up will be a trial?
I am considered by many to be unwavering and unbending on many issues of import; but beneath that, beyond the standards laid down by God Himself, I believe most people who truly know me would say I am pleasant and easy-going. I don’t get hung up on the trappings and bickering of too many insignificant things like I’ve seen so many colleagues or friends do.
So when I make my vows to you, to serve and honor and cherish, it’s because I will mean it. When I discharge the duty laid upon me by the Lord Jesus through the Apostle Paul to love you as Christ loved His bride, it’s with the intent of loving you up to and including my own death. You will be my wife. You will be part of me. As woman was taken from man, so man takes woman back to himself; I will fold you into my own existence and protect you as my very own — bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. There will be times when reason rejects and inclination opposes; you won’t want to love me, nor I you, and for perfectly valid reasons that either of us is, in the moment, acting incredibly unlovable and stupid. There will be highs and lows of our voyage together. But when the storms come, at least you and I will have each other to stand beside at the helm.
Until then, my dear, I salute from afar the memories we have yet to make, and the appointments we have yet to keep. I’ll turn my attention back to the waves and sails, and navigate them as best I can until you come to claim your place at my side.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
My heart and soul are all to tired to tell;
So weary, Lord,
Of this long, ceaseless work of doing well,
Oh, I have been thy servant now for years,
Nor made complaint,
Though my life cup has been abrim with tears,
But now I faint.
And I have worked for thee, with all my strength,
In pain and woe.
My Master, canst thou chide me, if at length
I ask to go?
Oh, if the soul is purified by fire,
Then I am blest.
The laborer is worthy of his hire –
Lord, give me rest.
Rise and shine! This morning I’m drawing back the curtains and, if you were sharing my bed, kissing you awake. Have you ever been kissed awake? I expect you have. Well, we won’t dwell on it. It’s time to get up! I’ve already been awake, ran a 5K of my own devising, and have cooked up breakfast — yoghurt, oatmeal and hot eggs if you’ve stomach enough for them.
What then! Did you think your Beren was always beset by darkness? Nonsense. Darkness parts as surely as the sun rises. Night is no master over me, and dawn is ever the hope of men. And furthermore, I’d rather be empty from effort than empty from idleness. At least I know others have profited in the emptying. I daresay that one day you will be the heir to firstfruits of such labors, and then we’ll both have more to show for them than a mere paycheck.
I often know what I need, I just haven’t sense enough to follow through. My body wanted feeding and sleep, and I’ve given it that…a full shift’s worth, and well-earned if I may make such a pronouncement modestly.
Upon awakening, I breakfasted (at dinnertime) and then invited friends to join me for a movie, with dinner to follow. It’s worth noting as an aside that most of my friends of significance or depth are women. Perhaps it’s the necessary outcome of being a single man working and schooling in a predominantly female world. Or because the fairer sex still has the greater measure of consequence and depth. Regardless, if you notice this as a defining trait in my life once you enter it, please know that it isn’t something over which to become jealous. None of these women are pursuits or interests, but merely friends — friends for whom, I hope, I can set an example of what men ought to be. And anyway, in the case of last night, plenty of fellows were invited as well and declined.
When I returned home, I dispatched several of the menial household duties to which a bachelor is confined while profiting by another sermon before retiring to bed with a book. With the book I made progress; less so the bed. And so, I rose to run and eat and wake you to see if you wanted any. (Yes Darling, I’m afraid your future husband has just as much ebb and flow as any ocean, and his energy and vigor as unpredictable as the surge and swell of any tide. In short, no more or less human than any other.)
Smell, you say? Nonsense; simply the manly musk of an early morning jog! The sunshine is already spilling golden onto the cottages and byways of the kingdom; the sidewalks and lawns already teeming with squirrels and cardinals.
Now then, we’ve plenty of time before church to dine leisurely in the cool of the morning if you’ve a mind to awaken and join me on the patio. What’s that? Me come to bed? But it’s morning! What’s that?
Ohh. Yes ma’am.