“Lay a whisper on my pillow
Leave the winter on the ground
I wake up lonely, this air of silence
In the bedroom, and all around…”
I woke up this morning with a sense of loneliness and emptiness, deeper than it’s been in a while — which is saying something. You know well enough that I hit these spells of finding myself needing an intervention, someone to pull me up out of the fatigue, dust me off, cheer me up, take me along.
Surely you’ve felt that feeling before. If you’ve never experienced that emptiness, I don’t know how to describe it to you. It’s the wanting of a voice — almost any will do if it speaks kindly — that reminds you that you’re good, kind, worthwhile, desired, special. But the catch is, you need not just to be told you’re not alone or good or wanted, but to feel it and believe it…and believe it from someone you trust. Now, there are plenty of voices that are complimentary out there…the voices of sheep, those made to feel safe or be safe by my presence. But none of such stature as to make me receptive to their compliments. I think only yours is the one that will actually make me believe that.
You may stop and ask me, “what did you mean by sheep just now?” That sounds derogatory, doesn’t it? I don’t mean it to. But years ago I learned that the world made more sense when viewed through the classification of wolves, sheep and sheepdogs. If I never shared this illuminating article on the subject, please read it now. It explains my nature better even than I could, and helped me understand myself — the impulse to serve, the instinct to react, the drive to learn and study how to be more useful to the world. (I’m thinking of certifying as a life guard this summer for instance.) I think it makes sense that for some, God implanted the desire to serve and guard and protect…a compulsion to better the world even if the world worsens you in the process. To care for people, to care about them, to your own endless fatigue. They don’t, after all, care for you in return. I don’t remember the last time anyone called me “just to catch up” or to see how I’m doing, and few are the friends who text me just to see how the day is going.
There is something about dealing with emergencies for a living that sets you apart. It’s not ego or condescension Darling, it’s just the truth. I went out to dinner with my same friends last night, Loswen and Alegfast and the rest. Having just come off the floor of a busy medicine ICU, having stood by those who were waging their silent war against death, I was struck again by the banality and triviality of their pursuits and conversations. It’s one reason why they’ll never understand me, not really. They sipped their wine and their jokes became increasingly vulgar, and I see anew that these people are sheep. They are harmless and safe — exactly what I hope never to be. There’s nothing wrong with being a sheep after all, and these work hard and have their own set of skills and talents given them by God. But I know I would be claustrophobic in their lives, and never be content being a sheep. It’s just who I was made to be. I’ve never stopped running, never stopped trying to better myself, never stopped trying to be useful.
But when you want to be understood, it’s hard to find kinship among the sheep, and hard to go from participating in the most significant moments in a person’s life — of life itself — to chatting about the most ridiculous stories and useless societal engagements. Maybe I’m tired of being a big person in a world of small people. Maybe I just want the same respect I had for my field that I did when it was only an aspiration. I asked a colleague about it tonight, an officer of thirteen years. He strongly agreed, it’s hard to exist in a world where you are always prepared not for if things go wrong, but when. Because when they do, you have to bring your A-game, he said, and no one understands that. When sheep make mistakes, an art print goes wrong, a printer doesn’t work, a tuxedo is misshapen. When a sheepdog makes mistakes, lives hang in the balance. It would be nice if they would at least appreciate that some of us are willing to face those odds, I mused to him. He chuckled and said he was a bitter man in some ways because of it, but thirteen years has taught him never to expect appreciation.
I could never tell them this is how I feel. Sheep show little regard for the sheepdog until he is needed, but even then, it would be ungentle to tell them, and they wouldn’t understand. And I suppose, to help him forget the weight of life and the battle of wolves, the sheepdog needs the sheep.
“I just feel like whenever you hang around with us, we’re corrupting you!” Dirvestalë exclaimed. (It was his birthday we were celebrating, and though I had no great desire for wine or overpriced entrees, I put myself in his shoes and felt I should be present for a while.) I spoke not a word of judgment, even as the wine loosened their tongues, so I don’t know whence this observation came. I grasped for tactful words to deflect, but truthfully I’m not sure he’s wrong.
I’m far from incorruptible. But I never did feel as comfortable invoicing God’s account of grace as others seem to. I know I can’t earn salvation, but I’m still puzzled by this equalization wherein the deeds of a man seem not to weigh on his account, such that grace simply steps in and makes up for any deficit. It’s as if God’s grace is an overdraft protection against sin, and we all need that protection and forgiveness, some of us try to need it less, or to make sure the debits are neither as big nor as willful. I want to spend my deeds responsibly, make them be worthwhile and lasting. Sports, pop culture, reality TV…none of that is lasting. “Civic religion,” a friend called it; a slow idolatry of letting the world cozy into your heart. But grace covers every overdraft, and again, how does that promote responsibility?
Sometimes I get lost in the could-be’s or might-have’s. Wondering if I missed a chance, or made the wrong move. I have to remind myself God’s in control, even if it’s hard to believe my circumstances are where He wants me to be. I struggle to know how best to operate within my culture. Where does acceptance, tolerance or compromise end, and integration, grace and evangelism begin? Of Jesus, they said he was a gluttonous man and drunkard who sat with sinners. Does that mean we shouldn’t care about our witness before men? Or doesn’t the world expect that a Christian doesn’t frequent bars? People tell me I can be short on grace. Some of these voices are the sheep who find taking a stand distasteful. But even sheep can be wise, and some of them ring with a truth I can’t deny, even if I have difficulty merging it with everyday life. If only my own sins grieved me as much as others. The price of having been a Christian your whole life and having not really made breathtaking overdraws on the account — and living in a culture which makes overdrawing into a spectator sport — you start to feel a little proud of yourself for staying strong and above the fray.
“Hate what is evil, cling to what is good.” Aha, but good is a dwindling commodity in this world, that no one can deny. Even the seemingly committed Christians don’t seem to mind the darkness, not as much as they ought. “Doesn’t this bother you,” I ask. Not really. And if we become increasingly tolerant of the deeds of darkness, and accept them in the name of tolerance rather than renouncing the deeds and imploring the doers to escape them, where will our culture end up? (Hint: I think we’re already nine-tenths there.)
Invariably, the people who don’t operate under this model — the outliers — interest me. People who don’t follow the normal script, who stand out and are exceptional, who have seen the darkness, and sometimes live under its shadow. But it’s hard to find someone who’s an outlier and a sheepdog…who knows the weight of the compulsion to serve, who cares and appreciates and listens, if such a thing will be done to them in their turn.
It makes you think and feel and wonder…having never met anyone else like me, is it possible there really is no one else? A man with a legacy of political change under his belt (who just this week was on the line with the editor of the New York Times) but who traded that cape for a plastic hospital gown, who carries enough knowledge and equipment of his own to save a life, or render that life beyond saving, that “funny critter” with his nose to the wind even though he’s not paid to protect?
And the truth is, in finding no one that seems to reflect or understand these perspectives and principles, on what do I base this great hope to find someone as psychologically and emotionally compatible as I’ve thought I might? Maybe I truly am a unique, one-of-a-kind. If I’ve dwelt in my head for this long and still continually seek to explain myself, how could I expect someone else to understand me? If so I need to dismiss the hopes of finding someone that sees the world as I do…maybe expect that the person I find really won’t be on the same page as me in a lot of ways.
You may think I’m making my life out to be grander than I ought. Maybe I am. But Darling, keep in mind, I’m confiding to you the hardships and pitfalls of it all, not the glories. I’m lamenting this existence, not lauding it. It requires massive energy to sustain, and has a cyclic effect of peaks and troughs. Sometimes it depends gentle classic tunes to soothe it, and sometimes the wild and angry storms to appease its tumult.
Believe me my dear, this life, this love, these thoughts, make for far better reading than they do living.
“Make-believing we’re together
That I’m sheltered by your heart.
But in and outside I’ve turned to water
Like a teardrop in your palm.
And it’s a hard winters day, I dream away…”
“Where has that old friend gone, lost in a February song
Tell him it won’t be long til he opens his eyes, opens his eyes
Where is that simple day before colors broke into shades
And how did I ever fade into this life, into this life?”
The page turns and another month is concluded. It’s been a year of ups and downs so far Darling, nothing phenomenal and nothing terrible, just an increasing speed as we plow through the breakers.
I’ve always been a bit wary of occasions in which a man and woman share dinner and a movie, or operate under similar circumstances which would normally be branded a date. At times, the line between kindness and flirtation already grows thin enough. I don’t want to lead a girl on, nor feed a placebo relationship and shortchange the soul of the nourishment it requires. But twice this week, I’ve been “out” with different friends in a form some would construe as a date. Loswen and I met for casual dinner, and somehow she found a way to make me do most of the talking.
Tonight, having invited several friends, only one could make it, a classmate I’ll call Nyérëwen. I knew we had similar beliefs, and that she was a single mom whose husband left her. She was on the verge of mourning due to the death of a mutual classmate. I asked her questions about her life. My intent was to listen to her and let her talk, because obviously she’d come by bitter roads, although I doubt she feels I did her a favor by listening. It doesn’t matter…the actual benefit given is what matters. She was distracted and occupied tonight, and perhaps that’s reason enough that no one else came. I suppose I don’t mind. She obviously needed to get her mind off the bad day she’d been having, even if it was dinner and a dollar movie with me. I wanted to hug her close and tell her she’d made the Lord proud through all of her struggles, and that she was so close to finally breaking even. But one restrains such expressions; knowing what to say isn’t always useful if you know you shouldn’t say it. Words weave powerful spells, and you must take caution on whom you cast them.
Still, I wonder how many people have wanted to do that to me and restrained themselves? And I can’t remember the time someone sat down with me just to listen, asking questions when the words ran dry, intentionally applying therapeutic listening skills to help me feel better. And then, I presume, patted themselves on the back before going straight home to tell their unknown bride what a good listener they are.
I wish I could say I knew this classmate that died, but with so many women in the program, I didn’t. I wish I’d shared the gospel with her, but how could I have known? Sometimes the gospel is lived, not preached, but maybe that’s just as easily a coward’s way out. I’m sure I’ve told you how, whether megachurches, airports or the vast complex of hospital floors on which I work, I’ve always wound up working with large masses of people. It’s been difficult to remember names or faces, and I’ve been known to lose track of who’s already heard what story or bit of news.
It does seem that loneliness transcends these crowds. I’ve been with friends this week, in a few different groups and settings. For a little while, it staves off loneliness. But only at the time. I had most of the day off today, and again, after a packed week, I still went slightly stir crazy with “only” an article to work on.
I’m always looking for things that explain me as you know, Darling. Half the sum of these letters are my meager attempts to explain myself, to me as much as you. In light of that, take a look at this article. Traits one through six apply directly, as well as numbers ten and fourteen. I always thought sensitivity was a trait you chose, a behavior you selected. I’m not sure it occurred to me that “some people just aren’t as sensitive.”
I went to the bookstore two nights back. Their anthologies of poetry were unfortunate, and I walked out without one book of poetry in hand. What is the world coming to?
I’m likely to be moving again. A dark-hearted cheat tried to sell me a dream about renting my own house, but in time I saw through the lies. And the fellow I room with currently is presenting behaviors I don’t think I can long abide. So, in all likelihood it’s back with Alegfast, in a house too old and cramped and tight for my liking. But the price, company and proximity are right.
More icy weather is on the way this week. They say it could be bad, in the truest tradition of my city’s ice storm heritage. Bring it on.
I’m still praying for you, you know. I hope your weekend has a little more receiving and a little less giving than mine.
“And I never want to let you down; forgive me if I slip away
When all that I’ve known is lost and found
I promise you I, I’ll come back to you one day.”
- Josh Groban
And here you are, arrived at another weekend. You are probably sleeping as I write; I ought to be. But sleep eludes, and we both know our relationship is more important than sleep, even if it exists only in the letters we write.
I think we all experience the moments (hopefully brief) where we don’t like ourselves. We balance our looks, knowledge and personality against what others have and find ourselves wanting. I’m sure you’ve looked at yourself, at your life and possessions, and not liked what you see.
I think all wise people at some point in their life come to dislike themselves, by knowing themselves too well and dislike the frailties they see. Sometimes I don’t like me. I find it strange that a lot of other people seem to. But then, I don’t think they like me…they like the side of me that they see. They like social me, professional me, the me that has learned how to make fast friends with people, especially with whom you’ll be working for the next twelve hours. We all have different sides we show, different masks we wear. We all become just a little bit of someone else if we like them and are with them.
That’s why people like hanging around Alegfast. He’s happy and positive most all of the time. There are people who artificially portray this (the overcompensating fakers…we’ve all met one of those) and then there are those who are just generally positive and outgoing. I have a classmate who constantly radiates sunshine and joy, and I truly don’t know how she does it. Happy just isn’t who I am deep down, not all the time. I’m no war-scarred veteran, but I’ve seen death and sadness and tragedy. I stay alert to what’s happening in my world. I hear the thunder-peals of storms approaching. I’ve studied the darkness, the better to know how to prepare against it. The heart doesn’t break; it just has a thousand tiny fissures in it. Soon enough they calcify and harden. “To love at all is to be vulnerable,” wrote Lewis. “Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become breakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
Still…there’s something to be said for a heart immune to the sting and stench of brokenness. Or at least, a heart so accustomed to ache that it bends with pain rather than breaking from it.
What if you could go back and visit yourself as a child? What would you wear? What would you say? I haven’t the slightest idea where I’d begin. But I’d like to think that the me of fifteen or twenty years ago would look up to the tall man of his future walking towards him, confident and grown…and he’d be glad to know he’ll grow up to be at least most of the man he wanted to be. And as for advice? Well, how does one summarize two decades of life, in all its disappointments and triumphs? Like love, it’s really something that has to be lived to understand. Life is truly just a process of building up and then breaking down our illusions.
But again, this chubby young lad with his hick accent, goofy smile and hopeless personality was also naive enough to think adults knew what they were doing. Perhaps that would be the quickest rumor to dispel. Christ really is the solid rock, and everything else really is sinking sand. No one is ever absolutely certain of what they’re doing, and can seldom advise others any better. Often when I confront life’s dilemmas, I want to hear a word of wisdom from someone who cares enough to offer some sage counsel. Life seems increasingly flat, and people increasingly unintelligent as they offer such witless suggestions as “it’s just one of those things” or “you’ll just have to let that go.” I don’t know why I keep asking questions of people and thinking they might have a better answer than I. By the time they’ve offered a thought or a suggestion, my brain has already gone six steps ahead, and wants a new thought or a new perspective. Illuminating insights are hard to come by. And that’s why I’ve resolved to at least try to be that voice for others…advice and reason and compassion.
A nurse was obviously angry with her husband this week while we were working, and it bled over into her work. (She was unapologetically but consciously venting.) Well I don’t quite know what got into me, but I came over and massaged her shoulders and told her she needed to calm down. Then when she enumerated her cold intentions for the husband in question, I suggested going one more level up…the level of angry response where you’re so angry that you resolve to kill someone with kindness. “Tell him he may be a jerk but you love him anyway,” I suggested. “Bring home Chinese food.” She liked the Chinese food idea.
Sometimes I wonder if being Christ to the world doesn’t always mean just sharing the Gospel. Maybe it can be just the voice of being Christlike. But then, Christ emphasized to those He healed that salvation and forgiveness came before physical cures. It’s no good acting like Christ if you never meet Him.
I’m trying to reclaim that concept. I’m trying not to lose sight of what’s important. I’m trying to wrap my head around the concept of grace, and if there’s such a thing as too much grace. For example, if a couple is living in sin and violating God’s design for sex, marriage and relationships, is inviting them over for dinner a form of acceptance and fellowship with darkness (that which light ought not to have) or is it an opportunity to be a gentle witness? Why does it seem like those who throw grace at you are merely wanting you to add your signature to the permission slip they’ve written themselves to sin?
We shouldn’t continue in sin that grace may increase, but obviously the Lord forgives and wipes away the debts of our immoral deeds, and rejoices over the repentant sinner. Of course, I’ve asked the question before if “behaving” is worth it, since the prodigal son is invited in for a feast (having sipped dry the fountains of sin) while the loyal brother stays in the field. When I was young, speeding was a cardinal sin, and I once admonished my father for it from my car seat. Even when older, I was careful to follow it. I suppose I’m still proud I’ve never been pulled over, while other friends share their amused commiserations of the traffic schools they’ve attended and tickets they’ve had to pay. I assumed from the Bible and my upbringing that alcohol was, if not sinful, at least a vice and certainly less preferable. But that aversion evolved into something akin to a graceless and proud perspective — graceless in struggling to accept drinking in other believers, and proud because I’ve never joined that activity. And anyway, if God forgives, what’s the point of trying? If obedience pleases God no more or less than anyone else because all our righteous acts are as filthy rags, then why wouldn’t you have a little fun? Why not let that profanity slip out a bit more easily? Why not watch movies or TV or music that set a tone far more resonant with hell than heaven?
Maybe grace is what’s more important. Maybe I’ve just been to uptight about all of it. After all, God didn’t even get on King David’s case for multiple wives…only for having a kid out of wedlock. And God was pretty matter-of-fact: “You’ve done wrong, you’ve got some consequences to pay.” The baby died, and David was sad. No death penalty. No time behind bars.
God forgives. He’s really, really forgiving. And we should all be grateful, because no one doesn’t need grace. But beyond that, I’m understanding increasingly less the fact that additional obedience doesn’t matter. Whether you’re Mother Teresa or a reformed killer, no one can “earn” God’s favor, and anyone who tries is just admonished for falling into the trap of earning God’s favor, or trying to be better than someone else. And the more people to whom I pose this question, the less answer I get in return.
That’s the balance, Darling. Balancing the head and the heart…believing what God said and lining it up with what we feel. Feelings, someone said, should be viewed through Scripture, not Scripture viewed through our feelings. Finding the heart to accept people even if your mind assertively stamps their behavior as intolerable. I stopped by to see a few friends-of-friends that are becoming friends last night. One was meeting a man she’d talked with online, and asked me for my advice. She abruptly mentioned my pursuit of purity in a mate (something I hadn’t mentioned since I’ve resolved to keep that quieter, so obviously our mutual friend brought this to her attention) and this immediately became a focus of the conversation. “It’s not a standard for me!” announced one of the girls. “You have to have some grace!” Clearly pride can be found within grace as much as in its absence. I changed the subject.
On another subject, I picked the wrong field to be a gentleman. I spent all Thursday night and Friday morning studying even further the art of breastfeeding, its pitfalls and complications, with a great many accompanying photos, illustrations and videos, along with a helpful teacher gesturing with her own body. It makes me appreciate who you are as a woman my dear, able to produce and nurture a baby. And no doubt it makes me more attuned to these things for later reference. But I can’t shake the feeling I’m being slowly desensitized and conditioned in so systematic a way as to rob from some future date the pleasure of that discovery.
In closing, I was profoundly amused tonight when my silent and stoic roommate returned home this evening with a woman with whom he’d apparently shared a date. They are both older, easily their forties or fifties. He’d only said “a friend” was coming over, he’d said nothing of a woman or a date, and I was thus unprepared to meet her. But we immediately hit it off and launched into a twenty minute conversation about politics, government and our mutual opinions of world affairs. If I had to guess from what I know of him, this was the most animated the conversation had become all evening. He sat there rather silent for most of the conversation, until I realized even if he’s been self-absorbed and remote, I should still leave him alone with his date. A brother never shows up another in front of his date, so hopefully that wasn’t the most amused she’d been. But I laughed all the way to the shower on that.
Good night, love. I hope your dreams are pleasant, and your waking no less.
Here you are, you’ve made it to the end of another weekend. As the world views it, you’ve spent two days at port and it’s time to put out to sea for another five days. I hope you were restful and productive, but more important, I hope you are caught up in something meaningful and worthwhile, sufficient that your week isn’t comprised of equal parts misery and endurance.
If I should be so fortunate as to receive your inquiries about my weekend, I had to work the megachurch again. I told them I would give them two weeks to find a replacement, feeling as I am like I am taking the devil’s paycheck to guard the church of sloven and slop. They exhibited music by Katy Perry, clips by Ellen Degeneres, and are inviting the audience to vote on the next best sermon. (There’s already a suspicious tally of votes cast for a concept so newly-unveiled.) God’s Word isn’t meant to be picked through like a child’s repast; it was meant to be a progressive meal, advancing through both the difficult and the easy parts, lest we conveniently avoid the difficult teachings.
Otherwise, much of it was spent on school projects, with some time spent visiting my family (at last). There are echoes of how things used to be, but bittersweet, because I know now I can’t seek refuge there anymore to flee my troubles. They have troubles enough all their own. It’s not a place of stability to which one can retreat.
We had more surprise snow last night. Most of the city is ready for spring, but of course it made me happy. I like the ground reflecting starlight, and the clouds reflecting the lights of the city. I like houses framed in frost, hooded in white with golden light wreathing the windows from within. Snow seems to be God freshening the canvas for us, if only for a little while. There’s something magical in it. Now they say warmth is coming. Nothing lasts forever.
I decided to visit the book shop tonight to see what specials could be had, or what treasuries of poetry could be found. I can never enter that shop but that I exit with several volumes. The problem was solved because they were closed upon arrival. And who should I spy discovering this fact at the same time but Loswen, her unmistakable silhouette visible in her unmistakable car. We’d never be lovers, Loswen and I. But I text her to editorialize the irony of mutual disappointment, and then later send her a message to tell her I can see she is having mild identity issues and to encourage her. Because of course, I can perceive the things in people that others don’t. (And when I say don’t, I mean won’t. Because after all, once you know about the problem, you can’t ignore it or not be accountable for not being part of the solution.) She was surprised, and then solicited specific prayer on the matter. Sometimes it’s like having emotional x-ray vision.
This apartment is quite nice, as is the price and arrangement. But compared to Alegfast, the extra pricing and distance made it worthwhile. This man, whom I shall call Araquilde, is deathly silent, introverted and unsociable. Moreover, his daughters came to visit — silly, giggling girls still amused by their own adolescence — and left personal hygiene refuse in my washroom.
I did something very silly on Valentine’s Day, my dear. I have a large black book bag that I carry with me nearly always. It contains weeks of papers, post-its, pencils and pens, as well as markers, highlighters, mints, lights, food bars, cords, a knife, pepper spray, a stethoscope and much more. I put it in the back seat instead of the passenger seat. You know, in case I met you. Such foolish things we do when we’re alone and lonely; such foolish hopes we cling to.
I read this quote recently: “It makes me sick, the way sadness is addicting. The way I can’t stop. Sadness is familiar. It’s comfortable and it’s easy in a sense that it comes naturally to me. But everything else about it is hard. The way my body aches with self-hatred. The way my mind spins and spins with hopeless thoughts. The way it poisons everything I do, every relationship I have. Yet it’s addicting, because I know sadness, and I know it very well. And there’s a sort of comfort in that, like being home after a trip or sleeping in your own bed after being away. There’s just a sense that this is where I belong. This is how it’s supposed to be.” (Marianna Paige)
I know I’ve wondered this before my dear, but maybe all these letters are in vain. We do have to allow for the possibility, don’t we? Maybe there is no high and lofty calling. I’m approaching my thirtieth trip around the sun. I’m too old to find young love, but too young to settle for old love. You know this; I’m older than my years.
Maybe there is no reward for virtue. Maybe if we actually find each other, our existence would be its own poetry, without all these frills and flames and rose petals — a fair lot of nonsense fueled by fantasy and flowery-tongued poets. As I look back over the last couple of years, there’s so much I’ve done and so many things I’d do differently. I’m sorry I’m not ready in time, Darling. I’m sorry I haven’t found you and swept you off your feet. I thought business and law were my calling, that there was goodness and purpose to be found. I thought that being right, that behaving and living by God’s principles would pay off. I thought being tall and caring and intelligent and listening would be enough. I didn’t expect to miss you this much, and I didn’t think it would take this long to find you. My strength isn’t fading, my dear. I can and probably will keep holding on simply because I’m stubborn that way. But as the church emphasizes grace over obedience, repentance over loyalty, and as even the Savior himself promises the worker hired to work through the heat of the day will receive the same wages as the roustabout who comes on board for an hour’s labors, I increasingly question the purpose of clinging so carefully to hypertraditionalism.
Sometimes I’d like to break this silver armor of mine. I already wrap it round to conceal it, because people hate its shine, just as a woman may dislike another for being attractive. Sometimes in days of uncertainty, we look for surety in the strangest ways. If insecure, we seek control if even through throwing away the things that made us secure. Sometimes I’d like to be more at ease with life and its vices; drink too much and become both the triumph and pity of the culture. “See Beren, laid as low as we! He drinks to forget. He’s no better than any other, he’s just like us.” With derision they’d say I’d fallen, and yet, it would relieve them of the uncomfortable knowledge that someone could both preach and uphold such a standard.
But I don’t. I won’t. I know now there’s little reward here on earth for those who wrestle with their attempts to be good. Women don’t find it appealing, men find it annoying and neither wants to afford the sacrifices it demands. The world doesn’t love it, the church finds no incentive to reward it, and even the Almighty seems not to reward good behavior like we were taught.
Don’t be discouraged by these thoughts, Darling. On nights like these, as we each trim our sails and prepare for another excursion across choppy seas, the darkness presses close, wringing only the saddest of thoughts onto the page.
Goodnight, my dear. I love you.
Time and Grief
William Lisle Bowles
O Time! who know’st a lenient hand to lay
Softest on sorrow’s wound, and slowly thence
(Lulling to sad repose the weary sense)
The faint pang stealest unperceived away;
On thee I rest my only hope at last,
And think, when thou hast dried the bitter tear
That flows in vain o’er all my soul held dear,
I may look back on every sorrow past,
And meet life’s peaceful evening with a smile:
As some lone bird, at day’s departing hour,
Sings in the sunbeam, of the transient shower
Forgetful, though its wings are wet the while:—
Yet ah! how much must this poor heart endure,
Which hopes from thee, and thee alone, a cure!
Hunger is the best seasoning. Too rare are the moments when both the word “finally!” and its significance can be breathed together. Life is a struggle, and things seldom go just the way we want. More often than we admit, that’s best for us.
Yet there do come moments whose sweetness is almost beyond savoring, moments where the burden of cares and of life itself is lightened, sometimes forever.
It may be the job we’ve always wanted, introducing us to achievement, respect and a new income bracket.
It may mean the luxury of new living arrangements, easing the constriction of a troubled mind.
It may be finally conquering a lifelong worry, finally understanding that we’re greater than the sum of our fears.
It may be succeeding where we thought we would fail — or the sigh of relief when the speech is done, the song is sung or the concerto played.
It may be triumphing over an exam or a class, when after anxious seconds the score is known and the knots of your gut finally loosen.
It may be a truth finally learned, a mystery solved under whose darkness you’ve labored for years.
It may be the slow and gradual awakening to the fact that we are capable and strong, the envy not of our peers but of our former selves; to realize you’ve become the self you aspired to be.
And then, it may be the peace and joy of finally, finally finding that long-sought special someone for whom we’ve pined.
None of these things solve life’s problems. They simply ease them. They don’t cure the affliction…but they do manage the symptoms. After all, it isn’t until you escape the surly bonds of earth that you recognize what a burden it is being a slave to gravity. Accustomed as we are to earth’s weight and pull, the lifelong struggle merely to stand erect, we don’t know what such relief is like until it happens. And then it does. And all the rest of life pales by comparison.
The irritations of life are diminished and its joys enhanced. Life’s problems loom less, its pleasures more. The world itself seems changed. Food is better, touch is kinder, patience keener, sun brighter. Sheet are softer, sleep is sweeter — and we are none the worse for waking. We wring meaning from life instead of life wringing meaning from us.
Perhaps this sentiment won’t feel as it seems, or else how could couples restrain themselves within the joy they’ve found?
I’m at the stage of life where most of these are still just a promise to strive toward. Which can be difficult since my peer group tends toward people who are already unwrapping those moments for themselves.
My dear, in this earthly life, marriage should be the single greatest and most important thing. School and work should be secondary; they will always be there with their opportunities, the bills will always come, the sick will always need of treatment. And maybe I do wrong by having to prioritize those things to keep the lights on and to keep progressing on the track towards which I can be your provider.
Age, though it asks only a day at a time of our lives, will continue grinding away at our hopes and our destinations. God knows what He’s doing…but we have our own “finally!” to find. Several of them, in fact. The ones we first say silently to ourselves as each learns more about the other. The finally of a relationship in which we both feel secure. The finally at the altar, or the honeymoon suite. The finally of a first house and a firstborn child, and all the other finally’s I wrote above. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get them started. One can be driven mad with the changing promises of those moments and their arrival. All we can do is keep pressing on. So Darling, I’ll see you there, and until then, I will see you in my prayers and dreams.
I’m sorry. I know today must have been at least a little unkind to you, if for no other reason than because you were alone. With valiant shades of pink, red and purple, with confectionery treats and horticultural blessings abounding and a dance floor full of fools, floozies and lovers and a tune you love, it’s hard to bid your feet be still. Truly, I wish I could have been there for you, to rescue from it. It may not have been a night to be carried away on a violet cloud of emotion and sentiment, but it could have been a day to spend together, or a chance to grow fonder. Instead, we spent it apart.
I’m so sorry.
I dearly hope you made at least some use of it. I? Well, I spent much of its darker hours in the Houses of Healing, and some of it at rest afterward. Actually, it was another overambitious play for study and work, beginning with a live simulation in the morning, a hasty lunch, a work-related training module and then sixteen hours across two different floors. This was followed by a swift breakfast and two hours of lecture for which I could scarcely stay awake.
By the time I wearily rolled to a stop, it had been a straight twenty-eight hours without rest, most of which were spent either with schooling or working. It was the kind of long day and night where you wish and hope someone will be waiting for you, to feed you and praise you and put you to bed. Someone who will show appreciation and pride and gratitude for your hard work, taking pride in a husband so fine as to give so deeply of himself daily. Not too long ago, a friend exclaimed “night shift is hard!” This is a truth with which I am intimately acquainted, but hearing it validated for the first time was gratifying. Before then, it was borne as truth that is silent and unacknowledged.
It’s a different world there Darling. Truly — a different world. Here death and his enemies dwell together, fighting a unique and often unseen war, behind the curtains where society shouldn’t look, and often family members dare not.
There is a brink and a chasm between life and death and standing in that gap are the healers charged with keeping as many souls on this side as they can. We see how fragile life can be…and how tenacious. Sometimes it comes down to the balance of a hair…a balance whose weight rests heavily on all of our shoulders.
There is no makeup, no hiding, no masks. Modesty, propriety, our public game faces, all are left at the threshold. Errors paid for in blood and death. Wounds seep, tears are shed and cries of pain echo. Their worst day is our everyday. We exist to lend grace and dignity in their most undignified moments, making the best of a bad situation. We are professionally and habitually unselfish. We put ourselves dead-last twelve and fourteen hours a day. We routinely, habitually and completely empty ourselves every shift. We surrender sleep, sanity and self to make our patients feel better. Our every day is the occasion to which others would have to rise.
I’d like you to be able to take pride in what your future husband does, my dear. That’s why I tell you this. No one wants to feed one’s own ego with self-placating praise, but we all need to hear that what we do is important, that we’re making a difference and our time isn’t wasted. When no one else (outside of the Houses themselves) understand this, one may resort to assuring himself of that fact. Healing is never “just a job.”
It is of course difficult to inflate one’s opinion of self-worth when one’s tasks frequently include the most menial of assignments, lowly of patients and basest of filth. And yet, it is difficult to diminish one’s worth when its direct results are seen in relief, gratitude and improvement in the condition of human suffering. In short, it’s meek work, but it always makes a difference, and if no one else tells us that, we have to tell ourselves.
I’d like you to be nurturing enough to know I am spent or weighted down and feel it incumbent on yourself to respond, whether by feeding me and then laying my head in your lap and asking what’s the matter, or by lovingly ordering me to the destination for which I was already bound.
We all need to be held. There is no substitute for arms full of compassion and willing to hold you for as long as you need it. Or so I’m told. I’ve never been looked-after in such a way. I hope I can look forward to it. I certainly know you can, and God willing by the skilled and well-taught hands of someone who knows.
It snowed again tonight. I spent some time with Loswen, Alegfast and their friends, before accepting the invitation which dispelled the last six weeks of silence between my family and I. I hope and pray those wounds, though maybe not forgotten, can be recovered from.
I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you, my dear. I’m sorry today was just another day. I promise I’ll make it up to you in the days to come.
Fondest thoughts from far away.
The White Rose
John Boyle O’Reilly
The red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
O the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.
But I send you a cream-white rosebud
With a flush on its petal tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on the lips.
How was your day?
I look forward to asking that question of you, of walking through the door, closing it and the world behind me and returning to the cloud on which I live, the one where dwells a wonderful woman who loves me and is pleased to be called my wife. I’ll love hearing your voice greeting me through the house. I’ll probably begin washing the dishes while you finish preparing supper, unless I’m lately come from the hospital and need showering first.
I’ll quietly revel in your trust and confidence in me as you share your day’s ups and downs.
How was your day today? What dragons did you face alone, what cares did you bear, what burdens did you carry? What tears were unshed because your husband wasn’t there to hug them out of you and then kiss them away? And to think, somewhere out there tonight you exist, burying your toes into a carpet or curling them up underneath to keep warm. (Lucky, lucky toes.) You may be studying, or working late, or cooking, or eyeing February 14th’s approach grimly. I don’t hold out great hopes for this Valentine’s Day, but I have a good feeling for next year.
Someone asked me the other day if I was still changing the world. I may not be changing the world every day, I replied, but hopefully I’m changing someone’s world every day. And that’s enough for now. On my way out last night, I walked past a woman leaning against the wall with her back to me, weeping. Such sights aren’t entirely uncommon in the hospital, and healthcare veterans must eventually make their peace with the reality that there will always be someone else who needs you. I almost walked past her. Then I realized, in this empty hallway, no knight, whether arrayed in armor or scrubs, could suffer this woman’s grief unchecked. Beyond asking if she was okay, I pulled her in for a hug, inquired about the problem, and wished her well. I wish I’d said more to her. I should have told her that God is all sufficient and will give strength to His servants. I wish I’d told her that she would be okay again, and that she would be strong enough for the darkness ahead of her.
Time gives all and takes all. It’s time that is our ally and our enemy. Have you noticed? Sometimes our memories, or time’s passage, are traps for our minds because we remember how things were. Sometimes those memories return too late, showing us what was important at the time even though we didn’t recognize it. Sometimes, we process things slowly, not understanding how we feel. We only know a moment’s worth once it’s gone.
Now that I’ve cleared the first hurdles of this term, it’s time to ramp things up. At the start of the week I had a morning class, an exam, a gym workout, a swim, a Bible study and then two hours at work to cover for a colleague before coming home to bed. In five hours, I was up before dawn to spend half the day learning. The other half was spent working. The schedule was much the same today except I was invited to hear a would-be senator speak. Tomorrow is another several hours spent learning before I work an overnight shift for another colleague. This weekend, I ride a helicopter with a trauma nurse and probably do even more work and study. If idleness is the devil’s workshop, I don’t intend to give much room for the hobbyists of hell.
When I was younger, I used to think everyone else knew what they were doing and I was one of the few that didn’t. It wasn’t until it dawned on me that half the people around me were as clueless as I (and another quarter of them were more clueless) that the light bulb clicked on. No one was going to come along and give me answers, make me get fit or eat right, or give me a job. Within submission to God’s will, I had to create those opportunities for myself. No one else was going to introduce themselves first, so now I do. It seems to inspire a confidence that others appreciate. I wonder if there’s any way I can make that light come on for our children earlier than it did for me?
Everyone complains about the cold, but tonight in The Village where I live (it really does somewhat resemble a Bavarian village) the icicles coat every eave like a painting or a decoration.
I should sleep. I’m afraid I’m rewriting most of this letter from memory after I all but completed it last night only to have it erased in a spontaneous reboot. Wherever you are tonight my dear, I hope you’re doing well.
It’s been quite a varied and interesting couple of days. Friday began with an examination for which I in no way felt prepared. (My pursuit, you see, is largely and capably designed to trick its pupils into answering incorrectly.) Instead, the final result was triumph in the highest degree.
The day then progressed to an hour-long session of testimonials for the medical field, which I found fairly unusual since everyone present was already within the field. But they provided lunch, and who am I to quarrel with a free meal? I was particularly grateful for the woman who put the Lord at the forefront of her short delivery, placing him as the guide in her life.
Then I went to work and asked if they needed help. They initially said no, but I knew one of the floors well enough to visit and tell them to call and confirm they did, in fact, need help. They did, and most gratefully accepted my assistance for the remainder of the work shift.
I visited a foreign eatery with some friends afterward, though by the protestations of my stomach, the amounts were insufficient. To my surprise, the Lady Kirche was there. A wound reopened can neutralize any triumph.
Yesterday was quiet. More snow fell, making for a very scenic afternoon overlooking the whitened yard in between buildings. I studied and worked a shift at the megachurch. I was invited out by a few people for dinner and a game night. This makes the third “crew” of young(er) adults willing to invite me along, which of course is kind, but they’re cut from the same cloth. Silly and giggly, with suggestive humor, crude joking and irreverent use of the Lord’s name. (Generally a very strong argument against fellowship — treating my King’s name casually.) They’re certainly not the type of people who understand me. I don’t know how I swam my way into the shoals where schools of fish find me attractive, but among whom no attractive mate seems to emerge. Another volunteer at the church announced her anticipation of Valentine’s Day. She was quizzical about my distaste for the upcoming celebrations until she remembered with whom she spoke, and then paid me the compliment I often hear but seldom internalize — “you’re such a great guy!”
The weekend is supposed to offer respite, but it’s been mostly all work and study. One day I’ll break into a new lifestyle, but for now I couldn’t imagine having the free time I’ll have then. Right now, everything seems up in the air again. I haven’t seen my family since New Years. I’ve only lived at this place for a couple of weeks. I think my roommate was drunk last night but I’m not sure.
And yet. It’s so nice to have an actual winter. The trees are frosted. The taller ones are topped with frozen diadems that sparkle in the sunlight. The smaller trees are bent low with ice as though bowing to them. It’s interesting how the same weather can affect both plants and people so differently, depending on their resilience.
I was surprise to learn a colleague of mine passed away three days ago. We worked on some of the same cases though we never met, and had communicated on several occasions. Her faith led her home, but it was unexpected.
On the subject of caring. I’ve mentioned before my attempts to stay friendly but properly distant from one of the production directors who clearly is attracted. An officer friend of mine told me that by perceiving she was upset and inquiring, I was sending mixed messages. I told him I tried to strike the right balance, but that professionally and personally, I care about people. I don’t know how not to do that, nor how not to be the person I often need others to be. But, that seems my fate, or the fate of anyone who really cares — ever caring, seldom cared for. I hope I’ve never showed improper restraint enough to hurt someone by sending mixed messages.
That particular young lady is also much younger in her mind and her experience than most people her age. Therein lies a much greater problem. It’s not the years, it’s the mileage. For the miles I’ve been through, I often find myself more on the level with someone older than me…something I often said was not a preference. Generally speaking, it seems wives are younger than their husbands, but most anyone who is younger is very young.
I’ve begun operating off the presumption that, deep down, “no one cares.” It’s more than a misanthropic platitude; it’s the assumption I find fits most of life’s experience, and a careful reminder not to share or open up with people unnecessarily. It’s also translated into a vast reduction in activity on Facebook. No one cares where you are or why, and the majority of motivations for posting are to perpetuate an image because you think it will improve peoples’ opinions of you. My reflections, my opinions, my activities and my achievements, all are becoming my own rather than for others. It’s a despondent sort of liberation, but a true and necessary one, and ushers in its own variety of peace.
Darling, I hope you are enjoying your snow if you have any, and are enjoying a weekend’s respite. I hope you are praying for me half so fervently as I pray for you.