Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Two separate divided silences,
Which, brought together, would find loving voice;
Two glances which together would rejoice
In love, now lost like stars beyond dark trees;
Two hands apart whose touch alone gives ease;
Two bosoms which, heart-shrined with mutual flame,
Would, meeting in one clasp, be made the same;
Two souls, the shore wave-mocked of sundering seas:-
Such are we now. Ah! may our hope forecast
Indeed one hour again, when on this stream
Of darkened love once more the light shall gleam? –
An hour how slow to come, how quickly past,–
Which blooms and fades, and only leaves at last,
Faint as shed flowers, the attenuated dream.
Writing can sometimes be a burdensome task. Especially when I’m on a deadline. I finished and sent off the article, though a grade or two suffered for it, and in the arranging I’m now told it will likely be a cover story.
Sometimes, writing can be burdensome because the wheels of your mind turn quicker than the paper which receives them, or the hands which channel them.
Neither is the case tonight. Tonight, I know only that I want to talk with you. Haven’t you ever rung up a friend, just because you felt like talking with them? And here I have no one properly within reach to listen.
Weather is a failsafe topic on which to begin, isn’t it? Has it been rain and sunshine and snowfall and red moons where you are? The daffodils, tulips and creeping phlox were all shivering under a snowy blanket this morning. But the days before, spring made her preliminary entrance again, and we all greeted her like a friend long-expected whose presence had been long missed. And I realized, it’s not just the summer winds from the south, or the westerly autumn winds that drive me to fits of restlessness; it’s the changing of the winds themselves. It’s the seasonal turning of pages and fitful ending of chapters. It’s the reminder that time is passing, ever passing, each moment curling off into oblivion permanently stamped with your absence.
A few nights ago, I had time on my hands and a turbulent disquiet in my heart. It wanted moonlight, night air and solitude, so I mapped my route for the park on the northside. There were no gates or closing times posted so I didn’t seem to be trespassing,
but nor was there a soul around. I paced the sporting fields and scanned the horizons. My city is a lovely blend of urban and rural, so these pastures weren’t cramped. But the glare of lights reflecting against the clouds, to say nothing of revelers heard off in the distance, fell far short of the previous night’s walk along the bridge.
The night after, I walked the blocks of neighborhood around the bungalow Alegfast and I now share. He came along for a time before retiring. I continued on. But the walks in the city don’t compare. I’m rather afraid, my dear, that if I’m to find any peace in this life, it will have to be by finding a house outside the city limits, and probably far outside them.
How have you spent these last few nights? Do you find the quality of life increases with your years…and yet, also loneliness? Do you have regrets about how you’ve spent your time thus far? Are you striving to trust God with your wrong turns and unmet hopes? It’s miles that count my dear, not the years.
Tell me this. Have you ever felt like someone owed you? It’s a feeling that turns easily to bitterness, and any time the feeling of obligation or entitlement creeps in, any time my mind suggests I deserve something, I try to hold those thoughts in check. I don’t deserve anything. But on occasion, I do find myself thinking I “deserve” better. I’ve put effort into birthdays and gifts and occasions for people. It doesn’t always turn out right, but I give gifts I can’t afford, or plan parties as complete surprises. I don’t know what I’m trying to say, except that I’ve come across people for whom I’ve tried really hard and met only lackluster response. I suppose what I’m trying to say is, putting emotion and feeling into your gratitude, if ever I earn it, will go a long way. Gratitude, appreciation, the knowledge that what I did made a difference…that’s pretty much the only consideration I ask.
Yes, sometimes it is a lonely existence out here, Darling. Yes, I know you couldn’t tell because I’ve only brought it up the last two hundred letters in a row, but sometimes there are times of emptiness and loneliness when it seems there’s not a thought worth thinking. Those moments sneak up on you. When that happens, you have to have something to run to, or from, or with. A couple of weeks ago, I took myself out to a movie. Last weekend, I suggested an impromptu park dinner, which turned into semi-fast food on a pavement veranda. (It amused me that I was the only guy amongst five single women, none of whom were of particular interest to me.)
And they are friends, in their own way. But somehow, through no fault of their own, they can’t meet me where I am. No matter who I’m with, I’m always a little bit alone. They don’t understand what it’s like to live and work among the sick, to be a healer. They don’t understand the bearing of swords. They’re sheep. Sheepdogs get me, because I get them. And I wonder if a sheepdog can be happy to end up with a sheep. Nor do those who bear the swords understand that I love weapons only for their use. When I work among the healers, they don’t understand the political work I’ve done, or why I choose to work with them instead. The unbelievers don’t understand my standards, and even the believers think I take the Lord too seriously sometimes.
It’s too much to imagine you’ll ever understand me on all these dimensions, my dear. I’ve no doubt I will fall far short in apprehending the multifaceted, nuanced and many-splendid dimensions on which you exist. But how wonderful it would be if we both tried?
Were this a phone call, these scattered thoughts would, I’m sure, made for on occasionally halting conversation.
Wherever you rest under starlight and moonlight, I wish you warmth, peace and purpose this night.
Now fades the last long streak of snow,
Now burgeons every maze of quick
About the flowering squares, and thick
By ashen roots the violets blow.
Now rings the woodland loud and long,
The distance takes a lovelier hue,
And drown’d in yonder living blue
The lark becomes a sightless song.
Now dance the lights on lawn and lea,
The flocks are whiter down the vale,
And milkier every milky sail
On winding stream or distant sea;
Where now the seamew pipes, or dives
In yonder greening gleam, and fly
The happy birds, that change their sky
To build and brood; that live their lives
From land to land; and in my breast
Spring wakens too; and my regret
Becomes an April violet,
And buds and blossoms like the rest.
Who do you see looking at you out of that mirror in the mornings? Who is it staring back at you over your sink and what secrets, praises, shames and kindness lie behind those eyes reflecting back at you?
That man in the mirror…sometimes I don’t know what to make of him. Sometimes I think he’s skilled and kind and slowly becoming everything he’s ever wanted to be, even if it looks a lot different. Sometimes I’m well nigh proud of him. And oftentimes, I realize that the pair of eyes meeting mine knows everything I do about myself, and that’s just unnerving. Sometimes that man in the mirror shakes his head at me and tells me to stop looking at my workout progress in the mirror. He questions whether or not that time is well-spent, or if I spend as much time bettering my soul as I do my body.
He reminds me I’m not really a good man if I expect others to return my kindness.
He orders me to get my thoughts in line with God’s word, and wags a finger at me if they get off-track.
He reminds me that even though we’re forgiven and covered by the blood, we must still repent to God, and that I don’t repent often enough. He reminds me there’s already enough life behind me to lift my head high with pride and bow it low with shame.
He reminds me I’ve skipped Bible study two weeks in a row already, and my Bible is scarcely cracked since the last study. (In fairness, I’ve listened to all of James and 1st/2nd Peter, plus accompanying sermons this week.)
I’m reminded to be more content with what I have, and wonder why I’m not. Why, I had four friends bake a cake, sign a card and take me out to dinner for my birthday. Alegfast bought my dinner. Other friends join me the night before for dinner and a movie, and laughs, presents and more cake with my family tonight. (“Three free dinners in a row!” snorts the man in the mirror, who would cuff the side of my head reprovingly if he could.)
I have no right to get into the car after spending time with my family and laughing harder than I have in some time, and feeling your absence, my dear, as soon as I turn the key.
How comes it that nothingness can take on form? How does emptiness flow like a flooding torrent, seeping right through the walls that inescapably pervade my existence, the minute I part company with people? People, who are so often the curse as much as the cure?
I have to stop taking shelter in those feelings like a dog going back to his den.
I do think I’ve found a church, my dear. I’ve not scoured from one end to the other, who knows, maybe you are there. Life lays more heavily on some of these. People here are sheep, and oft’times I no less than they, but at least they’re trying. I sat there this morning and had to remind myself I’m not more spiritual just because I shook off sleep to come here when someone else didn’t. I don’t care more just because I put on a coat and tie this morning when someone else didn’t, or because I carry a real Bible and other people use phones.
I wonder as I watch them, how do so many of them take relationships in stride? I’m certain the day is coming when I’ll take you for granted, but someone who makes life itself a little easier, whose presence I will one day be unable to imagine living without? To know I can take into my arms and kiss any time I want? To have children with? Children…!
Compare with them the sheep in the rest of the world. I will say, watching people always fascinates me. Yesterday I worked trackside, a thrill to say the least. Thirty thousand souls crowded into the stands in their finery, a spectacle that even royalty travels to see. Rich and poor, pupil and master, all are here — and soon to be equalized by alcohol. Thirty thousand of them, and only three of us actually permitted on the track, present here for emergencies, kicking up dirt as we chase those flying hooves. The different people that you see…they’re not really trying that hard…this is for the Monday through Friday living, not the good behavior of Sundays. But I still do wish I could do more than stand at the ready to patch their bodies. What does the body matter when the soul is in peril?
And of course, that was but a fraction of what’s on my agenda this week. After pitching this article for months, the editor finally approved it, but only if I could provide a finished product within the fortnight. Last week, projects were due nearly every day. This week I have a research project due, prep work, a quiz Thursday, a scholarship showcase, a community emergency simulation and a Bible study. I have exams Friday and Monday, and I’ve already just done a quiz tonight.
And that man in the mirror, well, he just shakes his head at how busy I am, but smiles knowingly because he knows deep down I like the sweet madness of it all. And he sighs because he knows a touch of your hand would quell the tremors of my restless mind. He knows your heart would give me a reason to sit still, and that my mind will be just a little less at ease every time you leave, and just a little more at ease every time you return.
You’ll have to look at this man in the mirror one day. (It’s bad enough I have to face him, so I’m just sorry you’ll have to!) He’ll be what you see when you fall asleep and when you wake up. He’ll be the face you see waiting for you by the altar, and by your side when you’re in labor. He’ll be the face you’ll be caressing, and the face you’ll want to slap sometimes. And Lord willing, he’ll be the same face looking back at me in fifty years. Will I even be able to look at myself without shame then? Will I have kept the faith? What troubles will those eyes have seen?
That man in the mirror, sometimes his smile is a tired one and he knows I sacrifice sleep to write to you, because writing to you helps defray the inflations of silence inside my head, the bottled-up thoughts I withhold for reasons that are my own. It helps me to think you’re out there, listening and caring. It steadies me.
There will be times like this in our marriage too, my dear. A couple of left-hand rings don’t fix all the ills of the world. The indecision, whether great or small, may be a source of great frustration for me, let alone you. I may rant and agonize and question to your endless consternation. But eventually that man in the mirror makes up his mind, makes his decision, and walks out that door to face the world doing everything he knows to do to get it right.
And me? Well, I sure hope you’ll be out there having my back.
Thanks, love. Best hopes and prayers from my corner of the galaxy.
On My Birthday
I, my dear, was born to-day—
So all my jolly comrades say:
They bring me music, wreaths, and mirth,
And ask to celebrate my birth:
Little, alas! my comrades know
That I was born to pain and woe;
I, my dear, was born to-day:
Shall I salute the rising ray,
Well-spring of all my joy and woe?
My dearest, thou alone dost know.
Shall the wreath surround my hair?
Or shall the music please my ear?
Shall I my comrades’ mirth receive,
And bless my birth, and wish to live?
Then let me see great Venus chase
Imperious anger from thy face;
Then let me hear thee smiling say—
‘Thou, my dear, wert born to-day.’
After three years, life in its course begins to reveal certain patterns. I read back through these letters and realize I’ve told you the same thing different times, and each time as if it were new. Sometimes I fear the slightest vestiges of senility are lurking behind these incidents, but sometimes the churning agitations of my brain recapitulate old thoughts in new skins and I forget that I’ve thought them before. I’ve never made any sensational claims about my memory, and the nature of my work is such to work with quasi-strangers and throngs of crowds, with the end result of dulling my mind to new faces and names.
Among these repeated thoughts tonight is an apparent binge lifestyle with work and school. Last weekend was a move. This week, there have been projects due every single day. I’m writing another two articles, one of which the editor imposed upon me a tight deadline after weeks of my suggesting we cover this topic.
In short, I have been busy all week, up until about three hours ago. Poised on the precipice of a blank in my schedule, mere minutes after the week’s obligations rounded out, I immediately wanted something to do. On nights like these I get restless. Alegfast suggested it was one’s latent urge to have nearly as much enjoyment as one has had work. (We’ve much to catch up on if I’m to set those two at equals!)
I suppose I find myself wanting something new. Which should technically be branded as some outlying mode of insanity, given that my head is inundated with new information every day, information I’m expected to retain and master. But I do. On rare occasions, I do things simply for their novelty, simply because they break the molds. And other times, I wish someone would feel the urge to step into my life and make it better, the same urge I feel for others.
So what do I do? Browse a few headlines and video titles, try to clear out some of the multitasked browswer windows I maintain at all times. I converse with Alegfast for a bit. He and Gladhbrui want to go southward again this summer, but I fear their constant oversharing, discussion of private subjects and their undiluted, incessantly nonromantic intimacy will prove the unmaking of any relaxation I may find.
Visiting an ice cream shop appeals, but the hour is late and they don’t sell abs next to the double fudge brownie triple-scoop.
I started a new job too. You should have been there. It required getting up long before the sun, but you’ve done that enough to know it has its own unique and worthy advantages. It was a chance to renew my love for this land and its roots. This is horse country and these are horse people. They all know each other, but I’m new so they’re a little closed off. They’ll give me time, and until then they’re not unkind. My colleague is not terribly older than I, open and honest, not yet particularly jaded or crusty like most emergency responders. The outrider with whom we’re talking has a voice like Jack Webb, sitting tall atop his horse and dragging on a cigarette. He’s constantly but good-naturedly berating every rider and worker he sees. The horses and their riders race by. One in particular pounds past at full racing speed with leather cinched, muscles tensed and mane flying. I breathe in a silent thrill; there was something familiar and vicariously stimulating about a horse and rider moving in synchrony.
Only a few short weeks remain in this term. If I’m honest, last summer was the best I ever had. This summer could hold just as much potential. Imagine this relentless pace, but lived at my own discretion for work and travel.
It’s all coming together, Darling. It’s almost like the saying of Scripture, “do whatever your hand finds to do for the Lord is with you.” I lack only you. Sometimes in these turbid and tumultuous weeks, there are fractions of a day I even lack the time to think about or desire you. I feel like every day I’m becoming more the man God wants me to be, the man you’ll want me to be. But these are also the days of growth, days we should grow together, and we’re missing those.
Well, cheer up Luthien. Spring is breaking and summer is not far behind. The future comes at us sixty seconds per minute, and of all the seconds amassed behind and before us, there is yet to come the first to share together.
Until then, never forget, I love you with all my heart.
The week is drawing to a close at last, and with it spring’s respite. I’ve been glad of the time off, but I’ll be glad to get back to a regular schedule; this week’s been awfully full. In a way, it’s a week of new starts…new week, new season, new house. I’ve left the megachurch job as well as making the move to another house — back with Alegfast, incidentally. A clean break from some unhealthy places, and a good chance to make some changes.
I’m here in the new place tonight in fact, hopefully to stay for at least a year. It smells old, like my great-grandmother’s house I was just telling you about. I like that. It’s a lot closer to work and school which will be nice. Moving three times in one year is quite a feat, and it can take a toll. And what is it about change that makes you nostalgic even for the times that weren’t that great? Just because they were present in your life for some part of it, even a difficult part?
And what is it about darkness that frees my thoughts?
1) The other night as the shift wound down, my colleague thanked me profusely for my help, knowing that her labors would have doubled if I hadn’t come in. “Mister big personality,” she called me. “Works his butt off.” It certainly had been a busy shift, and with the occasional gratification of achieving tasks that even the nurses weren’t able. That’s always nice, right up until they start asking you to do them again.
2) Have you ever wondered what people say about you behind your back? You shouldn’t eavesdrop if you don’t want to hear the truth, but I do wonder. “Ah, old Beren,” they might say. “Pleasant enough in his own way. Bit of a dreamer, he is. Bit of a loner too, not a lot of fun to be around and a bit taken with himself.” I wonder…I wonder what they’d say at my funeral. Oh, all nice things of course, no one’s allowed to be mean. But I’m not convinced it would be well-attended, even at this stage of the game. And it makes me wonder, have I made enough of a difference in the world, proportionate to what I’ve been given? Am I doing enough? Will people remember me? Is it so important that they do? God also gave me the ability to function well in the spotlight. Even to need the spotlight now and again. So he also made me want to shy away from credit, because I know my inclination towards pride. I work as well behind the scenes as in front of them, and sometimes I prefer the anonymity for its own sake.
3) It’s only within the last few years that I feel like I’ve broken out, firmly established my place in the world and found my calling in it. I used to walk up and down the lane late at night praying for guidance and purpose. Now it feels strange not to pray for purpose, but in a sense I know I’m now following the path God has intended for me, and the main thing is to thank Him and to ask for course adjustments as events warrant.
4) I’ve mentioned before the concept of broad shoulders. God gave me the fortitude to muscle through tough situations, to be a sturdy influence, and to absorb a lot from the world. A few people know they can hit me up online or call me if they’ve had bad days and want to vent. And sometimes I read back the thoughts written within these letters and think, there’s no way any self-respecting woman would find this attractive, it’s just the belching out of each and every hidden angst and insecurity, most of which should be shut up and shut out and not talked about. Guys aren’t really supposed to be this whiny. Is that what it looks like to you? I suppose I’ve been just arrogant enough to presume you had the same view as I, that any thoughts or sadness was precious, because it came from the dark and raw recesses of your heart, the place I long to go, to earn enough trust to be escorted into. Perhaps I misjudged. I recall telling you before how they say Winston Churchill, who put on so brave a face as the leader of the free world, would go behind close doors, put his head on his wife’s lap and just sob. Are you willing to know that side of me, and to bear it up on occasion?
5) What value do you assign to aesthetics and appearance? I don’t find myself altogether terribly handsome. Some would disagree. Of course, beauty is only skin-deep, and personality survives as we age. But don’t looks matter? Fitness? My sister admonished me about looks recently, because I mentioned someone to her, and noted she was not altogether attractive. It’s not as though that’s all I value, but on the face of it, that’s all one can evaluate someone by. That’s the flaw I’ve mentioned before as a single Christian. We can’t just approach someone we find attractive and say “say kiddo, what are you doing for church next Sunday and let’s go together!” More likely than not, they’re unbelievers. Even within the ranks of believers, it’s tough to find someone compatible. And yes, looks, personality, fitness and chemistry all have their part to play. Fitness is becoming increasingly important to me, perhaps as an outlet to burn off some of this fire within.
6) I think the flaw of so many people today, trusting themselves too much. It’s hard to find the voice you trust enough to place more weight on it than your own judgments. And yet, although I have to trust them enough to act on them, I know myself too well to place too high a premium on my own judgment. My record has taught me to be wary of it.
7) I was thinking recently on the subject of going against the grain, and how I’ve always wanted to go against the crowd because the direction of the cultural is so diametrically opposite of true north as to function as its own poor man’s moral compass. I realized that, in general, I like finding and hearing the things I don’t want to hear. I don’t want sermons that tell me I’m okay the way I am, because I know I’m not. I don’t want to listen to my mind telling me to lay around and be unproductive, or my mouth telling me to eat unhealthy foods for their taste. Sometimes, doing the exact opposite of what your body tells you is how best to grow. Oh sure, I lay around or eat unhealthy often enough, but in general I thrive best in challenging and disciplining myself. I’m a fighter, and my greatest and most challenging foe is myself. I don’t need to be told what’s good and right…I need reminding of it. I need to dwell in it and inhabit it, constantly, because like every other human being, I forget. And somehow, we need to find a way for you to challenge me like this, or to help in those disciplines.
8) What does it mean to be a great guy? I think if you asked the random girl, she’d say a guy who listens and understands, who gets the doors and isn’t mean, who takes out the trash or does laundry and dishes once in a while. I don’t know, I find myself striving towards this standard, and when I think about it, I don’t quite know what it entails. When I fall into the trap of comparing, I have to admit, my pride looks at a fellow and gets ahead of itself, saying there’s a lot I have that he doesn’t. What does that mean to you?
9) The gathering last night went well, quite well indeed for the first real hosting I’ve done solo. The “act like you’ve been there” part is a bit eclipsed behind “I have friends! And they’ll all come over to my house when I invite them, and enjoy themselves, and thank me on their way out!” But I was feeling a bit lonesome after everyone went home. I’m not sure why. I guess any theater feels empty after the crowd leaves. Which means nothing will ever truly be fulfilling because it ends. You could throw a party tomorrow, invite guests and honor me before all the world. And even if I were willing to relish the moment, a part of it would be tinged with bitterness because it would end. Sometimes it’s hard for me to live in the moment because of its transience. But to go out with you and know I can see you again, or one day when I can go out with you and then come back home with you, tuck into bed with you. That has more meaning to me than the rest of the moments of boom-and-bust. Sometimes boom-and-bust is the story of my life, and I love the running, but there are aspects of my life in which I would prefer something quiet, steady and constant.
10) Have you figured out people very much yet, dear? Me neither. It’s a progressive and limitless task. People, my dear, want the world to be different and better. When it isn’t, they drift into stories. That is why movie stars make so much money and why the magazines sell so well which dissect their everyday lives. People don’t want to be told the truth — that the world is crumbling, that we have a duty to save whom we may, that dragons roam the land and that our boots must be planted firmly to resist the darkness. People want their life cozy and soft, with just enough solid underneath to keep from sinking. I’ve been engaging in a bit of an experiment lately with social media, posting thoughts about dogs and cookies and beaches and movies, and less of the news of peril and danger and duty. The response has confirmed the hypothesis. They don’t want to read your deeper thoughts, or know you’re in pain. People, my dear, are the same. The more you meet of them, the more commonalities you find in human nature. There are divergent people out there though. I call them Outliers, and I do love a good outlier. Outliers are familiar with a state of semi-gloom. They are wise enough to be content neither with the world nor with themselves, for they are wise enough to know the limits of both. Outliers are not so easily satisfied by the world, and more attuned to its darkness. (If only such darkness passed as quickly and surely as winter.)
11) This site was recently compromised, my dear. People I didn’t ever want seeing these letters found their way. It’s hard to complain too loud since this place, although anonymous, is public. Yet it took some searching to find, so it’s still an invasion of sorts. I contemplated removing the site, shutting the walls and staunching the soul. After all, there are parts of every soul that were never made to be seen, at least by those close to them. I considered returning to my old medium, and found plain document paper not at all compelling. There’s something, my dear, about knowing these words to you may give light and warmth and comfort and inspiration to others as they wing their way to you. A hundred people have subscribed so far (which means there’s maybe two dozen actual pairs of eyes that read) and in a way, knowing that someone else is watching keeps me accountable. But for whatever value such promises hold, I’ve been promised it won’t be viewed again. To have rawest secrets rooted out and ingested is a bit like being robbed or pillaged, so I trust those promises will be kept.
12) Writing these letters is like cooking, plucking the best of thoughts from my mind and moments from a day. Some of these thoughts have been on ice for a while, I’ll admit. And how many more times do you think I can reprise the theme of missing and needing you without you growing tired of it? How often can I reiterate that I’m empty and lost without you? At least a few more times, I am sure. Will you ever grow tired of such a message, of being told you’re needed and wanted and missed?
My time is long since gone. Thank you for reading, and I hope you rest well.
On The Marriage of T.K and C.C. The Morning Stormy
Such should this day be, so the sun should hide
His bashful face, and let the conquering Bride
Without a rival shine, whilst he forbears
To mingle his unequal beams with hers;
Or if sometimes he glance his squinting eye
Between the parting clouds, ’tis but to spy,
Not emulate her glories, so comes dressed
In veils, but as a masquer to the feast.
Thus heaven should lower, such stormy gusts should blow
Not to denounce ungentle Fates, but show
The cheerful Bridegroom to the clouds and wind
Hath all his tears, and all his sighs assigned.
Let tempests struggle in the air, but rest
Eternal calms within thy peaceful breast,
Thrice happy Youth; but ever sacrifice
To that fair hand that dried thy blubbered eyes,
That crowned thy head with roses, and turned all
The plagues of love into a cordial,
When first it joined her virgin snow to thine,
Which when today the Priest shall recombine,
From the mysterious holy touch such charms
Will flow, as shall unlock her wreathed arms,
And open a free passage to that fruit
Which thou hast toiled for with a long pursuit.
But ere thou feed, that thou may’st better taste
Thy present joys, think on thy torments past.
Think on the mercy freed thee, think upon
Her virtues, graces, beauties, one by one,
So shalt thou relish all, enjoying the whole
Delights of her fair body, and pure soul.
Then boldly to the fight of love proceed,
‘Tis mercy not to pity though she bleed,
We’ll strew no nuts, but change that ancient form,
For till tomorrow we’ll prorougue the storm,
Which shall confound with its loud whistling noise
Her pleasing shrieks, and fan thy panting joys.
I was thinking the other night about what I could give you, right here, right now. These written echoes are all I know to give, other than to build myself up in anticipation of your desires. And I realized, if I had a list of “insider tips” about you, insights into your character and even a suggestion for how to respond, it would probably be invaluable.
These are not directives or instructions on catering to my moods, or anything resembling “how you should treat me.” As I’ve said, understanding myself is an ongoing process, and I learn more about me all the time. These are the results of those reflections on myself, and suggestions for how to act or react to my various flaws, quirks and eccentricities.
1. Whatever you do, don’t say anything bad about my mom. Even if I do.
2. Actively listen and engage me. Draw me out of myself, ask me about my day, or how I feel about something. As a guy, I don’t feel invited to spill my guts, nor the arrogance to presume it’s wanted. But I want someone to care enough to ask and give me permission to spill a little, who won’t take “fine” as an answer. I’ll spill. And then, I’ll tidy up, recompose myself, dismiss the darkness, and turn the spotlight back on you.
3. I think we all try to use personal examples to relate to people, but sometimes it blurs the lines between identifying with someone and hijacking the conversation to talk about yourself. I’m fairly conscious of this, but if you ever feel we’ve shifted focus, do say so won’t you?
4. There are times I’m going to slip and be a totally clueless idiot. I’ll say the wrong things, do the wrong things, make a terrible hash of it. As much as possible, point that out gently and gracefully. I’ll feel even worse than if you snap back, but if you are really patient and earn a trust even in the heat of argument, I know I’ll listen better.
5. Help me make decisions. I’m really good at right/wrong decisions, but if it’s not right or wrong, it’s not always easy.
6. Ask me the questions you’ve always wanted to ask a guy and never felt you could. “What were you like as a child?” “What’s it like to be a man?” “What are your greatest doubts or fears?” I don’t mind explaining, and it’s flattering you want to know.
7. Every man takes a portion of his identity from his work and the ability to provide. I will try to preserve the balance, but please understand that sometimes, if I’m not working, I won’t feel fulfilled or useful, or even know what to do with myself.
8. Notice little things about me. Pay attention to the things I like. There’s few things more gratifying than for someone to give you a gift or mention something in a comment that shows they remember something about you, that they studied, observed and didn’t forget it, and let it come out somewhere else in a compassionate way: “Oh! You were remembered that?” It shows understanding, accommodation, deference.
9. “Would you do that…for me?” A somewhat helpless, imploring appeal, will probably go pretty far and is also known as “not playing fair.”
10. Sometimes, even when you need something, I draw a blank and need you to tell me what you need from me.
11. Remind me to be gracious…graciously. Remind me to thank God. Remind me to be encouraging. Remind me to put God and His will first. We all need those reminders, every day of our lives.
12. Somethings things bothers me that don’t make sense to others. Please understand, or at least try. If you don’t, ask for clarification. There are times I think being understood is greater than being loved.
13. Be willing to show vulnerability and weakness.
14. Recognize, acknowledge and remind me that I’m a “great guy.” As hard as I try to live up to that, I forget or doubt.
15. Some people are blessed with the ability to know their reaction to a comment and immediately respond. I am not always one of those people. Sometimes, a comment is made which takes me a while to realize actually upset me greatly.
16. Show me you appreciate and are grateful for my work and sacrifice. Smiling, giving me a peck on the cheek and saying “thank you for waiting” or “I really, really appreciate the work you put into this evening” or “I’m really grateful you chose to spend time with me tonight” would really validate those decisions, and keep me looking for the next right thing to do. Men aren’t that complicated, Darling, I’ve told you that. Any good dog will do what you want for praise and reward. Men are the same, trust me. Bestow a warm smile, a gracious hug or a heart-warming compliment to us and just watch us dance. Make a man feel like the greatest guy in the world, and it will inspire him to become even better.
17. Sometimes I have short temper bursts, usually at inanimate objects that drop or won’t close or won’t open or that hurt me. It’s petty, I know. I’m pretty sure words don’t fix those situations. Just a little sympathy is all. I’m good at putting big-boy pants on.
18. An I’ve got a birthday in a couple of weeks and I want it to be more than just the simple quiet family affair I’ve had for the last quarter-century. I would do this for people more often if I knew them well enough, or if enough people existed who would come to a surprise party. I helped put one together for two younger siblings a couple of years ago. And this past summer, I put a lot of effort into making one birthday special. It’s nice to have someone make a big deal for me, every once in a while.
19. Give me the impossible advice of righteousness…the kind that only perfect people could live up to. The kind where I’m frustrated or angry and want to indulge my sinful nature and you say “why don’t you love them instead” or “why don’t you forgive them.” Of course it’s the right thing to do, and darn it if it’s the last thing I want to hear. But what are spouses for if not to spur each other on to impossibly higher heights of character?
I’ll be adding to this list as time goes by, so don’t forget to check back from time to time. And if you haven’t made one of these, I think it would be a loving and sensitive thing to do. We all need as much help as we can get.
A week’s respite is working its charm. A walk tonight under a cloudy moon found my mind much more at ease, even if it’s still fairly chilly tonight. I indulged my domestic side with some dishes and laundry, and as the sun went down I lit the lamps, listened to a few sermons and cooked up a tray of chicken and a pan of cookies. I sure wish you could have come over to join me.
Tonight is one of those times where I say to myself, “Beren old chap, you’re really not that bad off. Truth be told, you’re among the luckiest of men and that’s a fact.” Maybe that’s why I’m loneliest too.
I’m writing an article right now, I have two more proposals in, and am working on a third for a much larger company I’ve published with before which paid me enough to buy the truck. I just sent in a piece to the New York Times, don’t know if it will be published or not. I’ve worked the past two nights and again that’s been meaningful. (I’ve almost…missed night shift.) I’m scheduled to spend time at the races next month, not as a spectator, but a responder. They come from thousands of miles to watch the horses and bid on them, but few are so fortunate as to ride behind them as they run.
In a year I’ll be a nurse, and that climb is less steep for the rest of the year. I’m working out and seeing results. I’m setting examples for people. I can tell I’m already becoming a better person each day than I was. I know that I’m going somewhere, and with purpose, and in a small way, am content even in loneliness. The strangest part of ongoing growth is seeing how small the me of each yesterday seems.
I’ve had a run of flashbacks recently. I rediscovered a melody with which I was enamored last year (was it only a year ago?) and scattering back with it were the memories of summertime and independence and travel and the ocean. It took a decided dip long about September, but all told last year really was a good year, with a lot of fond memories. I wish those moments lasted longer, and I wish I could relive a lot of them.
But even more than that, I’ve had flashbacks into my distant past. The rattle of a fan or a certain fragrance have, on separate occasions, taken me back to the house of my great-grandmother where we’d stay sometimes as children. She was a relic from the past, my great-grandmother. She had memories of her grandmother retelling the story of hiding escaped slaves under piles of cotton. She had a portrait of an ancestor during the Civil War, and the cloak in which she was photographed still hung in her garage. I can still recall the smell of the dogs she kept in her house, the echo of the switchback staircase, the rotary dial phones and floral-patterned wallpaper. The dank and musty basement, the endless knickknacks on her shelves, the colored glass lampshades. Her push-button light switches, the gas stove and the smell of buttered toast. I used to sit out on her front porch sipping orange juice and watch the cars. She always used to have orange juice on hand because she knew I liked it. I think I’d even pray out there. My mother was a child here, she grew up right down the lane. I don’t know why I remember that house more than one or two that I’ve lived in. Nor why those memories come back tonight. Nor indeed why they should be terribly important for you to read. If you’ve ever had the simple joy of wandering back through rooms of your mind you’ve neglected for some time, then you’ll understand. And I suppose the hallmark of getting old(er) is the increasing value of memories.
Funny how memories only seem valuable after the fact.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that children today are living different childhoods than I, but no less formative. And sometimes, I really, really wish you and I were already in the position to make our parents proud with grandchildren. I’ve seen a lot of new parents the last two months. I’ve seen two homosexual couples, a large number of drug addicts, people with sexually-transmitted diseases, smokers and poor couples from the impoverished hill country. I’ve even seen one woman in her forties with a newborn baby whose father came out of a jar. These couples are far less equipped to find their way than we are, and in most cases they’re much younger than I. It would be nice to stop reading the instructions on these things and get started on the actual assembly. There’s only so much books can tell you.
Ah my dear, we’re going to need to remember to stay outward focused. We need to be the type that is organized enough to entertain couples and families. When our union rises from the ashes of loneliness, we shouldn’t forget those still left behind. The lonely, the single and the bereft…where will they go if not to the church and its members? To bars, or movies. I’ve not yet been in the situation in which I could sponsor random and serendipitous dinner invitations, but would you mind terribly if, on some occasion after church, we forced ourselves to invite some young couple or a struggling single to our house?
I’m always grateful for the times when my brain and body have opportunity to push their limits. Such limits also mean the times of relaxation are twice-blessed, and they allow more freedom for thoughts about you. I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about you, I daresay. There are a lot of phone calls, text messages and invitations you’ve never received, along with a lot of flowers and gifts and kisses. We’ve fought a hundred times already in my mind, but we’ve made up a thousand times more.
Life is good, my dear. But it would be better if you were here. Do hurry up, won’t you?