Letters to Luthien

Letters to My Future Bride

A Heartbeat Away

heartbeat

I have seen flowers come in stony places
And kind things done by men with ugly faces
And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races,
So I trust too.

– John Masefield

Dear Darling,

I made it a week without writing, or needing you, or even, almost, without thinking about you. And then I reach another week’s end. Last night and the night before were two of the most trying nights of my career. I watched the tears of a family gathered around one man’s bed as they were told his life was waning. I saw the slow, tearful defeat welling up in the eyes of another man, speechless and tired of fighting. This is why I do what I do. This is who I am. And yet, I think how nice it would be just to sit on the couch after a long day and talk. To tell my thoughts and hear yours; the simple pleasure of knowing you’re only a heartbeat away. I think I would find it exceedingly precious to hold your hand and feel your pulse, or to put my stethoscope against your chest and listen to your actual heart.

I’m on about hearts tonight because I held someone else’s in my hands last night — a girl not much younger than I, for whom death was knocking. I confess, I don’t wish death to come for anyone, but come he must, and when he does, I want to be there. So through her chest, her heart having stopped, I became her heart. Her frame was small, the effort was minimal. With a small army crowding into a smaller room, we brought her back. Such order and anarchy striving together after one imperiled soul.

A short eternity later, the ordeal ended. The exchanges of “good job” were made. And not long after, we turn control over to the next watch, and we each of us get into our cars and go home. They to friends, family, love. Doubtless to share their modest but poignant roles in the saving of a life, the restarting of a heart. I come home in silence and to silence, an uncaring house occupied in its own musings.

Thousands of shifters are coming home from their watches at the same time as I, fading to silence and quiet. Police. Medics. Firefighters. Nurses. Soldiers. They pour out themselves for the simple and noble task of preserving the lives of their neighbors. To take a bullet, tread the flame or thread the needle. And for whom? Someone’s mother or grandmother; a wife, an uncle, a husband. Behind every hospital door or curtain, some-one’s world may hang in peril of crumbling. And to what thanks do these simple warriors return? To an applauding public, a grateful city, a generous paycheck? Folly. Money brings not life, nor preserves it. No-one courts their favor as they would businessmen or politicians, because their giving is a foregone conclusion. The daily victories won or lost on ten thousand bedside battlefronts between sun’s rising and setting are too numerous to applaud each as they deserve. Affliction and illness are tireless foes, and although we cannot unburden ourselves from the weight of the world in a single night, we return to the battle the very next night.

The ringing of summons, the fittings and fixtures of each room, the coughs and calls, the needs and protestations, all fade into a deafening silence when I go home, as though it never were.

“I helped restart a heart last night,” I might say to one friend or another. “That’s nice.” “You’re not a marine!” someone else retorted as I related some of these thoughts once before. I changed the subject. Not everyone’s mettle is cut for the thickest of the fighting. And of course, some would rather turn a blind eye to it entirely, embracing denial until their own lifestyles catch up with them. Truth and reality make poor drinking buddies, and people are never grateful for the rope-holders, until they’re off a cliff’s edge.

The job is fulfilling. There’s no money as could pay for what any of us do. And from patients themselves, “thank-you” is heard just often enough to be routine and therefore of diminished significance, much as you would think the barista who hands you the coffee you ordered. Only those that do it know what it’s really worth.

Before leaving, I went and found the nurse alongside whom we’d fought to restart the girl’s heart. She’s my age (married of course) but becoming a good friend. We work as a team, and working as a team to survive a crisis creates a unique bond. She was near tears as I hugged her. She told me she couldn’t have done it without me. (Yes, she could have.)

You see then why I privately hold some complaints of “bad days” contemptuously. I have seen survivors of attack, abuse and trauma. Horrific crashes, mountaintop plunges, gaping wounds; scars of the body and mind, the slow decay of time. We brush the ash and darkness off those who survive, and honor the ones who don’t. You mean to tell me that car parts, splinters, demanding clients, bent nails or challenging coworkers compare?

And Darling, when I walk through the door to eat, wash and surrender to the silent (and occasionally elusive) indifference of sleep, I don’t only wish I could unload these thoughts on you and demand of your sympathy and affection in return. I want also to hold you and cushion the tears wrung from you by a difficult day, and share a hug of greater duration and license than a chaste hug among friends and co-laborers. I want to fold you into the richness of the same compassion that drives me at work, and share this love, this heart without caution or reserve.

Time grows short before studies resume. For the second week in a row, none of the dozen invites I sent out to join me for a movie were answered or accepted, so I spent an evening in a restaurant with a Dickens novel. I went for a walk under the bright glow of a full August moon, one of the year’s brightest they say. Mists are rising from the ground as I walk and pray. Someone drives past and a woman shouts out the window something to the effect of “see you later, baby!” Yes my lady, if you continue your habit of weekly inebriation and driving, I expect you will.

My mother herself had surgery this past week. She seems to be recovering.

And I, at last, seem to have depleted either the words to write, or the will to write them. I hope your week has been of equal significance but less challenge, and you know already that my prayers accompany you on whatever difficulties you face. Even a bent fingernail.

Yours ever,
Beren

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August 10, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time is a Fire

Darling,

It’s been said that time is the fire in which we burn.

But increasingly, it’s a wearisome fire, and with no warmth to those who walk alone.

Today was just a bad day, and I don’t even know why. How many more ways can I describe to you this restless, wandering, pent-up feeling that gnaws within day after day? I’ve reached that point of the year where I should study the books and would rather burn them instead.

I thought some of that restlessness would drain from me with the blood I donated today, but it didn’t. They tell me today’s made one gallon that I’ve given over the last year or two. The woman was newer at her job, I think, because it hurt more than it ever has. I pictured myself on a beach, or in your arms to keep from showing the pain…I didn’t want to make her feel bad.

I took myself to a movie tonight too, thinking it would help me escape. Instead, vicariously living a brief romance through the character’s relationship, that relationship was ripped apart in death, and it left me rather out of sorts. They weren’t the people I would have chosen to sit with, but God provided some companions, an officer I’ve worked with and his two sons. They both seem to look up to me.

I need more than movies to make passable the fires of time. I’m burning my time now to write to you, but there’s really no one else in whom I can confide. Increasingly I write out a thought or an opinion to share, and then erase it because I quite firmly remind myself no one cares. I invited anyone who could read to join me in donating blood and no one did. I posed a provocative discussion question and no one replied. (But post a picture of an orphaned kitten being adopted out…!)

Okay, so people on the internet are shallow or busy or both. What did I expect? What do I want out of them? What do I want out of life? I suppose in the end, there’s a small part of me that’s frustrated because they aren’t you. Mind you, I care about them and their troubles without it being returned, so I still wish they would grow to be more attentive to their world. So what do I want? Someone to care. Someone to ask me what I want, and care about the answer. Someone to say “You know what YOU need…” and help me figure out the answer when need be. To remind me what I’m doing, what I’ve done, who I am, matters, still matters, is appreciated.

I believe I’ve told you before, the downside of becoming unflappable is that the world becomes mundane. Nothing seems new anymore, and while I’m not much to seek a thrill for its own sake, it’s enough to force me to seek out new experiences.

Part of my identity, my dear, is to be a safety net. I’m part of the network of people that act as a barrier between them and disaster. What does a safety net do? It stands there, stretched taut and under great strain, always ready to catch the clowns and sequined fools who overcharge people for their silly antics and tricks. You spend a lifetime under pressure, under obligation, knowing that when the moment comes you have to perform and if there’s one weak link at one moment in time, the whole thing was for naught. I’m doing that trackside tomorrow. Suited people who have too much money and drink too much alcohol. And as part of the safety net, it’s my job to fight anything from a skinned knee up to and including the Grim Reaper. And what’s more, we lurk unseen. We live under that constant pressure, behind the scenes, forgotten and unappreciated but enabling people to risk their lives because they know someone will be along to save them. They forget people train and learn and study. That we become familiar with Death and study his ways so we can counter them.

Sometimes it’s quite a strain. Maybe it’s a self-imposed strain, but someone has to do it.

It’s funny. We worry about the behavior of our warriors and soldiers, the aggression of our officers and the extremes of our firefighters and emergency medical workers. But truly, that’s who we need them to be. Their behaviors are expected byproducts of who we ask them to become on our behalf…and then we forget about them. We move our cars out of their way and our minds offer just the tiniest self-congratulation that we expedited the process. If I had a dime for every time someone’s told me they could never do that…

I’m sure I sound bitter. And self-congratulatory in my own way. I don’t know what I need anymore. If you ran down the list, I’m far more blessed than I deserve and all my basic needs are met. I just can’t fight the feeling, even as final exams loom ahead of me that I should be doing more, that I’m missing something, that there’s a calling just out of reach. I’m great about work and school and exercise, packing them into a day. I’m good at speed. I’m not so great on the slowdown.

Ah Darling. For all I know, this is one of the many days to come where “yeah, well, you know I have problems too!” will be the retort you have to letters like these. I’d grow weary of them too. And I hope you have someone in your life to call and announce you’ve had a bad day so they can listen. I sure would. And tonight, and on any of nights like these…I just need that from you.

Will you pray for me tonight, my dear? Please.

Your lonely knight,
Beren

May 3, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness, Nights Like These | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Respite

Dear Darling,

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.

Yours sincerely,
Beren

February 9, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thawing and Freezing

Cold and LonelyDear Darling,

During any good and proper winter, the snow comes. It beautifies and mystifies. Then it becomes old and tiresome and dirty. It thaws and melts and evaporates.

Then it snows again. And we are awed again. And the cycle continues.

So also goes the heart. It chills and freezes, and thaws and melts. Such changes in extremes compromise even the strength of iron, and sometimes on nights like these, a heart is caught somewhere in between. Tonight, caught somewhere between frozen in sadness and melted in desire, I rolled down the windows in 27-degree weather just to find some equilibrium.  It’s really quite pathetic the phases I go through sometimes.

I was supposed to have classes today, but by the good graces of the university, the ice and snow which laid siege to the city closed them. Unfortunately, this decision was made only once I had completed the hazardous trek to the university. I’m blessed to have such flexible work hours that I changed, went in to the Houses of Healing, and was assigned a floor.

Last night, I was invited to a “Super Bowl Party” which was neither super nor a party. Not, mind you, that I care overmuch about sports. But for its social and competitive value, coupled with the intervals of entertainment, make for a reasonably pleasant evening under the right circumstances.

The house was full of strangers, and worse, strangers in a worship band. You know I have spent nearly three years in a megachurch receiving four and five times the recommended weekly dosage of such personalities and performances, by those who treat the act of worship as a concert for man rather than an offering to God. I would rather socialize with the police officers who guard the church any day of the week. Some vague faces emerged to introduce themselves (itself a social grace which temporarily surprised me) before returning to their own cloister of social acquaintances. They were even unable to show the game for most of the evening.

My friend Miluihûn (“Kind-heart”) invited me. I’ve mentioned her many times, though never by that name. We had three dates and called it a friendship, and to that we remain to this day. (My mother insists we should be husband and wife, but she doesn’t know you like I do, and I should laugh if ever I thought you to be jealous of her or our friendship. It is possible for us to be friends without romantic context.) She was under deadlines with her studies to be a nurse, and I was stifling amused chuckles at the nature of the “party” (remember, when things get really bad, it often drives me to my own private smiles and laughter) so I made a rapid and covert egress out the door (missed by no one) and was soon joined by Miluihûn and her roommate at her parents’ house. I helped her parents install new cabinetry, and then helped her with a school assignment while watching the rest of the game play out.

It’s hard to relate to her and the crowd of friends she keeps sometimes. The church at large seems focused on catering to a world of damaged, broken and hurting people. I struggle and pine, but I am neither damaged nor broken. By virtue of being unbroken, I am isolated from a church bent on bolstering its numbers by reaching out to this segment. Another irony forged somewhere between principle and pride, I fear.

Instead, the cure seems continually to be the cure for others. Buying shirts the other day, I greeted an overly cheerful clerk. Upon observing her marked cheer, I dryly (but not unkindly) asked her what substances she was on. She remarked that her father had recently died and lent a new perspective to her life. (Sometimes my dear, as I’ve said before and you’ve no doubt seen, people and their emotions are bubbled up; a simple pinprick away from popping.) I expressed my deepest condolences and inquired further.  She admitted her deepest regret was not saying goodbye in time. I gently told her that in my experience, the dying often wait to embark until their loved ones are not present. (There is a consciousness beyond that of medical detection, which keeps people holding on, or gives them peace to go…and sometimes it’s just the difference of telling someone “it’s okay to go.”) She seemed to appreciate the insight.

A friend once told me people felt safe and comfortable with me because I was open and seemed to be without guile. I’m uncertain about that as I’m certainly not without hidden sides. But it is fatiguing and empowering all at once to relate to people, even in casual encounters, on such a deep level. 

I’m applying for a trip to Ecuador this coming summer. Being the hands of the Lord in this case may also fulfill study requirements. (But do you think it’s okay to set aside tithe money for the purposes of such a trip?)

And finally tonight, my dear, it seems ever thus that I am the one who has needs he must conceal. It would be nice if someone needed me…and told me so…and made me believe it.

Stay warm and safe and loved tonight, my dear.

Yours ever,
Beren

February 4, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness, Nights Like These | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sundry Thoughts for the End of May

“Golden haze; another morning feels like yesterday.
The end of may…and now you’re gone and there’s still bills to pay.
And you know it doesn’t help to make believe, you’re sitting next to me.
It doesn’t help, to make believe that you are right behind me
Saying ‘it’s okay’…”

Dear Darling,

It’s been unseasonably chilly the past few days. Low-40’s as May draws to a close is highly unusual, and given my recent switch to working a few overnights, I’ve felt the sharpest of the chill’s edge. Working overnights provides a different outlook on the world. The streets normally teeming with traffic are abandoned. You leave at last light and return after the first. And really, I’ve been surprised at my own adaptability to it. Never fear, I wouldn’t plan to work the night hours once I find you, but until then it’s an interesting experience.

Today I was required to work during sunlight hours. It was a heavy day, but that is so any time you stand as silent participant and comforter in the observance of a soul sundering from the flesh and passing from the world.

Nor indeed is it often (though not unheard-of) to offer counsel and consolation to a friend whose husband abruptly left her.

Meanwhile, another friend had gotten engaged, and my colleague of the day’s labors was a woman lately married to a friend I’ve mentioned before.

So I arrived home with marriage, death and divorce on my mind, having asked God to turn my head from thoughts of bitterness or pettiness.

I concocted an intriguing recipe of my own design involving chicken cubes, orange juice, maple syrup, apples, bananas and pepper which I shall delight in sharing with you some fine day. By necessity, your Beren is finding himself nearly equal to the task of cooking!

Outside, the night air is finally behaving like late spring. I step out the front door and the night smells like adventure. It’s the kind of night I would endeavor outside to walk alone. But alas, I’m now firmly ensconced in the city, with horrid lights and houses and neighbors. There is little to offer in the way of nighttime excursions, and I am confined to my dishes, my reading and my letters.

Oh yes, I’ve taken up reading again. This past year afforded almost no time for it and now I’ve resumed it.

And Darling, you may as well know, I am being taught a rather painful lesson on dealing with failure. It has set me back some months and some expense, and carries with it a frustration and a stigma that I find challenging. Perhaps I should be grateful the rest of the world is less judgmental than I, for if anyone else were to tell me they had failed, I would presume shoddy workmanship and lackluster effort. Yet here I know my effort was nothing less than my best, and yet it wasn’t enough. (Perhaps that is but one of the lessons I’m being asked to internalize.) The problem lies, I think, in suffering from an overabundance of critical thought rather than a deficit. And although only failures bother to offer excuses, it is my firm belief my work actually ought to have been deemed sufficient, for multiple reasons not up for dispute. Regardless, it has offered a stern check on my life and ambitions, and left me struggling to master a concoction of feelings such as jealousy, anger, shame, embarrassment and insufficiency.

Such is often my lot, to spin my many-splendored blessings into an unfortuitous tale.

Darling, here I must pause to ask you if you might consider this request, that when you must rebuke me, do it gently. We will fight, of course, and exchange heated words of anger. That’s not what I’m talking about. I mean that at times, people don’t understand me. With my blend of sarcasm and kindness, a sort-of weight in the heart from being alone and a buoyancy of spirit, people have been known to misinterpret me as haughty, bitter or mean. These people are then given to rebuking me in a manner not even fitting the notion of “wounds from a friend.” If…if you might just try being gentle in proposing an alternate means by which to draw my attention to my mistakes in this regard, I should be greatly in your debt.

I suppose, more than anything else, I just need to know I have value, that my efforts and contributions have value. I need to hear it from someone else.

Most of all again, my dear, I wish you to know how very greatly you are missed. There are very random and sporadic moments of availability that I find in myself, coupled with the fact that I dislike being on my own and unoccupied. I’ll have sudden urges to go see movies, meet for dinner or go for a drive. None of these desires are met with companionable responses. I am minded to embark on a fitness regimen this summer, and I don’t have anyone to do it with. All you’d have had to say is “please?” for me to pick you up, drive us both downtown and walk around the city park at midnight. (Maybe I’ll take myself there tomorrow.)

I’ve been blessed with another opportunity to travel on a low budget, and I’d love to share it with you.

As I mentioned, engagements continue to plague my circle of acquaintances, bringing out all that’s worst and petty in me. I’m beginning to feel quite the relic, and wishing I could have warned myself this phase of life would come!

Know that you are missed, loved and prayed for, my dearest.

Beren

May 28, 2013 Posted by | Nights Like These | , , , , , | Leave a comment