Letters to Luthien

Letters to My Future Bride

Forbidden Wounds

WoundedKnightEach on his own strict line we move,
And some find death ere they find love.
So far apart their lives are thrown
From the twin soul that halves their own.

And sometimes, by still harder fate,
The lovers meet, but meet too late.
—Thy heart is mine!—True, true! ah, true!
—Then, love, thy hand!—Ah, no! adieu!

Hello Darling,

On many occasions, I have remarked to you of the inexplicable contradictions wedded to my existence. To most anyone on the outside looking in, my life in narrative could seem impressive and satisfying. Here, after all, is a chap who spent his last weekend swimming several hundred meters in the water and a sunny poolside visit with Hemingway. Yesterday, a visit to the archery range, a twelve mile bike ride, a dinner by himself with a Dickens novel. Business degree, nursing degree, published, credentialed, all that nonsense.

I have near-constant occasion to reflect on my life as a summary, because in my job new encounters are constant. As support staff across the healthcare enterprise, I’ve worked day shift and night shift for two and a half years on over twelve floors, across thirty different wings and eight ICUs, meeting literally hundreds of nurses and probably thousands of patients and family members. They think it’s wit that allows quick answers to their questions. It’s only that I’ve heard them in nearly every incarnation imaginable. I have to delay my response to avoid sounding sarcastic.

But what does it seem to me? Where does Beren see himself in all this? Does he enjoy this biking and hiking and swimming and arrows? Right now, they’re just another skill, another means of distraction and escape. Need I tell you again how I really feel, Darling? Lonely and aloof, like on a pedestal through no fault or credit of my own, unable to be helped, living an illusion, spending too much time completely outside of my own head — or too far inside of it. People my age…they’ve already their careers and families with which to gratify and identify. They’re stabilizing financially. They’re buying houses, getting married, settling down. The people still swimming upstream don’t.

I plan my days from week to week, but with an incurable bent towards Tomorrow, always Tomorrow. Not in the sense of procrastination, but weighing a moment by its lasting outcomes, so much that I can’t “live in the moment.” Things are always a Big Deal, and there’s always a “now what?” when the work is through. I like to read, but I don’t like to stay at home and read. Staying home at all seems a torture and I always have to find somewhere to go. (This city is short on such havens and refuges, quiet reading nooks or splendid sunset overlooks.) Relationships, like work, seem both a curse and a cure.

“You can do anything you want!” the actor exclaimed to the movie’s hero. “What makes you happy?”

“I don’t know,” the hero replied.

I don’t know.

Tell me…where do you go in your times of weakness? Who lifts you up and who do you turn to? That’s where I am tonight; weak and wounded. Only difference is, when I look around for some place to go or someone to call, no one is there. At times, I just look for a book to read, a song to hear, a movie to distract. I know Alegfast struggles with uncertainties and anxieties too, though he seldom talks of them. And I hesitate to voice my own.

You see, in our world, it’s not okay for men to be weak. We can’t be weak, and we can’t be hurt. If you are, you don’t talk about it and you don’t let it show. You man up. You be assertive, not weak, decisive, not needy. No matter the songs, don’t confess your need for a friend in the lonely hour. (Such a perfect song for tonight!)

There is a friend who, it seems, desires to be closer to me. She took it upon herself to address what she felt was my lack of joy, which she termed a serious issue in my life. I took to explaining the various attacks this week which have eroded such joy. Financial concerns. Ailing or unemployed loved ones, disputes with the family, disputes with the world, disputes in the workplace. You know I’m comfortable with disputes, Darling. “The gift of confrontation” some call it. But lately, I view disputes with a tired and grim resignation. A nurse began vigorously lecturing on her political beliefs while we were involved in patient care, and I knew I could quite convincingly construct and prove my case, but why bother? People will think what they will. There’s no reasoning with them.

I’m feeling defeated, that’s what. In most depths you have hope, but right now I’m just hoping to regain hope. There’s a lot to carry, but the people who matter are far worse off, and the ones who don’t matter dry up. When you stop checking on some of them and let them fend for themselves, the airwaves go silent. People who have been friends for years say not so much as a “how are you?” You wonder sometimes if it was an illusion, or just a one-way ministry. And the ironic thing is, whenever someone shows special attention as a giver, it’s rare I will receive it passively. Instead, I recognize a giver like me, and I will take compassion on you because I know what it feels like to burn with a compassion for people that is seldom requited. (Mind you, there are some people ill-pleased with me right now who would snatch up a chance to publicly scorn the notion that I am a giver and compelled to give.)

I’m not the only one fighting these sorts of battles. Browse WordPress for lonely souls. They’re all out there, and all of them hope someone is listening. They don’t want to ask for help. They can’t or don’t know how, or they know no one will come. I’ll wager most of them would be the greatest givers in the world — certainly if they’ve found they must give to others to be satisfied. If the world were to invest just a little nourishment to them, how inestimable would the benefit become?

And I have something they don’t all have. I know I serve a God of providence and grace. I know that it is in defeat that we become wise. I have a job and am happy when I work, even if that’s the only time I’m happy. I know that I don’t live at all without you, but that you’ll come one day and my life will be full of everything again. I know that when I have you to look after, how I feel will matter less. Looking after your needs will become paramount.

Anyone who knows anything about relationships will tell you they take work. And that’s exhausting sometimes, isn’t it? My job already saps much of my investive energy, and at times it looks like a mountain to climb every time. Men take the initiative, or we should. We carry the load, assume the risk. We can’t be afraid, can’t ask for help, can’t admit we’re weak. Women, for all your saber-rattling that you are strong (and you are) you also have license to be weak. Sometimes nature conspires to make you look and feel weak.

Maybe it’s just an excuse for the abdication of leadership to which we men are so prone, but sometimes, I don’t want to do the heavy lifting or take the initiative. Sometimes men want someone who will tie the knots in our stomach into butterflies. I want something senseless and intoxicating; something to escape the fetters of rationality and reason; an inexplicable draw and desire that I simply have to be with you, put up with you no matter the cost. I want an easy ascent for at least part of the journey, not this plodding climb. I want an onslaught of love so great it overwhelms my resistance.

And what of you? Will you attach yourself to be me with the conviction of Ruth — “where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay”? With beauty of Esther, loyalty of Sarah, wisdom of Deborah? Someone of strong will and unwavering conviction? Can you be not just the woman who needs a man, but the woman a man needs? Someone with a heart like mine?

Where do these sad and lonely people go when they aren’t online? There was a girl in line at the restaurant last night by herself. I would have bought her dinner just to be kind, because she’s here by herself. But she bought for two, and bought it to go. When I am older, maybe I will build a place called The Lonely, a place where people go if they’re lonely and alone. Then at least people will know where to go not to feel quite as alone. No one can un-lonely themselves.

Everyone is lonely, and everyone has demons nipping at their heels. Maybe I write so that you know I am honest, even when honesty isn’t attractive. Maybe writers are the only ones brave enough to give form to the dark thoughts which others push to the fringe.

At any rate, I will not bow to the world’s defeat. Despair is for the sons of Satan with whom the world populates its kingdoms, and to this I will not yield, if only for refusal’s sake. Tomorrow shall find me a brighter and happier man, and if not then, the day after. Autumn will be upon us, the home stretch of my studies begins, and there are many ripe fields of happiness yet to be discovered. Tread them yourself, as you may, until we meet.

Love,
Beren

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August 18, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Sundry Summer Thoughts

Man Alone by the Sea

“The urge to run, the restlessness
The heart of stone I sometimes get
The things I’ve done for foolish pride
The me that’s never satisfied
The face that’s in the mirror when I don’t like what I see
I guess that’s just the cowboy in me.”

Tim McGraw

Dear Darling,

I’m not entirely sure my little vacation did me the good it ought to have. I think instead it was a respite without requiescence, disrupting the restless and sometimes reckless pace that I love — and hate — to maintain. The past couple of nights at work I’ve struggled. There were patients who offered a meaningful thank-you when I was able to console and relieve their pains; a tender reminder of exactly why I’m in this business. Of course, tonight I must needs reshuffle the sleeping arrangements for church tomorrow, and the hours of night already fly.

1) I went walking tonight, but I find my walks less productive of late. Perhaps they needn’t always produce fervent prayers or glimmering revelations, but it does seem as though desire and inspiration have trended downward. Perhaps I am in a holding pattern at the moment, biding my time for studies to resume, and until I find you. Perhaps desire smolders and inspiration is subdued through some disuse. I haven’t found you to live for and care for, nor anyone to render like compensation in my name. I think I’ll always need something for which to struggle, even though it weighs heavily at the time. I’ll always need something to which I can look forward as well. I hope you’ve likewise set goals for yourself? If not, I hope you will. I hope to learn archery, to ride a hot air balloon, and to once again straddle a horse. Then of course there’s the travel I mentioned, and the time to pursue more outdoors sports such as biking, canoeing and kayaking.

So my walk seems devoid of true purpose. The thoughts aren’t so loud as the often seem, nor so pressing. The silence seems a poor gift to lay at the throne, but so do the same names I’ve brought before, or the nameless, selfsame bride to whom I write.

2) There are nights where yours and my words will run dry. Ah, but that’s why they invented kissing.

3) I’ll write more about this one day, but as you might imagine, there are a great number of women who think shedding the majority of their raiment for seaside recreation is perfectly acceptable. By society, it is. (And what man wouldn’t approve of a woman feeling herself “liberated” from clothes?) By myself, it is not. Please remember, my dear, the simple reality that you can either cover up, or contribute to the constant battle of a man to look at women honorably, no matter how dishonorably they dress. Some men still wage such a war, and I greatly hope you will want to air on his side.

4) On my travels back, I sat between a Buddhist and a lesbian. I struck up a conversation with the former and, being a dabbler myself, was able to instruct him about some of the more technical points of photography and camera operation. The woman to my right paid some attention, and when our plane landed, we all sat down for a bit before our connecting flights. I was able to share the gospel with both of them at that time…perhaps the most gratifying moment of my trip. At a time when I felt like I’d neglected the things of the Kingdom, or that I wasn’t shining bright enough, it seems He sent to me the opportunity to shine for Him, and for that I was thoroughly grateful.

5) Within two sunsets of my having returned, I prevailed upon a friend to temper his urge to move, and accompanied him on a thirteen hour excursion into the deep south with a load of furniture and possessions. He is an intellectual, and he understands fully the perilous direction society is trending. Our conversation was heavy with topics ranging from Catholicism and transubstantiation to farm subsidies and taxation. Before we left, I had occasion to play with, feed, change and then rock to sleep his infant son. It reminded me again that although there are things I hope for us both to accomplish before we begin our own family, I will be gratified when the day comes. On our car trip, his father noted the Catholic enjoinment that marital intimacy was reserved strictly for reproduction. This reminded me that I am most certainly not Catholic.

6) I wonder what excuses I will find when I am finally out of school and fully commissioned, but this summer has afforded the opportunity to resume some reading. I’ve put away the Diary of Anne Frank, The Last Lecture and am currently working through Oliver Twist, to say nothing of the poetry I continue to peruse. (That last bit comes from a volume I found tonight in the shop, and is best read with a crisp Scottish brogue if you can manage it.)

7) Did you ever stop to wonder when you became “the smart one”? I’ve noticed an increasing trend here of late. A comment on the subjugation and colonialism of south African nations (and how diamonds are a marketing trick) led one nurse to look at me and ask, not entirely without sarcasm, how I got so smart. I’ve reached a cruising altitude in my job now where some nurses ask me questions. A friend asked me the meaning of a word. Naturally this makes me check myself to make sure I’m not swaggering knowledge. But of course, I forget not everyone is on the same page as I.

8) Do you ever evaluate in your own way whether or not God is happy with you? Of course, we are all made perfect in the sight of God, but if that is the only standard by which to measure, then there is no incentive in striving to please God passed the shadow of the cross. For example, does it make God happier that I sponsored a child than if I hadn’t? Would be be more pleased if I paid more? Not, of course, that the favor of the Almighty can be purchased, nor that scales such as the widow’s mites can be ignored. But I do find myself wondering, asking, hoping, that God can smile down from heaven in pride, knowing that His son is seeking and striving to better the world as often as may be, and imploring others to repent and be saved when he can. I do know that I need to work on grace and forgiveness, love and acceptance and patience. I think the prayer we must all pray is that God may make us more like His Son each day.

9) In olden days, men of valor performed great deeds and the minstrels sung of them. Now as a rule, neither men  nor their deeds are great. They sit idly by and revere the minstrels. I live to see the most amazing things, working with the warriors, the guardians and sentinels, the menders and the healers, preservers of peace and keepers of health. We don’t ask for admiration. But on nights when I venture out among friends, I often harbor a hidden disbelief that they laud the vapid and insignificant stories and brush aside those who stand on the front lines of all that has meaning in this world.

10) Often it’s the saddest and heaviest of emotions that drive me to process them in a letter to you. I think it’s the same with God; we hear him best when hardship drives us to Him for answers. And so, when I seem to unburden the gravest of loads, I hope you appreciate that these are not the sum total of my thoughts or experience. Much of it means I’m only unhappy in your absence; that I don’t have someone else to live for, and that when I have entertained such hopes in the past, I’ve been far more pleasant to be around. My dearest, you’re the answer to this problem. You’re the other half. You’ll mellow me out. You’ll make me okay either with relaxing or with not being relaxed.

There’s more, Darling. There’s always more. But for now, the loose ends have been threaded through honesty’s ink-jar and arranged in a way which I hope you will find agreeable. Doubtless you’ll be rising before long for worship, and I hope you find it meaningful.

Yours,
Beren

June 29, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness, Nights Like These | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On This Winter’s Night

“The lamp is burning low upon my table top
The snow is softly falling
The air is still within the silence of my room
I hear your voice softly calling

If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
Upon this winter night with you.”

Dear Darling,

I greatly hope the new year is treating you even better than the last, heedless of how blessed the last year might have been. Mine? A friend succinctly surmised that last year seems to be bleeding into this year. I expect this year to usher in just as many unexpected cures and curses as the last, and perhaps more. Scattered among the many loose ends, I hope to find the cord that can will lead me to your door. Now wouldn’t you be a bundle of nerves if I were to knock this very night…!

It’s wickedly cold outside, as is the case for most of the country. We are not accustomed to such temperatures in this part of the country, and I’m grateful for the Lord’s provision. You may think me odd, but I’m also grateful for the opportunity to weather such times of hardship. They teach us about ourselves, and make us stronger. Not that much strength can be derived from central heating, but you see what I mean. I’m also grateful to have and share God’s promise in Genesis 8, which many forget: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

I was able to impart this promise with some success to a friend of Alegfast, whom I shall call Loswen. (Its translation from the Elvish roughly means snow-maiden) who is loth to see winter take such fierce hold. The poor dear…I like her, though not romantically, and can see there is frost on her soul that wants thawing. But as I have learnt before, there are some frosts that aren’t mine to thaw.

This past weekend consisted of mostly work, eat and sleep. A lot of days seem to consist of that anymore. I don’t mind, but sometimes I lose track of how much I’ve slept, or when I’ve eaten. I awoke from a nap on Sunday and forgot that I hadn’t eaten lunch.

The next week promises more of the same. I’m also moving again. Alegfast has begun final arrangements, and it appears it’s time to be moving on. God provides, and his provision in this case appears to be arrangements typically far beyond my means. It will put me closer to work and school as well.

Ties with my family have been temporarily but viciously severed for the past few days, a fact which I am at a loss to correct. There’s been no new word this week, and for that I am honestly grateful.

I’ve resolved to spend less time on Facebook if possible this year, and perhaps even less time with digital relationships entirely. Social media has been a vice of mine. The time is better spent in physical health, and relationships, and in study and reading.

School starts back next week. I’ll be glad, but I realized tonight that in dealing with children and a likely front-seat viewing for the miracle of childbirth, it might make me thoughtful for our forthcoming years as parents. Hmm.

These days, I have been contemplating the concept of value. This may seem an oversimplified and abundantly obvious truth, but ultimately, human beings only desire something for its value. Even the charitable and beneficent derive a kind of value from their good works, even if just a feeling of having created value. We hear of people who want greater compensation for their work, but these people overestimate their value in the equation. We complain about the high cost and compensation for doctors and surgeons, but when we require their specialty and expertise, their skill is of inestimable value to restore our bodies and save lives. And as much as we complain about the wealth of musicians and storytellers, at the end of the day these people add value to our lives by making us feel something, letting us escape from our lives, illustrating something (true love, excellence, heroism, courage, fitness, skill) to which we aspire. Ultimately, great numbers of us are willing to purchase the privilege of such value added to our lives.

I overestimated my value, and the value of my degree, in the workforce. Now I’m correcting it with a study of medicine and bedside practice.

Even friendships, I think, subsist on value created. Husbands and wives support and augment each other, and of course derive great value from each other’s presence. The sum of our friendships and relationships are the value which they provide us, even if only as companionship. Those who have greater numbers of friendships are those who can and do provide value to others.

It seems to me I’ve spent a great portion of my life estimating what value is needed in others, and rising to the occasion of learning how to provide it. Such value isn’t always given lightly, but once given, is given gladly and freely. I think in many cases I misunderestimated the demand incumbent on what I thought would be valuable. But in acquiring the skill of a warrior, a healer, a writer and a orator, with scatterings of poet and philosopher, lover and listener, I’ve attempted to become valuable to other peoples’ lives. (I was recently in a cafeteria with Mîlwen when a worker suffered a peculiar spell of a seeming medical nature. I attended her for a short time, and was given free lunch in return.) I don’t say this to congratulate myself. I’m observing that it took intentional effort to acquire the skill requisite to add value to the lives of others. Even now, not only am I learning how to heal the body, but am attaining the skills to be a provider and keep my family in comfort.

Darling, might I make so bold as to ask what value you have in mind to add to your future husband’s life? I know of a girl, a foolish silly girl who could attend a very expensive school for free and yet does not, with the wistful folly of “staying at home to learn how to be a homemaker.” (I speak of my benign internet stalker.)

A woman’s skill extends beyond mere cooking or cleaning, no matter how traditional these may seem. In olden days, a man sought out a woman not just to bear children, but someone who could help him make a life of it, sewing and cooking and cleaning and working. Modern-day luxuries nullify some of these necessities, but that doesn’t diminish their need. Have you ever thought about being a nurse as well? I have a dream of both being employed with an agency, traveling to different towns and states, combining shifts and spending the rest of the week seeing the sights and sounds in each other’s company. These agencies pay quite well. Were we to do such a thing, we could have the time of our lives, and return home a quarter- to a half-million dollars wealthier.

Of course, family will have to come first, and I’ll have to remind myself of that. But the idea is a fun one to conjure on occasion. I could go alone on such ventures. But there is an old African proverb which says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

The thought of you is always before me, my dear. There is no song that doesn’t make me wish for your presence. No time of year, whether summer’s sun, winter’s chill, springtime’s beauty or harvest’s bounty, that does not make me think of you.

Stay warm tonight, my love, if such a thing is possible absent my embrace.

Love always,
Beren

“If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter’s night with you
And to be once again with with you.”

Sarah McLachlan

January 7, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness, Nights Like These | , , , , , , | Leave a comment