Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Epiphany (of sorts): A Hopeless Romantic looks back at a difficult Christmas

It’s Wednesday December 27, 2017. Two days after Christmas. For the first time in, perhaps, my entire life, I’m glad Christmas is over.
I went home (to the Philly suburbs) as I always do at Christmas. I love my hometown and I love the sights and sounds of my childhood, but this time, for many reasons, it didn’t provide me with the usual respite from my wandering. This time, it made me feel like I’m still homeless. Homeless in the worst kind of way.
Homeless with a home.
I have a home. I have a 750-square foot townhouse that I share with my nineteen-year-old daughter. I have a good job at my alma mater. I sleep indoors and I’m rebuilding my life and I’m even starting work on my Master’s degree. But I feel like a vagabond. At Christmas, I feel like a Nomad. Like a man making yet another trip on the trade routes, through the deserts and mountains that make up this wilderness in my heart.
Christmas always gets me. I am a hopeless romantic and Christmas is the most romantic time of the entire year. This particular Christmas didn’t disappoint on that front either.
I am considerably older than my coworkers. Most of them are young married guys, with young families. There are three women on our staff of nine, one is a widow, and the other two are in their early twenties, and both got engaged this Christmas.
I am thrilled for them both. I know both of their fiancés, and they are great guys. But looking at their posts on Facebook over the last few days, made me feel a twinge of sadness.
I remember when I was those young men. I remember when I asked my (now-ex) wife to marry me. I remember when I realized that I’d only ever loved one woman enough to want to marry her and here she was…and I asked. I remember how great it felt to have a fiancĂ©, and then how great it felt to have a wife. I married the love of my life. Sadly –as I was to find out a mere three years later—my wife did not.
She’s already divorced the second love of her life and has multiple lines in the water looking for number three. Meanwhile, I’ve licked these wounds for nineteen years and wondered if anyone, anywhere would ever make me feel as giddy, romantic, and excited as I did that day.
It’s not about her anymore…I’m as over her as a man can be and still be civil. In fact, given my despise of divorce and how much I really do love marriage, I often feel a little guilty that I am this glad to not be married to her now. Trust me…it’s not about her.
It’s about marriage.
It’s about the whole “For better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health” thing that I swore to her, and meant every word. I remember saying “I do” a little too soon in the exchanging of the vows, and the pastor getting a big chuckle out of it. (In my defense, he paused and I thought he was done) I couldn’t wait to say “I do.” I just wanted her to be my wife.
I remember going out in public with a wife. I remember the way it took me a few months to get used to the feeling of a wedding ring. (I’m not a jewelry wearer) I remember how much I really liked having someone at home that I had to check in with if I was going to be late, or to call and see if she needed anything on my way home from work.
I thought by now there’d be a few kids, and a few thousand memories, and friendships we’d forged over the years with other married folks. I thought maybe we’d teach a Sunday School class or host an exchange student, or buy a beach house. I thought we’d be having guests come to our house for Christmas once in a while. Instead, I am a one-man caravan up I-95 each Holiday season. All the while wondering what it would be like to have those Christmas dreams come true, doubting now that they ever will or even that they could. I admit to a touch of jealousy when I see families who have what I’d always hoped I’d have.
I stayed single all these years for several reasons, some good, some not. Devotion to my daughter was number one and I am glad I did that for her. But fear and doubt and disillusionment were all tied equally for second on that list. I suppose I thought I’d get over it. I guess I thought I’d take the chance one day. I suppose I thought that I’d meet someone else who truly took my breath away, for whom my heart beat, and without whom I simply would never feel complete again. Someone who made me a little nervous. One amazing woman who would cause my heart to skip a beat, and my hands to tremble as I pulled a black box from my pocket, slowly dropped to one knee, and asked the once-in-a-lifetime question, for the second time in my life.
But I blinked and nineteen years went by. And now I fear I’ll never find her. Maybe I was never going to find her anyway. Maybe this is just my lot in life.
But if it is, it’s a shame. Because somewhere under all this hardened, brick-wall I’ve surrounded my heart with, lives the soul of a romantic. The spark is flickering and dying, but it’s still alight just enough to remind me of how I used to be. And who. There are songs I would sing her, poems I would write her, family I would proudly introduce her to. There are places from my childhood I’d share and photo albums and names carved in trees, or written in the long-hardened cement of a sidewalk somewhere outside of Philly.
There is a light display, and a crowded table on Christmas Eve, occupied by smiling, loving faces, all of whom share my last name, or my ancestry, or both.
There is a pile of exactly the perfect Christmas presents I would have bought you if I’d have met you. There is a friendship with my daughter you could have forged, and maybe been an influence and a help to her when she was so devastated by her mom’s recent husband.
There are secrets I hold in my heart that I would have told you, had you ever shown up. Dreams and plans and hopes and successes. Whoever you are, I’ve pretty much given up on you ever finding me, or me finding you. I think we missed each other, and our concentric circles are now growing in the wrong direction…taking us a little further from each other with each moment. But if you are –or were—out there, you must have been someone special. You must have been astounding and magnificent and you were probably the most wonderfully lovely woman I was ever going to meet. You probably would have saved my life. Oh, I’m not dying, and I have no plans on doing so anytime soon. But inside, perhaps, I am…just a little each day.
Brennan Manning once said, “There are three ways to commit suicide: Take your own life, let yourself die…or live without hope.” I would never consider the first two. I fear I am already in the grips of the third.
Whoever you are…you would have saved this life of mine. You would have painted fresh color on the canvas of my heart where only grey exists now. You would have thrown open the dusty shutters and let the light in. You would have made me smile when I pulled into the driveway at night.
Maybe you’d come with kids of your own, and my longing for a full house would have been satiated. Maybe you’d become a fan of my writing, or my cooking, or my harsh attempts at singing. Maybe we’d flip some houses together and share our creativity.
Maybe you’d slip your hand inside mine when I knelt to pray for our family, and I’d feel your breath on my cheek as you leaned in to offer your input as well.
Maybe one Christmas, I’d glance across my coffee cup and see you at the other side of the table…the kids would still be asleep and the house silent for a little while. We’d both feel the warmth of our dreams coming true in a simple thing like the stillness of a Christmas morning and we’d know, without speaking, that both of us were as in love as we could ever possibly be, right then, in that moment.
But not this Christmas. Because I haven’t found you yet. And I am beginning to doubt that I ever will.

Worse still… I’m accepting that I never will.

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