choosing to do wrong, and failing to do good…

Endless summer

Endless summer

Most of us have a youthful time in our lives that we look back upon fondly, even if it was fleeting or fraught. This period in our life is often characterized by experimentation, falling in love, creativity, or travel, but mostly by a sense of unbridled freedom and a feeling of endless possibility. This time naturally occurs as we are poised on the threshold to our adulthood and it can propel us through the door to a more responsible, stable grown-up life either because of the pain it ultimately causes us, or because it is simply unsustainable.

It is often this period of our life that we use as a point of reference in our adult life for happiness, but it is not something that can be successfully revisited in just the same way it was experienced the first time around. If we are lucky, we can bring its essence forward with us and temper it to suit our adult lives. At times perhaps we can experience glimpses of it, but it will never be the same again.

That time in my life occurred around the time I first met Werner when I was 19. Truthfully, I found him rather annoying, as I did many of the boys I hung out with then. It seemed the focus of those boys was more often than not trouble-making of some sort. Not that I was above trouble-making, I did my fair share of it too. There were parties and more parties, and rock-and-roll shows, and hung-over breakfasts and there were desert trips. And the last time I really interacted with Werner before I met him again so many years later was on one of those desert trips.

When I reconnected with him again as an adult I was shocked. How could someone have changed so much? He was a different person, he was a man! I’m not sure why I was surprised by this, but I was. Perhaps it was simply my denial about being so grown up and finding ourselves together again after so long. We met in the evening for a walk around Green Lake the first time. The possibility of dating him wasn’t real to me at that point, it was a meeting of old friends. He was going through a divorce, and I was further along on that path.

He was stunned and in pain and searching, but he was solid, and kind, and he had a quiet, calm, measured sensibility that I didn’t expect. I don’t know what I was expecting really – Werner the boy in a ripped punk rock t-shirt mocking me and being generally annoying? Not even close. After talking, and talking, and a few months of what turned out to be courtship, I realized that I was falling in love with him. And thankfully, it wasn’t the kind of falling in love that involved a lot of drama. It felt clean, and real, and it felt right.

I believe that people are good at heart. I always have. I realize that this sets me apart from the camp who believe the opposite – that human nature is flawed, and that people are basically rotten at the core.

I have never intuitively understood the idea of original sin. If we are made in the image of a perfect God, then our nature must be essentially whole and perfect, not fallen and separate. This makes it easier to forgive, which we are told in all spiritual traditions is essential to our happiness.

Having co-created three children with the same father, I am acutely aware of the varieties of individuals that can come from the same gene pool. There are those who come into this world smiling and determined and charmed, and there are those who struggle and all varieties in between.

I didn’t know Werner’s father, but I understand that he was an only child who’d had a rough childhood. I understand that he could’ve been a struggler. That he may have had a difficult personality, that he had a difficult, painful childhood and that he was an only child with no siblings with whom to commiserate does not excuse his subsequent behavior, but it helps me to understand, and it might help me to forgive.

I understand that he went on to be a young man who was capable of hurting a woman. I know that he was a drinker, I could easily guess an alcoholic, and what I know from my own experience with alcoholism and addiction is that without recovery, anything is possible. When I say “anything is possible”, I’m not talking about the miraculous kind of “anything”. I’m talking about all possibilities of distorted, unhealthy, unkind, rude, hurtful, abusive, angry behaviors.

Miracles are wonderful, loving things that result from recovery, and recovery is reserved for those who not only stay sober, but those who are able to forgive themselves first, and then everyone else who they’ve ever hurt or who has hurt them.

When Werner’s father contacted him ten years ago through a private investigator, Werner agreed to talk with him on the phone. Werner told me his main focus at that time was to determine whether his father was reappearing in his life to make an “act of contrition”. This act of contrition was to be made for the sins of abandonment, and for the repeated physical abuse of his mother which Werner witnessed as a child. But this was not to be. Perhaps it was a matter of timing, or perhaps it was a lifelong inability of his father to face the truth of his own behavior, but it didn’t happen then.

Werner is forgiving. He can be stubborn and strong-willed but he is forgiving and he is soft-hearted. I have experienced this first-hand, and I have total confidence that had his father said the proper words with the proper emotion, Werner would’ve come along with him, and would’ve worked through forgiving him. But for whatever reason his father didn’t come to make any gestures towards any kind of repentance or acknowledgement of the pain he’d caused by his behavior so many years earlier. After just three conversations on the phone, Werner chose to end the relationship, this time on his own terms. A wise and safe maneuver if you ask me.

While we all know the expression “Blood is thicker than water”, it is true that we get to choose where we will focus our attention in this life. Those of us who stay healthy and are successful will not put too much effort into trying to make anyone be what we wish they could be, whether they are our flesh and blood or not. It is best to come to terms with things as they are, and choose a safe proximity to those around us, blood relation or not. In this case, the proximity Werner chose was to remain completely physically separate.

And now, we have decided that it is safe and right for us to attend the memorial service on Tuesday. We wonder if anyone else will be there.

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15 thoughts on “choosing to do wrong, and failing to do good…

  1. I have never read such clarity. That you are able to document this emotional journey with such precision is beautiful. My heart goes out to you and Werner. Thank you again for sharing.
    Red

  2. I only saw Gary once in the late 70s; since we were roomates in Boca de Barranca, Costa Rica in ’72, and he thanked me for bailing him out of jail down there. Long story…I don’t know if he ever got sober…

    • It was evident that he was sober Larry. Probably for quite some time. I don’t know about the “recovery” part, but that’s not for me to judge I guess. I hope Werner and I will get to hear some of your stories in real life someday.

      • Sure Christine!… I ‘ve had some issues with my father that are parallel with Werner’s…He can call me if he’d like as well! I’ll email my phone number if chooses…

  3. You write with such emotion and understanding and insight. It is a challenging situation when our family fails us, and yet we strive and struggle to rebuild ties. Still, we each need to do our part; reconciliation is not one-sided. I appreciate the choices that Werner has had to make and has made; I wish you both closure while you say your goodbyes.

  4. The journey you and Werner are on is the same one my sons had to take with their father. I wish they had more time. I wish they had been able to make more clear choices. Their hurt was so palatable when he died, he had been gone from their lives for 8 years with no contact; I remain furious for the harm he did to their hearts.

    You are doing a beautiful job of writing this journey. I thank you both for allowing us to share it.

    • It is hard to let go of the anger, especially for your children. Have you written about this? I would love to read it if so. Thank you for reading my stories and for your comments.

      • I have not, it is their story to tell and there are underlying issues with their father I have chosen never to expose. I have chosen to allow them their love, tainted only by his hurt to them not by other less savory things they don’t know.

  5. Pingback: dénouement: the lonely sea « misslisted

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