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.