At Twilight

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Commitment Revisited

I had posted a short blurb earlier about commitment.

It didn’t end there for me, though. My mind kept coming back to the subject over and over again. I think I’ve learned quite a bit about commitment through the years. Sadly, my insights came only after disastrous failures. I’ve paid dearly for my education. My tuition was enormous, not only in dollars but also in pain. I wish I could have matriculated via some other means.

I suppose, in some way, I could blame my parents (It's the fashionable thing to do, is it not?). Their marriage lasted through Death. Even as a child, I knew it hadn’t been easy for them. They led tortured lives in many respects. They struggled, truly struggled. Through it all, they remained committed to each other. Their marriage was their bedrock. I simply assumed commitment would come naturally to me (after all, I had good teachers). Well, as in so many things, I miscalculated.

In fact, I was dead wrong.

My first marriage disintegrated fairly rapidly. There were many reasons for that, and I’ve touched on a few already. One thing is certain, neither my wife nor I were truly committed to each other, or to our marriage. I could blame it on youth, I could blame it on stupidity, I could give you lots of reasons (all of them valid to one degree or another), but the truth is, it was primarily a character flaw in me.

I suffered a great deal after my divorce. I did a lot of soul searching.
I did a lot of penance. I sank far in my own eyes. My self-esteem was absolutely shattered. To this day, I feel ashamed of myself for that first marriage. I vowed that I would not marry again until I knew, absolutely knew, in my very marrow, what it meant to be committed to someone. What it meant to be committed to marriage…for life.

It took more than a decade before I was sure.

I thought I got it right this time. In many ways, I did. There were no others for me (at least not until years after the marriage completely collapsed). I was absolutely committed to my wife, to a life together; and I worked hard, very hard to make it a good life. We were together twenty-one years, and most of those years were wonderful. I had no doubt, whatsoever, that I had met the love of my life…that she and I would grow old together, that we would love each other till the last breath.

I know I’ll spend my remaining years puzzling over what went wrong. I suspect our story is similar to those of a great many couples that find themselves in divorce court after decades of marriage, staring at each other incomprehensibly, as if at a stranger. I can’t point to a climactic event, a cataclysm that destroyed something we had worked so hard to build. It wasn’t that. It was an almost imperceptible shifting of the earth beneath our feet. It was a gradual erosion of two souls that continued until the entire edifice collapsed in a momentous roar, a terrifying howl of pain.

Here I sit, disconsolate. I’ve come to learn, again through failure, the deeper meaning of commitment.

“Commitment is not a one-time decision. It’s a choice you make…again and again and again…That’s what makes it difficult.”

I already understood what that meant in a fundamental way. When one commits to a partner, to marriage, the commitment is not something established simply, in one shot, at the altar or before a judge or ship's captain. The commitment is tested time and again. Other people enter our lives, new roads beguile us, alternatives tempt us. The commitment to one’s partner is tested time and time again. Each time we choose our partner yet again, sacrifice something for their sake, we suffer hurt (of varying degrees). Life’s just like that. That’s what makes commitment difficult.

Ah, you thought the lesson ended there? No. I actually got that part right. Here comes the really hard part. What I missed (and so did my wife) was the deeper, the deepest, truth about commitment. The commitment is not to the institution of marriage. It is not just to a partner. True commitment is the daily, never-ending, absolute commitment to your partner’s happiness.

I’m not going to beat myself up as savagely for failing, this time, as I did after my first divorce. Don’t misunderstand, I’ve been going through Hell over all this for at least five years now. I came to grasp the importance of being committed to someone’s happiness several years ago. My wife still doesn’t understand. I daresay, a great many husbands and wives fail to grasp the importance of being committed to their spouses’ happiness.

I see what happened in my marriage happening in many others. Husbands work hard to be good providers, partners and fathers. Wives work just as hard (usually moreso). The commitment is real, it is honest and steadfast and earnest…but, often, it’s not enough. It’s not enough to just be a good provider, partner or parent (although that can carry you through a lifetime together). One must be committed to your partner’s true happiness. And, that, my friends, requires an awful lot of love, dedication, insight, self-denial, biting-of-tongue, wisdom, devotion, spirituality, honesty, grace, patience, acceptance and…well…every skill one can muster. No wonder so many marriages collapse, even the good ones. How many of us can honestly say we are truly dedicated and committed to our partner’s happiness? Let’s face it. Most of us are dedicated to our own happiness and, therefore, we seek partners we think will make us happy. Most of us then try to modify our partner (in countless ways) to ensure our continued happiness. We push and pull, criticize and admonish, judge, struggle to control, berate, debate, lecture and hector our partners in an attempt to make them pleasing to us. Being committed to our partner’s happiness is the exact reverse process. We must push and pull, criticize and admonish, judge, struggle to control, berate, debate, lecture and hector our inner selves, to make ourselves pleasing to our partners (assuming, of course, the partner is worthy and deserving of the effort...mine were). It’s not easy. We are all egocentric by nature. We all have our needs. It’s too easy to focus on our own happiness rather than someone else’s. We all fail our partners to some extent.

* * *

Maybe it’s a function of age. Maybe I’ve managed to acquire a bit of wisdom along with the gray hairs. Maybe it’s because I no longer feel a need to make a mark on the world, or prove something to myself. Maybe it’s because I’ve been so unhappy for too many years. Whatever the reasons may be, I realized some time ago that all I really want in life is to make someone happy. Truly happy. Maybe that sounds funny to you (it would have sounded funny to me, say, thirty years ago). But, it’s true. I’ve had my day in the sun. I've tested myself in the world. I’ve come to know my strengths, my weaknesses and my self. My ego drove me for decades; but it’s not nearly as powerful a driver any longer (my hunger drives me, now). All I want is to make someone happy. I know today, in my very marrow, that that would make me happy, too.

Funny, isn’t it? (Well, no, not really). Just when I finally learn the most important truths about commitment I have no one to commit myself to…
* * *

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Haunted

There are roads I’ll never travel. Towns I shall not/cannot visit. Thresholds that I’ll never cross again.

There are songs I cannot bear to hear...mere echoes now, faint echoes.

There are memories that plead to be forgotten: The arms that will never hold me, the hands I cannot clasp, the hopes beyond all hoping. There are the lips I’ll never kiss again.

Are those raindrops tapping on my window? Or has my ghost come calling?

When the sun slumps from the sky, and the doves begin to cry, my ghost comes calling in the night. She tiptoes to my waiting side, beneath the witching moon, to dance in the silvered light again. And dance again we do, just you and I, our once in a lifetime dance, again.

You whisper to my heart anew the promises long broken. And I make love to you again (and again and again), in the desperate, tender, aching ways that only a man who loves a wraith can. I hold you through the dark of night in my inept and empty, begging arms. I hold you close, then closer, closer still…all the while knowing (what all who love lost spirits come to know)…there will someday come that vagrant midnight when the tapping on my window will simply be...
the rain.

Gone with daybreak is my haunting. Come with sunlight are my tauntings and my truths. In the day’s glare I remember:

There are lips I’ll never kiss again.

* * *

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Preview

I’m finding it difficult to find the words. Believe me, there’s a whole lot bubbling in this stew-pot head of mine. I know what I want to write about. I know exactly what I’ve been pondering for weeks and weeks and weeks now. It’s just that I’m finding it so very difficult to find the words. I attribute that to the fact that I am somewhat…Wow!…Hey!…Look! A squirrel!

Um, where was I? Ah…oh, yes…I’m…I’m easily distracted.

I want to revisit the topic of Commitment. I think I understand the basic concept better, now, than ever before. I suppose I could say “Better late than never.” On the other hand, I can also aptly mutter ruthfully (I know, I know, that’s not a word…I’m just flashing my poetic license here) that my insights came way too late to do anyone any good. Don’t let that happen to you.

I want to tackle the notion of “gendered hearts.” Sweet Amaris and Ms. Eleanor seem to believe there are masculine and feminine hearts. I beg to disagree.

I want to write about the “Shoeless Man.”

Somewhere inside of me is a long, long riff on Oscar Hammerstein’s song: “Getting To Know You.”

There’s this ghost who haunts me. I believe she deserves an entry of her very own.

I’ve got to get all these thoughts down on "paper" (curled though the pages may be) to clear my head a bit. There’s so much more to ponder…and I’m running out of time.

* * *

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

On Living Alone



I never imagined that I would enter old age as a solitary soul. Five years ago, the possibility never even crossed my mind. My, oh my, how life can change! Reminds me of that old joke/saying:

Wanna make God laugh?
Just tell Him your future plans.


Today, the obverse is true. I cannot imagine having a partner. My feral heart and shattered psyche send me scurrying for cover at the slightest hint of a friendly overture. It will take a long, long time before healthy red blood displaces the cynicism and bitterness now coursing through my veins. I'm in no condition to love, and to even try would undoubtedly hurt some innocent soul. I could not bear the thought of that. Love is, of necessity, the province of the emotionally healthy.

Life is chock full of surprises…not all of them pleasant. Some are decidedly unpleasant. Life-alteringly unpleasant.

I won’t be completely alone. I will have my pets. I’ve spent my life in the company of animals and will most assuredly remain surrounded by cats and dogs. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, animals have been my best teachers, my paragons. Although I wouldn’t say they are completely guileless, they do not outright lie. They do not make false promises. They are quick to forgive and forget. They are loyal and loving, and they do not renege on their affections. Their souls are pure, and I love them unconditionally (who wouldn't?) for that.

I will have my friends. Although I’ve shrunk from them of late (not wishing them to see me as I pathetically am these days), I know that this is just a transitory phase. I need them too much to remain in seclusion indefinitely. I love them too much to forsake them. I have loved them for decades, and will undoubtedly love them even more in my dotage. It is a fait accompli.

But a partner? Not likely.

I’ve had more than my fair share. I’ve devoted my heart and soul, my blood, my sweat and tears on behalf of significant others. I gave my best and tried my hardest (well, for the last two+ decades, anyway). I’ve nothing left to give, and I’m too weary to even try. The heart and soul are shut-off and empty. The blood lies pooled on the killing floor. I’ve shed way too many tears already. I have to relearn how to be happy within my own skin again.

The healing has not even begun (now, that's pretty obvious, isn't it?).

I am, on the other hand, willing (eager, even) to toil and sweat on behalf of strangers. I truly crave a higher purpose in life than merely accumulating wealth (something I'm actually quite good at), or simply indulging in a life of leisure. I want to teach. I want to be the best teacher I can be. I want to make a difference in someone's (anyone's) life. I will devote whatever skills I may have in the service of others. I believe sublime joy is to be found in that.

There are, however, other matters of import to consider.

It is a perverse truth that hair begins to grow in the most inaccessible of places as one ages (read and weep, you youngsters). For many months, now, I’ve been slowly tortured by the hair growing in my ears. The tickles in my ears are incessant, absolutely unrelenting. I’ve tried my darnedest to find the malicious culprits and yank them out by the roots. I’ve failed miserably. I’m being slowly driven to utter distraction...bordering on madness. I’ve even considered pouring Nair™ into my ears, but I fear the possible unintended consequences. Oh, this is something I never expected. Nothing and no one prepared me for this.

At this point in my life, I don’t need, or want, a partner…but, will someone please, please, trim those hairs!?! That simple act, alone, may not mean much to others, but it would mean the world to me.

I would, of course, gladly and gratefully return the favor somehow.

From there…well…who knows? Truth be told, I’m not one to allow casual ear canal penetration by just anyone. I may come to want a partner, after all. Life is full of surprises...some might even be pleasant. Magnificent, perhaps. Maybe. Someday. Maybe.*** Maybe not.

* * *

*** (She'd have to be truly amazing...the bar has been set so high)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Plucking Heartstrings

ET was kind enough to offer a Wallflowers’ tune for our collective musical/philosophical consideration. I thought I’d return the favor by listing a variety of personal favorites (alphabetically, even!). I culled these from various mixes (of the “soothing” variety) I’ve compiled over the years. These singers/songwriters all have something meaningful to say about love...or the loss thereof.

I believe you’ll find at least a few of these worth a listen:

Jann Arden – “Kitchen Window”
Jann Arden – “Mend”
Jann Arden – “Time For Mercy”
Jann Arden - “Waiting For Someone”
Jann Arden – “Will You Remember Me”
Joan Armatrading – “Down To Zero”
Joan Armatrading – “Dry Land”
Joan Armatrading – “Love And Affection”
Joan Armatrading – “Save Me”
Joan Armatrading – “The Weakness In Me”
Joan Armatrading – “Willow”
Better Than Ezra - "WWOZ"
Mary Chapin Carpenter – “Naked To The Eye”
Mary Chapin Carpenter – “Swept Away”
Mary Chapin Carpenter – “That’s Real”
Mary Chapin Carpenter – “The End Of My Pirate Days”
Mary Chapin Carpenter – “This Is Love”
Toni Childs – “Let The Rain Come Down”
Toni Childs - "Next To You"
Marc Cohn – “Don’t Talk To Her At Night”
Marc Cohn – “From The Station”
Marc Cohn – “Healing Hands”
Paula Cole – “Free”
Paula Cole - "Me"
Cowboy Junkies – “Cold Tea Blues”
Cowboy Junkies – “White Sail”
Nick Drake – “Northern Sky”
Sara Evans – “Tonight”
Melissa Ferrick - "Faking"
Melissa Ferrick – “I Am Not”
Melissa Ferrick - "Somehow We Get There"
Melissa Ferrick - "Time Flies"
Melissa Ferrick – “Trouble In My Head”
Thea Gilmore - "God Knows"
David Gray - "Silver Lining"
Wynonna Judd – “My Strongest Weakness”
Jonny Lang - "Breakin' Me"
Patty Larkin – “Chained To These Loving Arms”
Patty Larkin – “Closest Thing”
Patty Larkin – “Good Thing”
Patty Larkin – “Me And That Train”
Patty Larkin – “Winter Wind”
Lyle Lovett – “She’s Already Made Up Her Mind”
Tara MacLean – “Blinded”
Tara MacLean – “In The Wings”
Tara MacLean – “More”
Tara MacLean – “That’s Me”
Dave Matthews Band - "Lover Lay Down"
Kathy Mattea – “Asking Us To Dance”
Sarah McLachlan – “Answer”
Natalie Merchant – “Break Your Heart”
Natalie Merchant – “Kind & Generous”
Joni Mitchell – “A Case Of You”
Joni Mitchell – “River”
Van Morrison – “Into The Mystic”
Heather Nova – “Heal”
Heather Nova - "Help Me Be Good To You"
Heather Nova – “It’s Only Love”
Heather Nova – “Tested”
Heather Nova - "Truth And Bone"
Joan Osborne – “How Sweet It Is”
Joan Osborne – “These Arms Of Mine”
Poi Dog Pondering - "Big Constellation"
The Pretenders – “From The Heart Down”
The Pretenders – “Hymn To Her”
The Pretenders – “One More Time”
The Pretenders – “The Losing”
Richard Shindell – “Memphis”
Richard Shindell – “My Love Will Follow You”
Cat Stevens – “How Can I Tell You”
Vienna Teng – “The Atheist Christmas Carol”
Dar Williams – “After All”
Dar Williams – “If I Wrote You”
Trisha Yearwood – “Hearts In Armor”
Trisha Yearwood – “It’s Alright”

* * *

You’ve probably noticed I have a decided preference for female vocalists (at least, when I'm in that kind of mood). Hey, that’s just me. Go ahead, download these songs from...wherever. I hope you find a song or two that you, your heart and ears may all enjoy.

(Note: I've added a few more songs since I first posted this list.
In point of fact, I could add hundreds more...)

* * *

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Once In A Lifetime

Some people are a "once in a lifetime" experience.

We’ve all met a great many people (ever more over time). From that first foray on our own two feet into this absurd carnival that we call life, we’ve met individual after individual after countless individual. Most are nice enough. Some are very nice. Some are handsome or pretty. Some are diabolical, demonic. A few are mad as hatters. Many are flawed. Most are possessed of unique attributes and talents.

It takes all kinds,” as they say.

You round a corner and bump into a stranger; you strike up a conversation in the detergent aisle; you enter into a dialogue on some anonymous Internet forum, and…if you are truly, truly blessed…you chance upon that once in a lifetime individual.

Life is full of unexpected miracles.

Some people are simply that: miracles. I’m not saying they are perfection personified. I’ve never met anyone like that. No, they are flawed just like the rest of us. What makes them unique is some inexplicable alchemy, some improbable concatenation of heart, mind, body and soul. We are drawn to them. We embrace them. We love them. It's not even a choice. We simply love them. They mesh seamlessly with the pieces of our personal puzzle. They simply fit, and in so doing, reveal an art we never even knew existed…within us.

The funny thing is, my “once in a lifetime experience” may very well be another person’s bane or reject. We’re not talking about universal magnetism here. No, we are each too unique for that. No wonder, then, that some people resonate exclusively within some also-rare other. They are music for a specific heart only. Others may discern a note or two, a measure, bar or coda...or, sad to say, not hear the song at all.

One problem, though. Just because I found my once in a lifetime love does not mean that I am their's (her's). Funny how puzzle pieces fit one way... but not another.

I was fortunate enough to encounter that once in a lifetime individual. I actually chanced upon a once in a lifetime love. I’ve come to know (only too well) the joys…the consequences…and (in my case) the everlasting pain of that.

May your once in a lifetime love last...a lifetime.

* * *

Thursday, October 05, 2006

It's A Fine Line

It’s a fine line between hope and despair. A very fine line. Finer than a hair’s breadth, as intangible as a whisper, as elusive as a breeze.

It doesn’t take much to tip the balance. A kind gesture, a gentle caress, a sympathetic tear, a loving word, a tender mercy…a kiss…can nudge the soul towards hope. And in the absence of same? The abyss.

It’s a fine line…and it doesn’t take much either way.

It’s a raw, gray day today. I sit here alone…crying.

* * *


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