A little less than a month ago I turned forty eight. That morning I woke and lay in my bed as the dawn lit up my bedroom window and thought about nothing, just letting my breath draw in and release. I lay like that for a long time, until the town morning bell, which always sounded at 6:00, brought me back to this world and it was time to get up and head to work.
I hadn’t expected a memorable day. I had to work, after all, and most days at work left a lot to be desired in terms of getting through it with any sense of accomplishment. But for some reason my birthday seemed to shine this time, and by the time I got home later in the evening I couldn’t have asked for better time spent. All day students whom I hadn’t imagined thought twice about me outside of class dropped by to talk and wish me happy birthday, and two of them, who have started to become real friends, even asked me to join them for lunch and had a makeshift celebration waiting for me. All the well-wishes and casual greetings followed exactly the way I like interactions between people: simple and unpretentious.
It’s been a harrowing few months since I last wrote here. Harrowing and wonderful, all in one. Back in August, after the weeks of being bedridden with an infected leg I met a woman online who changed my life. Neither of us had expected it. One moment we were writing a few emails back and forth, the next minute we met and couldn’t stop talking with one another. It seemed everything clicked… our ability to open up to one another, our interests, our attraction as a man and a woman, our goals, even the way we laughed and got angry at one another… it all worked as if we were made for each other.
But like all these dreams, reality held its end of the bargain and we had to take a hard look at whether or not we really could make this work. She has a child and before anything else that is what we, especially she, had to consider. On top of that we lived a considerable distance apart and it wasn’t easy to both pay for and make the time for the journey as often as we wanted. More and more I felt that if we wanted the relationship to work then I had to take the plunge and head out to live near where she did, so we had enough time with one another, but also to make it possible to get to know her daughter.
Things didn’t work out that way, at least not yet. She wants time to think it over now and to decide whether to stay with me or not. We haven’t seen each other for more than a month now and for the past two weeks she asked me not to contact her. The waiting is absolute agony. While I perfectly understand why she needs to do that, the thought that the only woman in my life whom I, now 48, have ever been absolutely sure of might now slip out of my grasp just when I found her, hurts more than I can put into words. I have enough experience in life to know that there is nothing I can do but wait and hope, but I wonder what my life will be like afterwards if she leaves. I have never met a woman who made me feel this way before… so much so that for the first time I realize how much I’ve needed and wanted a family, even if the child is not my own, and, to my surprise, I’m not scared at all about dealing with the obstacles of living with a child. I even welcome the prospect of getting to know her daughter, with all the reactions the daughter will have… so the chance of my meeting another person like this is quite slim. And the truth is I just don’t want anyone else. I can’t imagine anyone else.
All my life until now my life has been about me. Even when I got married, it was mainly about me. I’ve always focused on what I wanted and put my money and time into pursuits that mainly interested me and often didn’t take into account what my partner needed or wanted. Though I’ve always been aware of and tried hard to work on my partners’ feelings, often I stopped short and hurt the people who were closest to me. It was only recently as I was forced to take a good, hard look at who I am and what I wanted, needed, and had to do for my and my partner’s future, that I suddenly came face-to-face with my own selfishness. It was like a big, scary ogre just sitting there waiting to ruin everything. And I realized that all my life I had never really held something that was more important to me than I was myself, that I would unreservedly give my life for. Now I have. And I’m shaking with rue and humility. How small I am. And how much a fool I have been.
Last week my wife and I made the final decision to get divorced. It’s been a very long time coming, especially with these last two years living apart, still not one hundred percent sure. We both still love each other very much and perhaps that is part of what has made it so difficult to face. Neither of us wants to hurt the other or see the other hurt. Probably if we hated one another breaking up would be so much easier. We don’t hate each other, though, and never could. But for so long now we have coexisted with no real communication and no sense of being a man and woman together and no plans or goals whatsoever, the breakup was inevitable. And probably better for both of us. When we sat talking together last weekend we both openly hoped the other would find a partner so that neither of us would end up alone. I guess this is a different kind of love, one that let’s one another go without jealously guarding the bond.
Reaching forty eight has opened my eyes to the passage of time. And little of it there is left. I realized on the morning of my birthday that there weren’t many breaths like that to go and that each one of them was precious from now on. Maybe that is why the whole birthday was so peaceful and full of joy, and for those moments I was very aware of how special every single detail of being alive was, that nothing was wasted or insignificant. It didn’t really matter if I was standing on top of a mountain or lying in a bed somewhere, all of the different manifestations of living held a complete mandala of time all its own, and it was perhaps my responsibility to recognize the preciousness in whatever situation I found myself in. As the younger years fall away behind me surely there must be value in what I have learned so far? Perhaps that being alive, loving someone, and being loved, are all that really matter.
I can wait. Wait for her, wait for a daughter’s trust to flower, wait through the night for the dawn to come, wait for whatever I thought I knew about myself. Even wait for my wife to gather up the courage to say good bye. It no longer matters what I think or what I want things to be, what matters is that the ones I love are safe, that I can see why the dawn is so beautiful, and that, when all is done, I can admit that I really didn’t matter at all, that none of it was ever about me.