SER VS ESTAR

Take a trip back into the past with me as we re-visit our introductory Spanish class. In English, we have one form of the verb “to be.” I am; You are; She is; They are– should cover the verb in all its present tense forms. Spanish takes things a step further in featuring two forms of the verb “to be.” These verbs are ser & estar. He’s the difference in a nutshell: we use “ser” to convey a permanent characteristic or familial relation. We use “estar” for conditions that are more transient states like location, mood, & health. For example, we should use “ser” to describe an adult’s height or gender. In contrast, we would use “estar” to describe a person’s well-being (are they feeling sick or healthy) or emotional state. As a fourteen-year-old studying Spanish for the first time, I found it odd to need two verb to represent the idea of being. We either are, or we aren’t–right? Remember Hamlet? To be, or not to be. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realize that we can achieve what we consider a permanent state–like the state of forgiveness–only to revert to resentment or even hatred only a short time down the road.

This idea brings to mind the Biblical account of the Pharaoh & Moses. Beleaguered by the plagues sent by Almighty God, the Pharaoh grants Moses & the refugees safe passage from Egypt. But even before the refugees can even wade into the Red Sea, the Egyptian monarch rescinds his peace offering & sends chariots of soldiers to eradicate Moses & his followers. The idea of God splitting the Red Sea in order to create a path for the refugees wasn’t what puzzled me as a child; after all, nothing is impossible for God! What did seem unrealistic was that someone could grant forgiveness one moment only to rain down fire & destruction upon the forgiven party shortly after. People tend to make their mind up & stick with it, right? Wrong.

Awh, things are simpler as a child. We see everything as black & white–straight forward. But as we get older, we become conditioned to consider so many other factors. Many are external, like social pressures & precedent. What would my neighbor do, for example? What do upstanding people typically do in this situation? But others are internal, & much more personal. Sometimes, it depends on how hardened our hearts are from the scar tissue of disappointments from experiences past. When Lorraine broke my heart, I erupted in anger. I was angry at her as well as the man who had, in my opinion, defiled her. I hated them both. I couldn’t get that disturbing image of the two of them sneaking around together, laughing deviously. I felt robbed of the comfortable image of warmth, peace, & security that I’d retreat to in my mind when I started to think the world was more bad than good. I had that comforting image–that image of Lorraine’s sweet innocence & enduring loyalty replaced with this disgusting image–this carnage of fidelity, this upside down cross! I couldn’t get the image out of my head; it haunted me in my sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, the image awaited me, as if burned onto the insides of my eyelids!

But with time away from that unsightly vision, I was able to rediscover all of Lorraine’s positive qualities. I started to recall all the times she made my day with a smile or brief conversation. I began to yearn for her closeness again even after she had brought me so much pain. I had forgiven her, so it seemed.

But now, after I saw her again & experienced the chill from her contrived lack of recognition as she passed me by, all the ill feelings resurfaced. I hated her again.

I know that I’m supposed to be above this. I believe that God has placed this challenge before me in order for me to break the cycle & evolve into a superior emotional state. But the pain is too great. The indignation, too great. The disappointment, too great. The hatred–still ready to flare up at a moment’s notice.

For the first three years I knew Lorraine, she awakened an enthusiasm for life within me. Just her presence, or even, the idea of her presence, would prompt inside me a hunger for life that overpowered fear, fatigue, despondence. But now, after that disgusting picture that she left burned into my eyes, I feel as though her presence in my life was nothing short of a Biblical plague.

I still don’t forgive her.

Ser & estar; I used to think it redundant to require two words to convey the single verb “to be.” But after Lorraine, I realize that my own life is less ser & more estar.

Right now, I still hate her.

Today’s post marks a bonus chapter in my “Lorraine has Fallen”series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with life’s disappointments. The following post & eventual future posts are in no way autobiographical & the scenarios discussed simply create a backdrop for reflection on general topics like processing grief & remaining motivated through adversity.

Open Heart Surgery

Today’s post marks a bonus chapter in my “Lorraine has Fallen”series centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with life’s disappointments. The following post & eventual future posts are in no way autobiographical & the scenarios discussed simply create a backdrop for reflection on general topics like processing grief & remaining motivated through adversity.

“How big will the scar be?” I asked tentatively. A surgeon had come into the room earlier to go over my post surgical life expectations. He made it seem as though this surgery was a good thing; as if I would feel like a better man & live a better life once it was all over –provided it wasn’t all over during the procedure! But for a moment, I got a glimpse of what it was I was working towards; a life without the constant pain & the struggles to achieve routine tasks. Oh, there would be pain, of course; but it would be pain that I could get through. It would be pain that wouldn’t kill me. So I took this opportunity to escape all the morbid thoughts & imagine myself down the road: post-surgery, post-rehabilitation, perfectly functional. “So how about the scar?” I posed my question again, this time not to a surgeon but to a barely out-of-college slender blonde who had come in to assess the blood vessels in my neck. She had just commented on how strong I appeared to look–relatively at least–& how the blood vessels in my neck seemed robust. “You should be fine during surgery,” she said in a comforting fashion. “Oh, and as far as the scars–chicks dig scars, so you don’t have to worry.” She winked at me as she made her way out of the room pushing her cart of equipment. Oddly, this informal, conversational interaction I had with this college girl had comforted me more than all the surgeons & nurse practitioners & cardiologists with all of their medical jargon & statistics. If I have a 99% chance of survival, that meant I had a chance of dying too. I just wanted the numbers thrown out. I just wanted an image of what my life would be life; what I would be like–afterwards. I needed to know what it was I was suffering so much for in the present to achieve in the future.

I ran into Lorraine unexpectedly this past week. A reasonable amount of time had elapsed since I had last seen her. I still remembered a time when we were friends–sort of, at least. There was a time when she would always at least greet me, as shy as she was. There were a handful of times when she smiled & actually beamed with enthusiasm to see me; but there was never any time in the three years I had known her when she would be rude . . . until she met him.

Anyway, when I saw her, I froze momentarily. It was like hiking in the woods of an area known for black bear. You realize that you are entering their territory. You realize there’s a possibility you can run into one; but your experience & everyone else tells you there’s a 99% chance you won’t see one! So you really don’t prepare yourself for a bear encounter; & when you do happen to see one, you freeze just like I did when I saw Lorraine post-fall from grace. You see why I hate percentages now?

I wondered if enough time had gone by. I wondered if she still hated me or if it simply the temporary condition of anger that prompted her coolness towards me following The Debacle. I looked up tentatively, looking for cues. I wasn’t going to make the first move, but if she chose to speak to me, I wouldn’t turn her away. So I watched for a clue to determine her intention as she walked towards me . . . and then walked straight past without breaking her stride, without so much as blinking in my direction. “Okay,” I thought. “I guess she still hates me.”

While looking back on the months following Lorraine’s expulsion from Eden, I recognized the pattern of a painful process from injury to healing. In the immediate aftermath, I felt absolute disgust. I literally went home & threw up, hoping to purge the image of seeing sweet Lorraine & hedonistic “Bad Boy” together in an area where they shouldn’t have been. Then my heart went dark. It was easier to hate him than to hate her, so my warrior spirit erupted in a turbulent volcano of rage. And I wanted to hold Mr. “Bad Boy” to account for his sin–for his sin against Lorraine; for his sin against Nature; for his sin against God; & most of all, for his sin against ME! Ultimately, I would decide on a more gentle approach to resolution. All the same, my blood once boiled to the point of a Biblical Plague! And then, I tried to hate her. Lorraine, the source of my most tender sentiments; the standard for lovable in my lexicon. I tried to hate her; but I couldn’t manage to maintain such negative feelings towards her for more than a few days at a time. Then I progressed to lamenting & finally to a place that approached the path to healing. This process took months to accomplish in real time, but somehow, when I ran into Lorraine & recognized that she was emotionally unchanged towards me, I went through that exact same cycle in the span of about ninety seconds. And that wouldn’t be the last time I’d have to run through that same cycle of emotions from disappointment to anger to despondence to peace even in that same day!

I heard this a long time ago, & experience has told me it’s true. Healing isn’t a linear process. It’s not a point A to point B proposition. It’s a point A to point B process in the beginning but then there’s the, “Great job! Now go do it again!” The process of healing isn’t linear; it’s a series of linear tasks that we must perform over & over again until we don’t have to anymore. It’s like recharging your smart phone. You run it down to “Critical Low” & then wind it back up to 100% at night. But that’s not the end of it. Chances are, the next day, you’ll have to perform the exact same process.

It may sound tedious but it’s just how things work. I’ve struggled with riddles of the heart just like this situation with Lorraine throughout my entire life. And it seems as if God is giving me numerous opportunities to achieve a breakthrough. God won’t accept that I just can’t do it; He won’t accept failure on this task, but rather demands that I work through the pain in order to achieve some lesson that I failed the grasp the previous time around. It’s a scenario akin to experiencing numerous reincarnations all within a single biological lifetime. It’s as though, emotionally, I’ve died & have been reborn to master the task that I failed to complete the previous time around. Drowning the pain away in alcohol, or writing her off as a lost cause, or teaching myself to hate her . . . those all ways I’ve addressed this same problem before. Those tactics, however, failed to achieve resolution, otherwise I wouldn’t have found myself right back where I always am.

So this time around, forget the pain. forget the discomfort, forget the indignation. I don’t mean ignore them, but just understand these thorns in my side will be along for the journey. I heard a wise man once say: “Peace isn’t the absence of conflict; but the acceptance of it.” Four years ago, I found myself undergoing open heart surgery & the humbling rehabilitation process that followed at a young age. I felt vulnerable & uncertain most of the way through. But I endured the suffering that shadowed each step to healing because I knew what it was that I was working towards. The pain I feel over Lorraine is the same thing. She broke my heart; & I’ve undergone emotional open heart surgery. Now, I’m struggling with the rehabilitation process.

I knew I had come all the way back from my physical heart surgery one day in the gym when an ex-military tough guy approached me & stated, “Dude. That’s one hell of a scar you’ve got there!”

“Yeah,” I replied. And then I thought to myself, “And this is just the scar he can see! It’s just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine what he’d say if he could see the real scar–the one inside?”

I try not to get too down on myself when I regress along my journey to repairing myself emotionally. There will be times when I take a few steps backward, but I have to believe that ultimately, I will always more forward. I know what I’m working towards now. I’m striving to reach the day when I can look back on the “Era of Lorraine” & say to myself, “Wow! That’s one hell of a scar.”

And that’s the day I’ll know I’m healed. Scars signify survival. Scars provide proof that healing has occurred. I long for the day when my open wound becomes a scar.

Stained Glass–Abridged

Picture borrowed from online source.

So you can imagine my shock when I happened on her rendezvous with that sinful manager. By this time, she was a nursing student & I was a security officer at our local hospital. There was a wing of the facility that was off limits to anyone but management & duty specific personnel. There were turbines & water heaters & electrical wires & such–big time OSHA hazards to leave opened to the general workforce. All doors in & out were locked. I was on patrol one afternoon. I know the schedule of everything that goes on at this hospital because it’s my job to know. The nursing students come in at 2 pm & they report to the 3rd Floor Conference Room before they do anything else. It was 2:10 when I came across those double doors for SECTOR A. To my surprise, it came opened. I heard laughter & the voice of that idiot, meat-head manager from just inside the ajar door. And then, to my utter SHOCK, I saw Lorraine emerge from behind the door–smiling, laughing, carrying on. When she saw that I was there, she stopped & when our eyes met, she had a horrified look on her face. I turned away & continued down the hallway to finish my patrol.

Green on the Vine

Today’s post marks a bonus chapter in my “Lorraine has Fallen”series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with life’s disappointments. The following post & eventual future posts are in no way autobiographical & the scenarios discussed simply create a backdrop for reflection on general topics like processing grief & remaining motivated through adversity.

As I was speaking to Chelsea, a fellow congregant at my church after service, her toddler took a sudden interest in me. Her name is Haley, like the comet. She’s not quite three & seems tall for her age but is still very quiet, especially around strangers. Typically, she appears lost in her own world while she plays with her toys around the vicinity of her mother’s knees while her sociable mother engages in the joyous banter of her ever-expanding Sunday social circle. Haley looks like a doll; not a Barbie doll, mind you, but the kind of doll made to look & feel like a baby so that young children who, barely beyond toddler status themselves, can pretend to play parent with a child of their very own. Haley’s hair is incredibly long & manageable, almost too perfect to belong to anything but a toy. She also boasts all the typical traits of “cuteness” like over-sized eyes & a head nearly as wide as her shoulders. And then there’s that pout; no matter what she’s doing, whether she appears agitated or pacified, her face always seems to be frozen in a perennial pout. It’s not a sign of sadness for her; more a sign of an unshakable demeanor–as if, no matter what, this gal will always be a cool customer who will remain at peace with her environment, even if that means staying non-reactive with said environment. But today was different. She approached me with a handful of goodies like a toy, a ziploc bag of cookies, & a bottled water. Out of nowhere, she sauntered out from beyond the shadows of her mother’s legs towards me & upon meeting me, promptly handed me her bottled water.

I was touched by her gesture & began talking to her in soft, simple sentences. I don’t think she understood me but she seemed comforted by my kind tone, if nothing else. I knelt down on one knee to greet her & she promptly climbed up onto my opposite thigh. Her mother looked pleasantly surprised that the toddler, who had only seen me once or twice before & at brief intervals, had taken such bold action to befriend me. Not having any kids of my own but having had plenty of time to ponder my parent’s relationship with me, I decided to impart some of my worldly wisdom on the child; the kind of wisdom that doesn’t come through books, but only through blood & tears. I’d figure I’d save her that trouble.

“Wow, Haley” I began. “You’re so sweet! I wish you could stay like this forever! But I know you can’t, so at least let me tell you a story. Once I knew a girl who was as sweet & innocent & as un-corrupted by the world as you are now,” I stated as my mind began to drift backwards to an era when my heart had one less scar than it had presently. “Any what made this girl even more special was that she wasn’t a little girl like you, but a big one! She was almost a grown-up in many ways, but in others, still like a child.” The precursor to tears began to pool up in my eyes & the pace of my speech slowed as I took care not to succumb to emotion.

“I worked with her & she was much younger than I was, so I had to be cautious about what I said to her & how I said it,” I explained. “Still, I tried to befriend her–slowly, so as not to alarm her. But I wanted to befriend her so that, little by little, I could help her understand how special she was. And I came close to telling her the big secret,” I sighed & took a moment to rejoin the present, making eye contact with the toddler to determine whether or not she had been following along. Haley’s eyes seemed intently locked on mine. She giggled & then reached her hand towards my face then smiled. “Yeah,” I thought. “She’s listening. I guess I can continue.”

After a deep breath, I resumed: “All I wanted to tell her is that I hoped she’d never change. But before I could . . . ” overwhelmed by the reminder of a painful memory, I found myself unable to complete the sentence. After a pause, I concluded “But I was too late. By the time I was ready to tell her, The Serpent had already gotten to her & had changed her forever.”

A moment of silence passed as my mind flashed back to a passage I recorded previously in “Stained Glass.”

“Haley,” I resumed again. “I know you can’t stay this way forever. I know you will have many friends. But no one will ever love you as much as your mother loves you. When you grow up, you may feel embarrassed about this; but once you really grow up, you’ll realize that it’s okay.” By this time, the child had climbed up onto my shoulder & I pat her on the back while I finished my story. I looked up at her mother & nodded that I was in the process of handing the sleepy toddler back to her. “And a beautiful girl like you will have many suitors. But make sure you choose one who appreciates how sweet you are inside & not just how pretty you are on the outside,” I concluded as I handed the toddler back to her mother. Haley immediately swung her head back to look at me as I started to back away, prompting me to add: “But don’t be disappointed if you discover that no man ever loves you as much as your daddy loves you. That’s okay too. It just means that you were loved in all the ways you should have been loved.” Haley smiled at me & waved as her mother made her way towards her husband & the rest of their family. And then, more to myself than anyone, I whispered: “Just don’t be in a hurry to grow up. Hold on to your innocence as long as you can.”

A deep sense of regret sank in. Despite the successful interaction I had just shared with a member of our near future, I couldn’t help but mourn a failure of the recent past. “L-O-R-R-A-I-N-E,” I lamented as I looked down at the ground. “All this time, I’ve blamed her for failing me. But, as much as anything else, I failed her. I didn’t tell her what I wanted to say in time. And he (the serpent) beat me to it. And now, the quality that had made her so special for so long is gone forever.”

Growing up, I never liked country music. The youth in my area wrote it off as the entertainment option for old folks & rednecks. But today’s reflection brought to mind the lyrics from an old Deanna Carter song:

Oh, bittersweet . . . Green on the vine.

Like strawberry wine.

I always kind of liked that song. When I was in high school, admitting even the faintest appreciation for country music served as a social status kiss of death. Or at least, it guaranteed your demotion to the status of old folk or redneck.

Oh well. I guess I’m a little bit of both: old folk & redneck.

And then I said to no one in particular, “The green on the vine. Like strawberry wine. Hold on to your innocence as long as you can, Haley. Because once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. And what you’ll receive in place of your innocence will be both good & bad . . . .

Bittersweet. Just like my memories of L-O-R-R-A-I-N-E.”

Strawberry Wine.

Arch-Angel Michael spoke in Parable

Today’s post marks a bonus chapter in my series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with the reality of life’s disappointments. The following post & eventual future posts are in no way autobiographical & the scenarios discussed simply create a backdrop for reflection on general topics like processing grief & remaining motivated through adversity.

This past Sunday, I was supposed to meet with a casual female friend at Sunday service. Although I am a social person & enjoy meeting & greeting before & after service, I prefer to sit through the service alone. However, I ran into a casual friend from the same church while working out at our local gym earlier in the week. She hadn’t been to service in a while. I told her that she had been missing out because the sermons have been dead on & then mentioned where I normally sit. She volunteered that she would come sit with me. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about bringing someone else—even a friend–into my sacred square. Once I get my mind to “guard” something, I really hunker down like a German Shepherd. But soon I warmed up to the idea of having someone to share the message with on this day.

That morning, I had a difficult time getting out of bed. I was in danger of sleeping through Sunday service which, if nothing else, throws my entire Sunday–my only day off during the week–into a tailspin & I end up trying to play catch-up all day. Seriously, there’s no reason anyone should need that much sleep! Plus, I knew there would be someone waiting for me & that she would be disappointed if I didn’t show. So dutifully, I soldiered up, hopped out of bed, & made my hasty preparations for departure.

Well, we were already into the sermon & there was still no sign of her. It was no big deal. I wasn’t angry with her; she was just a casual friend who had a husband & family but expected to attend service alone on this particular morning. The gesture was more akin to inviting a co-worker or neighbor to Thanksgiving dinner when they had no one to share the holiday with. I wasn’t disappointed with my friend; but I was disappointed. My lips mouthed in silence the private lament that had already formed in my head: “L-O-R-R-A-I-N-E!” It was my friend who had stood me up, but it was Lorraine who I missed. It was Lorraine’s tall, slender form & long flowing hair that I scanned the congregation in vain to catch a glimpse of. It was Lorraine who had discarded me; who had discredited me; who deserted me. It was Lorraine who had ABANDONED me. And so, it was her name that I spoke meekly in my mind, like a haunting echo pleading for help lost amid a cloudy sky of expansive nothing. It was Lorraine’s absence that made me suddenly feel so isolated.

All the same, the service was stellar as usual. The message from the sermon was difficult to hear but necessary to receive. The preacher asked us what it was that we treasured the most in our lives? Then he challenged us to assess whether or not that thing that we treasured so greatly meant more to us than our commitment to God? He inquired, “What is it that you’re holding onto–that you’re clinging to so obsessively as to reduce your commitment to God?” Before he even asked the question, my answer had already formed silently in my mind. “Lorraine.”

No matter who disappointed me or who let me down, the blame would always fall on Lorraine. No matter who stood me up or broke a promise, so long as she were female, my mind would register it as yet another failure of Lorraine to recognize my value. It probably sounds unfair, but understand this: No female on earth has ever made me feel such enthusiasm for even the simplest moments in life. But by the same token, no other female on earth has ever disappointed me in so devastating a manner. After service, I walked over to my fellow congregant & close confidant, Michael. He had known about my fascination with Lorraine from the beginning. I told him what happened & that I blamed Lorraine. He chuckled. But then I asked him in earnest, “How long will it be like this?” And then, this long-time Protestant & true student of the Bible answered me in an almost parable-like fashion: “Well, that’s up to you. How long are you going to hold on to your disappointment?”

I mourned an inescapable awareness that the chains of heartbreak that I carried over Lorraine would burden me indefinitely. I looked up to the morning sky, searching for answers; but all I saw was that rain from a sudden storm had begun to come down.

Every time it rains, I always seem to think of her.

Sunday’s Sermon: Head in the Clouds

Because of that dumb virus, my Church has moved services outdoors. Or perhaps I should say, “Thanks to that dumb virus, my Church has moved services outdoors.” Because I really like it!

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I’m almost dreading when we have to move services back indoors–until it gets cold, that is. Although I am sociable & like to meet & greet before & after service, I prefer to sit alone on the periphery of the crowd to safeguard myself & others from said virus, among other things. Today was the first day that I turned completely away from the sermon & locked my gaze on the beautiful blue sky above. I still listened, of course, but I wanted to treat today’s sermon more like a meditation session than an academic lecture. I know, I know! Meditation & Church aren’t suppose to mix, but just give me a few paragraphs to explain.

I went through a period of depression a few years ago when I was living on the coast. Rediscovering how to go about my daily activities in a life that, at the time, appeared to be filled with endless conflict & obstacles felt like the process patients describe when recovering from a stroke. I just had to learn to live, all over again. I found that it helped pacify me when I would sit on the beach for a while & just watch the waves. Typically, I’d have to pick one spot in the surf & just force myself to lock in to that one spot. If I did it right, I would escape to a place of serenity after a few minutes. All my anxiety, dread, & suffering would evaporate, even for but a moment. Although I seemed to have described “meditation,” I consider this as more a moment with God. When I was a kid growing up attending Catholic Mass on Sundays, I remember a priest had implored the adults in the congregation: “Give over your stress, your fears, your anxieties to God–just for a moment! Receive the peace that God offers; know that He is with you.” That’s what it felt like as I watched the surf break against the shore.

So this morning, I found myself looking out first at the horizon where a nearby hill disappeared into a distant treeline & eventually into a blue August sky. I was trying to replicate that sensation I had achieved years earlier along the shore. I wondered what I must have looked like to members of the congregation. I half-expected a woman to approach me & politely ask, “What are you looking for out there?” But I had my answer ready because I knew exactly what I was looking for. “I’m looking for God.”

Again, re-visiting my experience-rich childhood, my friends & I would lay down in the grass & look up at the sky. The clouds didn’t appear to be so high up; they were high, of course–taller than any tree, building, or mountain that I could ever imagine–but they didn’t seem unattainable. “That’s where God lives, I told my friends once as I pointed up at the clouds. We’re looking at the floors of Heaven from underneath His house.” My friends looked up in awe, not wishing to challenge my statement but hoping to take in the impressive sight for themselves. “Wow!” we would all say in unison.

As I grew older, I realized that God didn’t live “in the clouds.” It was childish of me to limit such a majestic being to such a localized environment of “the clouds.” But I had to grow older & even wiser still before I realized that God resided everywhere. There was a song that made the charts back in the early 2000’s. A young woman proclaimed, “I can feel you all around me.” I later learned that the song was indeed about God. Even when I’m down; even when I’m not in Church; even when I’m feeling undeserving . . . God is there. And serenity–that escape from my regrets, my weighty choices, my anxiety–is there with Him, waiting for me. I’ve found His peace in the waves when I was depressed & in the sky when I was a child. And now that I need him again to guide me through my life’s latest crossroad, I know He’s out there somewhere. I just need to found out where.

Sadly, this morning I was unable to locate the answers I was seeking. No. I was too busy with my head in the clouds.

Stained Glass

Today’s post marks the fifth in a series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with the reality of life’s disappointments. The following post & eventual future posts are in no way autobiographical & the scenarios discussed simply create a backdrop for reflection on general topics like processing grief & remaining motivated through adversity.

Stained
Picture borrowed from online source.

I read somewhere that Canterbury Cathedral in England features over 3,600 square ft of stained glass. Stained glass had intrigued me from the time I learned about the topic during a childhood summer  camp. We were putting on a production of “The Pirates of Penzance” & every segment of the camp, even the art class, attempting to incorporate era appropriate themes into the daily activities. As a young boy growing up in the American Southeast, I was enthralled. “Wow!” I thought. “Pirates, sword fighting, cannons, &  now–treasure! What beautiful works of art!” I loved how a handful of basic colors like red, blue, white, & green could come together to create almost any image imaginable. I liked how the windows were like a jigsaw puzzle; with each piece representing a precious treasure all by itself. When they all came together, it was like a culmination of miniature jewels combining to create the ultimate MASTERPIECE! And when the sun shone through the other side of the glass, the entire structure would light up in an array of spectacular colors. In a time before electricity, a stained glass window with the sun’s rays behind it must have been the Medieval version of Times Square! Such a sight must have seemed like magic, or even better–a MASTERPIECE.

When I first saw Lorraine, I was dumbfounded by her physical beauty. I was a deer in the headlights; so unprepared to process the astounding scene of beauty before me that my entire body simply shut down. I’ve heard some religious texts describe this exact same state when a mortal finds himself in the presence of the divine. As I’ve made clear previously, (see“Breathless”), Lorraine is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. But what really blew me away about her was her demeanor. She was the sweetest girl I will ever meet.

Lorraine worked in an environment where she was surrounded by young, fit-bodied peers, including over-confident young men. I observed a great deal of fraternization, which is to be expected in any college-aged coed group. When Lorraine wasn’t studying or playing beach volleyball, she worked as a front desk attendant at the health club where I got my first job following my major surgery. And believe me–the “fraternization” wasn’t limited to similarly aged individuals. The managers were the worst–openly gawking & engaging female employees half their age while ignoring the male employees and frequently, even their responsibilities! But Lorraine somehow managed to remain coy in the midst of it all. She was so bashful, it was adorable! Somehow, she was able to keep all of the salivating wolves at bay & do so gracefully. And I say “bashful,” not “conceited” because she was amazingly modest. When she worked out, she always used the cardio equipment backed up against the wall so that people wouldn’t look at her backside while she got in her steps. When she worked on her abs or stretched, she’d always sneak off into one of the unoccupied yoga studios because she didn’t want the general public to catch her in a compromised position. And the greatest proof of her modest shyness emerged when she talked to any male co-workers. Lorraine never initiated a conversation; but if someone approached her, she would listen attentively & then respond cordially but briefly. She somehow managed to be polite without encouraging further interaction. The first time I actually talked to her, I must have looked like an imbecile! I was unprepared to receive her voice: how soft & feminine it was, but effortlessly confident. My mother had a jewelry box on her dresser when I was a child. It was crafted in the shape of a miniature chest of drawers. On top, it featured a bird cage with a fake parakeet perched on a swing. You could wind it up & the parakeet would swing back & forth while singing a calm music box melody. When I heard Lorraine’s voice for the first time, I thought of that music box. “Oh my gosh!” I remember thinking. “Even her VOICE is beautiful!” I probably looked like an imbecile because while I could think clearly in my head, I couldn’t say a word out loud.

Someway, somehow, I was able to get her to warm up to me. Lorraine behaved politely but cautiously around me for the first year-and-a-half or so, but eventually she started waving at me in the hallways or would stop to talk to me unsolicited. This was a big deal because Lorraine never waved to any guys much less stop & talk to them. She never caused problems for anyone & everyone who brought her up in conversation would describe her as “sweet” even if they had never spoken to her. She just exuded a peaceful, modest, non-judging persona that everyone seemed to appreciate from afar. But somehow, for a while at least, I got to the point where she would actually smile when she saw me! This was HUGE because Lorraine never smiled at ANYBODY! As I said earlier, (See“The Rain”) we were almost friends.

I even heard from a co-worker who had gone to high school with her that she had never even had a boyfriend. Despite her good looks, good grades, & aptitude in sports, she mostly kept to herself & a handful of close girl friends. I heard it was even a big deal when a group of her classmates observed her slow dancing with her date at her senior prom. This all matched up with what I had observed in my own experiences with her. Even at twenty-years old, Lorraine’s best friend was still her own mother, with whom she’d often work out. Lorraine was an absolute MASTERPIECE–to good to be true!

So you can imagine my shock when I happened on her rendezvous with that sinful manager. By this time, she was a nursing student & I was a security officer at our local hospital. There was a wing of the facility that was off limits to anyone but management & duty specific personnel. There were turbines & water heaters & electrical wires & such–big time OSHA hazards to leave opened to the general workforce. All doors in & out were locked. I was on patrol one afternoon. I know the schedule of everything that goes on at this hospital because it’s my job to know. The nursing students come in at 2 pm & they report to the 3rd Floor Conference Room before they do anything else. It was 2:10 when I came across those double doors for SECTOR A. To my shock, it came opened. I heard laughter & the voice of that idiot, meat-head manager from just inside the ajar door. And then, to my shock, I saw Lorraine emerge from behind the door–smiling, laughing, carrying on. When she saw that I was there, she stopped & when our eyes met, she had a horrified look on her face. I turned away & continued down the hallway to finish my patrol.

It felt like a normal day on my drive home. I wasn’t particularly agitated despite what I had witnessed earlier. But when I came into my kitchen wanting something to drink, it hit me. I flung my coat across the room & yelled some obscenity at that meat-head boss. Then I collapsed onto the floor & cried. I didn’t cry for long. My sense of duty soon kicked in. I couldn’t work for a man who I didn’t respect. I got drunk on Jack & Coke & then wrote my resignation letter that night. Fuck the job. Fuck the boss. Fuck everything. If Lorraine can’t stay pure, nothing on this God-forsaken earth is pure. Everything if polluted. We live in filth. Before the liquor took too strong a hold on me, I remember trying to visualize her face–the same beautiful face that had appeared so often to me even during my deepest slumber–but tonight, all I could see was debauchery. “I can’t even LOOK at you ANYMORE!” I yelled into my glass of Jack Daniels, thinking I was talking to her. I know it sounds unfair. I know it sounds insensitive. I know she didn’t owe me so much as an explanation much less any loyalty. But I’m still allowed to mourn. I’m still allowed to hurt. All I hear about is that I need to be sensitive to everyone else’s feelings. I need to go out of my way not to offend anyone. But what, I’m not allowed to feel offended myself? Everyone else’s feelings & sentiments & world views matter except for mine, is that how it works? Is that how this SHIT works? Tonight, I was going to mourn the loss of something that I had held sacred so so long & I didn’t care if that was selfish of me or not!

For three years, when I’d look at Lorraine, I’d see God’s earthly MASTERPIECE. But now, every time I see her, even if it’s just in my mind, all I see is . . . .

Shattered, stained glass.

Secret Santa

Today’s post marks the fourth in a series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with the harsh reality of life’s disappointments. The following post & eventual future posts are in no way autobiographical & the scenarios discussed simply create a backdrop for reflection on general topics like processing grief & remaining motivated through adversity.

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I grew up in a close knit family, complete with a foundation of traditional values. Holidays were a particularly special time to revel in our unity within the household as well as our community. My parents would always throw a huge Christmas Eve party & every relative & close family friend & community member would make an appearance. This would go on from about 3pm till about 11pm at which time we would all abide by the Catholic tradition of attending Midnight Mass. Once we all grew up & moved away, however, these holiday gatherings became less frequent. During one such holiday season, however, my siblings & I were all able to secure time off at the same time & we somehow managed to spend Christmas eve under our parent’s roof just like old times. It should have been a happy time, but for me, it had occurred after the Fall of Lorraine & I was off in a corner by myself moping. My sister, without even looking up from her book, suddenly stated: “She’s just a girl.”

I questioned her & she clarified. “Lorraine is just a girl. No matter what else you think of her. She’s young & her world view isn’t even developed yet; it’s not even based on real world experience, just her parent’s ideas more than anything.” I didn’t respond. I disagreed entirely with my sister’s assessment but I didn’t feel like engaging in a conflict on Christmas Eve especially over a topic I had already made by mind up about. No one had to understand why she mattered so much to me. No one had to approve of the pain I felt; it was real regardless. And it didn’t matter why she mattered so much; just that she did. I sunk deeper into my reflective shell. The crackling of the logs in the fireplace made it easier to escape into the deep recesses of my memories. I would take a trip into the past in order to understand the present.

When I was a kid, Christmas was such a special season of joy & anticipation. School was about to be out. Family would be visiting from out of town. We would decorate the house & presents with my name on them would appear daily underneath the Christmas tree. Yes, this sounds a bit selfish but this is a childhood memory, after all. Even if my sentiments aren’t exactly philanthropic, they are at least–pure. I used to spend my evenings after school, back in the days when I didn’t have any homework to do yet, placing all my gifts in one area & then examining the boxes. I’d usually use a Goldilocks technique–pick the ones not too small or not too big & that were neatly wrapped in a tight square or rectangle. I’d filter two or three of these “just right” sized gifts & play the guessing game. What could it be? I’d pick them up & assess the weight. I’d shake them & listen for any excessive roll internally. I’d hold them close to my ear to see if the gift would whisper a hint to ease my childish curiosity. I loved the smell of the wrapping paper & Scotch tape especially after the gifts had been under the tree for a few days because the tape would often have pine needles stuck to it, adding an additional dimension to the holiday-themed sensory euphoria. On Christmas morning, when I finally opened the gift, I found myself bewildered to discover that the excitement of owning that highly sought after toy failed to linger as long as the anticipation of yearning for it. By the time night fell over Christmas day, although I was happy to have the toy I wanted–I was sad to see the gift boxes & wrapping paper thrown away. It was as if the presentation of a gift from someone who cared about me mattered more than the gift itself.

Well, one Christmas when I was older, we did a Secret Santa gift exchange at work. This quiet, brown-eyed girl from Accounting who I had always admired drew my name. I know the point of a Secret Santa is to conceal the identity of the gift giver, but I tend to be resourceful at solving puzzles. I asked around, made some inferences, caught some breaks, & boom! I discovered who drew my name. She placed a beautiful package under our company tree. It was long with a silver base color but covered with a pattern of green Christmas trees all over. In certain areas, you’d see prominent red ribbons available; & sitting atop the box, as if a crown, rested a beautiful red ribbon. For 12 days (You know, like “The 12 Days of Christmas”?) I wondered what hidden treasure lay inside. When I finally opened it up, I was stunned to find it empty except for a small piece of paper containing a short note that read: “I didn’t know what to get you, so I decided on the gift of excitement.” And you know what? Because of who this note came from, I wasn’t disappointed. I had been excited leading up to the moment I opened the box & peered inside. And for some strange reason, the excitement of receiving that special toy that would often wear off so quickly during my childhood seemed to linger longer this time around. All she gave me was a stupid piece of paper; but my reaction to that gift is what made it stick for so long.

When I tell people close to me the story of Lorraine & how I was almost friends with this girl–the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen, the sweetest girl I will ever meet–they laugh. “Why are you still thinking about her?” they’d ask. “You two were never even together. How could you love someone you were never even really friends with?” They’d chide & ridicule relentlessly, trying to change my mind about how I should feel about my experience. I used to try to convince them that they were the ones who were blind not to see it, but I stopped. I don’t have to convince anyone else that she’s worth pining over or that the pain is real or that the feelings I had for her before The Fall were real. All I have to do is think back to the gift of my Secret Santa. It doesn’t matter that my story with Lorraine didn’t end the way it was supposed to. It doesn’t matter that all anyone remembers about my Secret Santa is that I received an empty box. Lorraine gave me the gift of excitement. She made waking up on cold, winter mornings fun for this life-long night owl. She gave me a reason to smile while I forced myself into a cold shower, half-asleep or as I sat in a cold snow-covered car waiting for it to thaw out. She made the painful ritual of awakening on a cold, cheerless workday happy because I burned with the anticipation of seeing her again, even for a few minutes. Lorraine, like my Secret Santa, gave me the gift of excitement . . . and she never even had to wrap it. I don’t care if no one else will ever understand it; but Lorraine’s gift to me never faded away into darkness the way Christmas Day would fade into Christmas Night. Even now, when I think of her, my heart leaps. The excitement she brought to my life remains in it, even if she herself is gone from it. I wish I could tell her “Thank you, Lorraine; my lifelong Secret Santa.”