A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of sharing a meal and spending an evening with you and Marie. It was an evening that I can only describe as extraordinary. A few short weeks before, I would have said such an occurrence would have been inconceivable.
A few days later, you relayed an observation from Marie having to do with the “grown-up Jim”. At the time, I replied to you with something humorous about the idea of me as grown up, for while I have spent much time in life “moving through”, I have never had a sense of “growing up”. Growing old seems to be a concept I am becoming familiar with but growing up still eludes me. I suspect it always will.
Whoever it is that Marie thinks she saw that evening has always been a bit of a mystery to me. For most of the middle part of life, I had no idea. The person I wanted to be seemed to elude me. Introspection produced more questions than answers. The absence of answers gave rise to fear; fear of not knowing that which I believed I should know; fear of not being real; fear of not being enough; fear of never becoming; fear of loss; fear of not being loved. A thousand forms of fear. Fear became a more-or-less constant, if uncomfortable, companion, never far away even in the best of times, always a threat to confidence and security. Outwardly, I kept up the façade, I did most of the things one does as one moves through life, at the appropriate times. One of the jobs that occurred after high school turned into something that looked like the beginning of a career; I moved up in the organization; I got married; I bought a house. The incertitude and fear remained but outwardly I looked good.
With the arrival of love, things changed. When I allowed myself to realize that Jeni wasn’t just an unrepentant flirt, when I allowed myself to believe that she truly loved me, things changed. For several long, agonizing months in the spring of 1980, I secretly held her love close, closer than I had ever allowed myself to anything. I tried with all the logic and reason I could muster to manufacture an intellectual solution to the situation. I was married. I had a great job. I was about where a guy in his 20’s without a college degree ought to be. But suddenly I was head over heels, insanely, completely and irretrievably in love with one of my staff at the office. I kept telling myself it couldn’t happen, I shouldn’t allow it to happen, I should get control over the situation, I should take responsibility, I should do the right thing. But nothing, no power I could summon was capable of putting down what I felt for Jeni. She occupied every thought, every moment. She was everywhere in my awareness. I coveted stolen minutes with her. I allowed myself to dream my ultimate dream; I wanted to know what one day with her would be like. That was all I wanted. One day.
When she said she could not go on not being able to be together, when she told me she was leaving Seattle, I knew I couldn’t let it happen. All my attempts to reason out a solution had come to nothing. She said she was leaving. But I couldn’t let her go.
I left my house, left my great job, left my marriage. None of it had meaning without Jeni. None of it could take the place of Jeni. I had to know. It didn’t matter what might be lost. I was willing to lose everything. But not her. I had to experience that one day.
I’ve mentioned before that the thought lives in me still. Every day, I wake up wanting to know, again, the experience of one day with Jeni. That desire has never waned.
There are only two influences that could have prepared me for what you had to say to me over coffee at Victor’s that drizzly Saturday morning. One of them is the influence of Jeni’s love. Jeni is the best part of my life, the best part of myself. Whoever I am or have become is a direct result of her love for me. It is as though, before her, there was nothing. Anything good that anyone sees in me is because of Jeni. There’s no one in the world I love, admire and respect more than her. And there’s positively no one who has had a greater effect upon me, both directly and indirectly. So thorough is the effect that she has had on me that if my life ends tomorrow, it is already complete. Whoever it was that Marie saw that evening over dinner was there in the room because Jeni fell in love with her married boss twenty-seven years ago and told him so.
The other influence is the men who have helped me and taught me over the years, to the point where I could be available to you at a time when you asked for my ear, to be open and available in a way quite different than you and I have previously experienced. If not for the wisdom of men who have befriended me, cared about me, have led me and taught me by their examples, I would never have been prepared to be of any use to you when you asked to talk. Whoever it was Marie saw at the table that evening was there in the room because of them as well.
You and Marie are writing a compelling and very romantic story together. At every turn, as you told me of the mystery that began with the birthday card, as you have told me of your love for her, as you told me how nothing else mattered except for being with her, as you have told me of the wonderful acceptance you and she have been given by others, as you have told me of the many wonders that have been revealed to you both, and as you have told me at last, at very long last, of a life together, with each new day you share, I am awe-struck, for the second time, by what love is and what love can do. This place where we meet, as travelers in this all too brief journey, contains the only meaning which makes any sense to me; the love we find and share with each other.
It may be a conceit but I feel as though I know, in a way different than others, where you two are and what you two feel and what you two have. And if it is, as I suspect, any part of what Jeni and I feel for each other… it’s everything.
“Something that two people who are in love create together, against impossible odds, can hold them together forever.”
As I look back over my shoulder at the events of the passing year, I find that uncertainty and fear have been playing a return engagement on the stage of my life. The olde insurance factory keeps threatening to dislodge me from my comfortable rut. Plans for retirement conflict with hard, uncaring financial realities.
But then, there have been other moments too.
These past weeks with you have been grace. That you wrote and asked for time with me is an enormous gift. There is no way that I can understate my gratitude to you for that message, for that conversation at Victor’s, for that walk in the rain around Redmond, for your confidence. It is a privilege, as it always has been, to be counted as your friend. But to be called upon by you at this time and in these circumstances has been an honor. The gift you have given me is beyond measuring, beyond value.
And for me, it’s like experiencing it all again, learning about love and, through love, finding meaning, finding place, finding belonging, finding the center. Seeing you and Marie is, for me, a reflection, a reflection of the best I have been blessed with, this time as observer.
I wish you both love, a sustaining and transcending love, a love that brings you ever closer, a love that makes pale all the years of waiting between then and now, a love that endures and comforts, a love that shelters and nourishes.
I wish you peace and contentment, now and always.