Early one afternoon after having returned from errands, I walked into the spacious living room of the Eichler-inspired home into which I had just moved with my teenage sons and surly cat. I found Stephen sitting round the dining table, sorting through boxes of old photos. Lively conversation between my sons and Uncle Stevie bounced between the history of the English Reformation, the Elightenment, and geek-talk. I was grateful to smell a fresh pot of coffee wafting in from the kitchen. Perfectly perfect. Stephen, ever so thoughtful, knew how delighted I would be over such a simple kindness. Of course, the man has his own grand affair with well roasted cuppas, and it may have been a matter of two birds and all.
Stephen the doting uncle- the boys adore him. He has stepped into this role with graciousness and affection at a time when grief and loss, anger and disappointment, and the experience of abandonment has overwhelmed us beyond imagining. And here he is, with his wit and cheer and indefatigable charm filling our lives with light. The man has perfect timing in all ways. He greeted me with such a hug. I am a tall woman, and to receive a hug from a fellow of six-feet four-ish makes me feel girlish and almost petite. Not easy to explain, but those of you in my heels will understand this is a rare experience. In those long arms I felt a moment of utter safety- that no harm could ever touch me again. Why did I hide the truth from him for so long when he was always so ready to help, and ever generous with his time and resources? My family was laughing again after a long drought. Enjoying the pleasure of some fine company after the big failure.
Within me, there is shame in admitting failure. An individual of whom I am quite fond, an immigrant from Glasgow, likes to explain that one of the reasons he was attracted to America was because he observed the ethic that there was no shame in failure. That one of the primary cultural contracts is one can swing and miss, and it’s okay. You dust yourself off, pick up the bat, and have another go. In fact, failure is seen as necessary for success. In many ways, I would agree. How about failure versus not succeeding? I‘m able to discern a few exceptions, but in general he is on the right course. But there remains one area in which failure is often judged as a character flaw, and that is the failure of one’s marriage.
How is failure different from not succeeding? I posed this idea to a wise friend. Failure, he said, is the result of having exhausted all your options. But failure to succeed or lack of success implies that hope of reaching your goal is alive. Yes, I have failed. I am stuck. I am neither here nor there but wandering in the Mahasunn of this purgatory. I don’t know who I am other than I am becoming. I had forgotten how to be, and that I
Learning how to be…
As the gentlemen shuffled the photos, Stephen found one he particularly fancied and asked as to whether he might keep it or have a copy. It was taken on a trip when the man-children were eight and twelve. On a fallen tree spanning a gentle creek, two shining faces smile into the camera. “Why this one?” I asked him. He replied that in it he saw an innocence in those faces before the deluge of changes came about. And he wanted the boys to see the picture when they came to visit him, as a reminder that they knew once how to be happy and would be so again.
We drank our coffee and snacked on fruit. Stories were shared. Small advice was offered. Such a delightful afternoon. And then I was awake. (c)GoshGusMusic(ascap)2010