January 25, 2009

What Is It About Turning Seven?

When my youngest was about to turn seven I told him in no uncertain terms that he was not allowed to get any older. Turning seven just wasn’t allowed. He was, of course, terribly disobedient and went ahead and turned seven anyway--whether I liked it or not. Every birthday thereafter it inevitably came up that he was continuing his willful course of disobedience. Once, when he was in college, I needed help in paying a bill. “You’re sure you can afford it?” I asked, needing the money but thinking he probably did too.

“Hey, I’m good. Remember, I’m not six anymore.”

Well, it’s seems perfectly unbelievable that I now have a grandson who is following in his Uncle Blake’s footsteps. Rome was over at my place for a sleepover not long after Thanksgiving and was all excited about his upcoming birthday on January 10. I told him that he was, in no uncertain terms, to turn seven. He laughed and rocked back on his heels and shook his head at me, like he couldn’t quite believe how na├»ve I am about these sorts of things.

“I’m serious,” I told him. “You can’t get seven. I don’t like it. I want you to stay six or I’m going to pout. See? I’m pouting?”

“Grandma Bee, I can’t help it! And I don’t want to stay six! Who wants to stay little all the time? I want to grow up and do things!”

“I can see you’re going to be obstinate about this, like Uncle Blake. How old is he now anyway? Twenty-eight? You tell me how many years he’s been disobedient. How long has he just gone ahead and gotten bigger anyway?”

Rome did the math. “Twenty-two!”

“Yes, and an old woman like me can only take so much grief in her life. You really need to stay six. Do this for me.”

Yeah, well, he told me there wasn’t a whole lot he could do about it and, basically, that I had better like it or lump it. And he asked for some post-it notes so he could get started on making invitations for his party.

In the excitement of his mother's arrival in the morning he left his many post-it notes on the dining room table. Heather, when I called her, said she’d get him real invitations; I could keep his rough drafts. Which I promptly posted all over the house: my computer, my bathroom mirror, the frig, the front door…

January 10th arrived. I took over his birthday present. His last friend was just leaving an obviously successful party. Rome politely took his gift and began opening it.

“I don’t know if I want to give you a present, though,” I told him, “since you’ve decided to go ahead and turn seven.”

I love his laugh. His falling into himself, his sparkly brown eyes that his father says comes from some Native American great-great-grandmother. That I am perfectly silly was clear to him as well as little brother, Kodi, who tried to explain more clearly to me how these things work.

I left feeling sort of sad. I truly hadn’t want Blake to turn seven. And I really really didn’t want Rome to turn seven.

There is small comfort. Someday, if I’m lucky, Rome will have a six-year-old that will want to turn seven, too. There is that to look forward to.



_____________
PS If you want to follow my blog, click on "Followers"--which is up near where Rome's birthday invitation is. There's still only Tinsy Winsy and he's lonely. If you're like my friend, Pat, and fear having to give out all kinds personal information, this just isn't true.
PS/PS For my Republican friends, a little sick of my enthusiasm over Obama's presidency, I'm hoping a few of you will weigh in. KD just had eye surgery; she says she's waiting to see and will then make comment; and Jerry, well, I'm asking. We've been quarreling over this, I think, since Blake was the size he was in his grown-up palm in the image above. You know I'm always eager to hear what's in your head.

January 20, 2009

Martin Luther King’s Dream and Obama

Today while Martin Luther King Jr’s dream came true;

a day when men were judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin;

a day when freedom rang from every hill and molehill and every mountainside, every hamlet, every state, every city—indeed all over the world;

a day when we sang for the first time “My country tis of Thee, sweet land of liberty…” in truth;

today, while a dream came true, I was—I am sorry to report—going about more ordinary things. I updated my blog.

A new feature is a “follower” section—which you can see I’ve installed in the right hand column. I have but one follower so far—Tinsy Winsy, my childhood red sock monkey. I wish to invite you—on this greatest of days in the history of the United States, our founding fathers' promissory note now paid in full—to join Tinsy Winsy as one of my blogging pals. Say yes, and click on “Follow This Blog” button. On your mark, get set... It's somewhere close to my picture of Dr. King further down. ..go! And thanks.

Hey, but even if you don't want to join Tinsy Winsy? I still hope that everyone I know and everyone I don’t, can appreciate on some level the momentous paradigm shift in our country. My Canadian friends tell me the prayers of the world are with us. In this alone there is great reason to rejoice.

I find it all the more special to have happened just five days beyond what would have been Dr. King's 80th birthday. He could have lived to see this day. I'm sorry he did not. But that has been the price for today. Thank you, Dr. King, Happy Birthday. It's in the light of your life and shadow of your death that we stand in humble appreciation and deep gratitude.

On this day of dream come true, I simply end with the words of a friend who e-mailed today: “Peace on this great day.”

And for those of you who haven’t, for some time, read Dr.King’s “I Have A Dream,” here it is:

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering his 'I Have a Dream' speech from the steps of Lincoln Memorial.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.

January 13, 2009

Forgiveness

My youngest had just been born, May 1, 1980, when I happened upon the religion page of the Seattle Times—devoted almost entirely to Bruce Larson, the new minister coming to University Presbyterian Church. “If ever I’m in real trouble,” I remember thinking, “I will call him.” Blake was not yet two when I picked up the phone. And so began a spiritual odyssey that has taken me places I would never have envisioned.

My first meeting with Bruce was, I think, that very same day. What I remember most were his eyes. Sky blue, and they bore into mine with a buoyant smile as he reached out to warmly shake my hand. I couldn’t look away. I was a deer caught in the headlights; for the first time in my life I was visible. It shocked me to the core. I think many women are raised so invisibly we don’t know what it means to be seen—until it happens. We stumble through the years in deep fog, identified and recognized through our casseroles and Christmas pageants, our sundry lists of service. But Bruce saw past all that—to me. Me. Whoever that was. And I held fast to his gaze, afraid to let go, for I recognized instantly that God had thrown me a lifeline.

Bruce listened to the most recent event of my life—the tip of an iceberg that had left me reeling. Prompted by my doctors, I’d finally seen my way clear to filing for divorce. The church I was attending, however, was disinterested in my story and told me, "Quite frankly, we have no more use for you." A stronger woman might have taken this in stride, gone around the iceberg and gotten on with the rest of her life, but the hull of my own life had been torn through by the subterranean unseen and I was sinking. My three children, ages 1, 3, and 6, would go down with me.

“Sometimes,” Bruce said sadly, “the church likes to bury her wounded.” He invited me to attend the church's annual retreat the following weekend, and arranged for me to bunk in with a public health nurse he thought I’d enjoy getting to know. To my surprise and initial resistance, Penny named me a battered woman, traumatized by emotional violence. In subsequent weeks, Ray Moore, an associate pastor Bruce introduced me to, named my religious abuse and opened new windows of theology that gave me an entirely different view of God. Rusty Palmer, a psychiatrist who taught single parenting classes at the church, named some of my abuse as psychological. Shortly afterward John Westfall arrived as a singles pastor and then Rich Hurst as his assistant—and through them I began to appreciate humor in the pain. And thus was born Bruce’s ministry in my life, anchor and hub to a vast network of informed people who each in their own way helped me chart the treacherous sea I was in, helping me navigate my way through the ice flows and around the iceberg that never went away.

A friend once said, “All divorce is the same. The details differ, but the stories are similar.” To some degree this is true. However, for some us the divorce never ends and so the story goes on. And on. As did mine. Bruce and the others often found themselves buffeted by the upheaval in my life—long after other shipwrecked women, arriving at U-Pres more dead than alive, healed and went on. I did make great strides, discovering courage and fortitude and enough talent to raise my children as a writer—learning to see what Bruce saw in me. But for me at least the real struggle never abated. My children’s father was like a rabid dog. He lived to make me suffer.

In an act of desperation I moved my children a hundred miles north. I continued to drive south every other Sunday, though, for I was dependent upon Bruce’s insight and wisdom. Just walking into the sanctuary at U-Pres was to be in a safe place. Christmas 1989 everything changed.

My children’s father brought to bear all the force he could muster. The stress was so severe my doctors were again concerned for my survival. My friend Barbara said, “There is something almost demonic about this guy, I wonder if we’re dealing with spiritual forces beyond our comprehension. What if Bruce gave you a spiritual divorce? You were married in the church but divorced in a court of law. What if U-Pres gave you a bill of divorcement, signed by Bruce?”

As soon as she said it, I knew it to be true. I went to Bruce and laid it all out. “I wish I’d thought of this myself,” he told me. “Let me talk to the other pastors, I’ll get back to you.”

Some of the other pastors were against the idea, but Bruce stuck to his guns. In my situation, he said, it was absolutely necessary. “But I need to talk with your ex-husband first. He deserves to be aware. Besides, I want to confront him. I want to ask him how, in God’s name, he’s been able to do what he does.”

My heart sank. “No, Bruce,” I said, “I will lose. You will abandon the truth of everything you know. Everyone does. The only exception is Ray.” Ray Moore, in fact, had initially been swayed. But he listened to me again, and brought my children’s father in for further discussion. “Did you— Did you— Did you—” he fired, rapidly raising one question after the other, trying to determine the veracity of what I was saying and leaving no time for manipulation, only the truth. Cornered, the man I was divorcing could only blurt out, “Yes, yes, yes.”

A thousand questions Ray could have asked, but the man I was divorcing heaved to his feet in a defiant stance of moral indignation, adjusted his fancy suit and summarily dismissed Ray and the entire congregation at U-Pres as heretics. “What God has put together, let no man put asunder,” he announced on his way out the door and with the same moral superiority in his voice and face I’d witnessed for ten sorry years. I held my breath, waiting to see what Ray would do. Would he, like everyone else, denounce me? Tell me I had to suck it up and drop the divorce proceedings? “I don’t know how you have survived,” he said, turning to look at me with such sadness I broke down.

Ray remained the only male to believe me after being exposed to my ex-husband’s machinations. This was a spiritual battle I had no confidence I could win. Bruce was susceptible as the next. But he was insistent. “I have to speak with him. The man calls himself a Christian, he needs to be held accountable. I intend to shame him. Denying his children support, medical help… He deserves to be confronted before facing God on judgment day.”

“Do not do this. I beg you. Do not do this to me.”

“Have you no faith in me?”

I stared into his eyes—and I knew this would be the last time I’d ever see him.

It was Christmas Eve when he called. “Hello, Brenda,” he said, “I’ve just had a nice talk with your husband.”

My knees went weak. Husband? I'd been divorced almost as long as I'd been married. I sat with a clumsy thud into a kitchen chair. My two boys were eating an early supper across the table from me. I don’t recall where my daughter was, perhaps last minute shopping, due home any minute. “We had a good visit, Brenda. He loves you and wants very much to put this family back together. I believe him. And as your pastor, I have to encourage you to do this.”

“I told you this would happen,” I managed to stammer. “I told you.”

“Yes, you did, but I do believe him.”

“Did you speak with Ray?”

“I don’t need to, I’m a romantic, Brenda. I believe in happy endings, and this can have a happy ending. He’s even willing to overlook the letter you sent.”

I involuntarily jerked up straight. “What letter?”

“That letter you wrote me last week.”

“I didn’t write you a letter.”

Nonetheless, he was convinced I’d written a litigious, slanderous letter, a crazy letter, demanding and whiny, chock full of misperceived insults, a letter he apparently shared with my ex-husband. My head was reeling.

“Was it hand-written?” I asked, thinking of my file where I kept copies of all my correspondence with Bruce. Perhaps if I’d hand-written something I might have failed to make a copy. But no, it was computer generated—and I knew I did not have copy of such a letter in my file, or on my hard drive.

“I signed it?” I asked.

Yes.

“Is it my signature?”

He couldn’t recall what my signature was supposed to look like.

“I’d appreciate it if you’d send me a copy,” I told him, but to protect me, he said, he’d destroyed it. It was too damning, too vociferous. Besides, he didn’t want such a vile letter in his office. He had to get rid of it.

My mother has her theories as to who sent that letter. I can’t go there. How can I? Such knowledge would defeat me. I can’t live knowing someone can be that malicious, that treacherous. Twenty years later I still can't go there..

“It’s Christmas Eve,” said Bruce on the phone. “I just wanted to call before I went home. Think about what I said. You need to put this back together. You owe it to yourself, to your children. He loves you, he wants to make everything right.”

I think I just hung up. I had to stand to reach the phone, and what I remember is a sensation of numbness, like someone could cut my heart out and I wouldn’t feel a thing. But my head was spinning. The world tipping, me sliding. I looked at my boys, nine and eleven. Their faces were ashen.

“Bruce says your father loves me,” I told them. “Tell me the truth. I need to know the truth. Does he?”

They looked at each other, they looked at me.

“Phillip,” I told the oldest. “I need to know the truth. Tell me the truth.”

Again they looked at each other. Blake, nine, nodded. Phil, eleven, turned back to me, his ashen face going completely white. “Mum, Dad wants you dead.”

This was truth I recognized—though the bluntness of it startled me. Out of the mouth of babes… But my sons’ father could kill me with his bare hands and it would be nothing compared to Bruce’s betrayal. The church has a way of burying her wounded.

I don’t recall what I’d fixed for supper—soup, chili, ravioli. It was in a pot. I do remember that. And I remember watching my tears drip into it as I stirred. Now what? I asked God. I’d been cut off from my church, from Bruce, from the entire staff. And this, I knew, was exactly what my ex-husband had intended to do. Take away my only spiritual haven. I was on my own.

Am I not enough? God seemed to ask. Next thing I knew I was slamming my head against the nearby cupboard. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop until the physical pain eclipsed the pain within.

A few years later, HarperCollins published my book Taming the Dragons. I’d relied heavily on some of Bruce’s many books to support my thesis that we are never alone in conflict and asked my editor to send it to him, then at the Crystal Cathedral in California, for an endorsement. I wanted Bruce to know I’d not gone back to my marriage but had figured a way to extract my own self from spiritual oppression. Secretly, I’d hoped he would write and tell me he was sorry.

He did give me an endorsement—“Wilbee, a gifted writer and a keen observer of life, has written a book that could not be more timely for women—as well as men.” That he respected me was clear. That he valued what I had to say—not only for women but for men as well—was also clear. I wasn’t surprised by his validation. After all, he was the first to see this in me, and to call it forth from my battered soul like Jesus called on Lazarus to rise from death. But Bruce didn’t contact me. I realized then that he simply didn’t know the depth of his betrayal.

For nearly twenty years, though, the pain remained. And then last week, out of the blue, John Westfall found me. "Hi,” he wrote via Facebook, “Eileen and I were wondering how you were, and I did a quick search….” I hadn’t heard from John since Taming the Dragons was released. I read on his Facebook wall that he was preparing for Bruce Larson’s memorial service. I shot back a message, distressed to hear of Bruce’s death. I think my heart actually hurt.

The next morning John informed me that Bruce had actually died just before Christmas, but the service was to be at two that afternoon, at U-Pres—a three-hour trip for me. Rich Hurst would be there, he wrote, and Keith Miller. “Bruce, Rich, and Keith together,” he said, “wrote most of the books out there, you wrote the rest!” Untrue, but I was pleased to learn that Rich had been writing; he had so much to say. Like, God does not call us to trust. He calls us to love. Trust must be earned. John, too, was a writer. We’d shared the same editor at Harper. No time to think about this, though. It was already 10:45. Rain was coming down in a torrential downpour and rumors were out that parts of I-5 were closed due to flooding. But I had to try…I had to say goodbye…I had to find a way to let go of my pain. I had make peace with a man I loved and to whom I owed so much despite our difference of opinion.

I arrived just as the opening trombone number was under way and I slipped into the second to last pew. The sanctuary was packed—easily 3,000 people. I slid in next to a stranger, home again. How could I forget? How could I forget the solace and sanctuary of this place? The swell of the organ all but lifting us off our feet? The serenity of the stained glass windows despite the drumming rain on the other side? How could I forget the healing presence of Bruce? For he was here, his tremendous love bringing him back to say goodbye to us all—as us to him. In his presence, then, and for the first time in twenty years, I felt safe—for this is the legacy of Bruce. Safety at the cross, not condemnation.

The old vanguard was all there, all his old writing comrades, his family, John Westfall, Rich Hurst, Ray Moore, men who’d stood in the gap when I needed them most. Lloyd Olgivie, former chaplain of the U.S. Senate and longtime friend of Bruce’s, had us alternately guffawing and fighting tears. And when Lloyd suggested that Bruce was with us, in this sanctuary, I was glad to know someone else, of much greater stature, understood this to be true.

I was seventeen when I suffered a near death experience. By now most people know about the tunnel and Light, meeting the Divine, conversations without words, seeing without the traditional use of the eyes, hearing without sound waves being absorbed by bone. For years, though, I remained silent, fearful lest someone think me crazy. I could remain silent still, a quiet witness, but I remember Bruce's admonition to "live as if you weren't afraid."

And so I say that I sat at his memorial service in the second to last pew and “watched” him move with the spirit of God from person to person, in no particular order, reaching out to those who sensed him, smiling at those who could not.

When I was seventeen I could not explain being outside my body, looking down from somewhere over my uncle's car, seeing myself in the back seat. I couldn’t explain seeing through metal and upholstery to my foot, firmly stuck under the front seat. I couldn’t explain hearing the struggle to free me, my aunt finally saying, “Her foot is stuck!” Nor can I explain how, at fifty-six, nearly forty years later, I could "see" or "hear" Bruce, or "know" he was sorry. But, as he said, I am a keen observer of life. And knowing he was sorry, I could forgive and the pain mysteriously vanished.

I waited around at the reception afterward long enough to find and speak with John and Eileen Westfall, Ray Moore, Rich and Kim Hurst. I was worried about I-5 closing, going northbound, and the service, thanks to Lloyd Olgivie, had gone on for a couple of hours. I gave each a hug, thanked Eileen for thinking of me, urging John to find me. “It’s so weird,” John said, “we got to thinking of you and Eileen said, ‘See if you can find her.’” It was a miracle I was here, a miracle I could think of Bruce and not hurt.

I have to admit, of late I’ve been stuck. Three months after my near death experience, when I was seventeen, my parents in desperation had sent me to live with family friends in Arizona, to see if my health would improve. My mother put me under the medical care of a Christian doctor who took advantage of my vulnerability. Predictably, I went on to marry badly and, two years ago, I started to revisit this, trying to decipher meaning—if possible—in my plummet from the very gates of heaven to the metaphorical gates of hell in the short space of time. Questions have been plaguing me: Who would I be if...?

Questions without answers and so I go from one to another and back again. No forward movement. Stuck.

This Christmas Eve, 2008, my youngest son, now twenty-eight, commented on something he’d read from Anne Lamott: “Forgiveness is letting go of the desire for a different past.” So for the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to integrate this with my endless cycling. Driving home in rainfall so severe my wipers were hard pressed even on high, this concept of forgiveness and a fifth question came to mind: Who would I be if it were not for Bruce?

This is a question with answers; the list, actually, is endless. For everything I am and have and understand is deeply rooted in Bruce and his teaching, and in his ability to perceive the best in all of us and call it forth, even when we cannot see it for ourselves. Even when it’s been clouded by circumstance and abuse.

The obvious clicked into focus even as the rain washed over my windshield. I am—was and will be—the person Bruce recognized and named. I’m a friend, a scholar, a complex thinker, a gifted writer and keen observer of life with things to say that cannot be more timely for women—as well as men. Stuck? Events are immaterial in defining us. We are who we’ve been created to be. And if we’re lucky, we have someone like Bruce to help us see it.

He did well by me. I miss him and love him, and I count myself divinely blessed. For truly, think about this. Who would I be if not for him?