Saturday, January 6, 2018

New Light

It was near the end of the day, and I was exhausted by the death of my marriage. 

I had kept it on life-support for some time at that point, trying desperately to save it, and it had finally flat-lined. My wife had moved out about a week before, and I was still trying to cope with the sense of loss, the sense of a thousand dreams that had all been blown out, like a final gust of wind had broken through the doors of my inner sacred place and blown out every single votive candle.



I work at a small charter school. It's a high-energy job - I'm part teacher, part camera-man, part time management coach, part school nurse, and part aide. I love it. 

That day, though, I was so tired. And I had been tired for a long, long time. I had raccoon circles under my eyes, and the stress made my whole body ache. In all, the only positive thing I could see was that we had never had children, so they would not have to be involved in it. 

I had wanted children. 

Divorce is so strange. Everything goes upside down.

There was a group of students near some computers in the hallway, and they were arguing playfully about something. One of them, a powerhouse of a girl who is known for being direct and very, very smart, turned to me suddenly, and included me in the conversation by demanding of me...

"DO YOU LOVE YOUR WIFE?" (Sorry, but junior high kids tend to talk in ALL CAPS or in eight point font. Not a lot of middle ground.)

Understand, my friends, that I love my students. And as part of that, I never lie to them. Not ever.

If I hid that I was getting divorced, that would feel like lying.

I had a couple of choices, but I kind of just went with the one that I felt was right. I've been doing that, more and more. Just going with what feels right.

I smiled, kindly, and said, "Well, that's kind of complicated. I'm getting divorced. But the answer to your question is..."

"NO YOU'RE NOT. YOU'RE TEASING ME." She grinned, like she was totally on to me.

"No, really, I am."

It was like she couldn't understand how that was possible. I had to tell her about five times, "Yes, I am getting divorced, and I'm really not kidding." Maybe she had a hard time believing me because I wasn't saying it angrily, I wasn't snapping with bitterness. Not that I haven't been angry, but because I know how much those kids look up to me, and I know that they are watching.

But on the fifth time, when she finally understood that I was not kidding, that I really was losing my wife, her eyes went wide and sad.

"I'm so sorry," she said.

"It's okay," I said. "But to answer your question, the original question... yes. I love my wife. But it's complicated."

Immediately, another one of the students who had been sitting there, a king of a kid with a voice like a Hans Zimmer cinematic dubstep drop, stood up, and whipped out his phone.

"I WILL GET YOU GIRLS," he said. "I WILL GET YOU A TINDER. WE WILL PUT YOU ON SOCIAL MEDIA. I WILL GET YOU SO MANY GIRLS."

"Whoa! Whoa!" I said, hands up, trying to cover my face, laughing. "Hey, listen, that's not necess..."

"NO. WE WILL TAKE A PICTURE. WE WILL GET YOU SO MANY WOMEN."

"Dude," I said, "Thank you. Really. But I gotta take it easy. Give me time. Rain check. Next year, man." 

Never mind that I still wasn't divorced yet, and I wasn't going to date until it was final. Yes, we were divorced in every sense but the legality of it, but I had made a promise and I wasn't about to go breaking it. I am, or at least, I strive to be, a man of honor, regardless of what other people choose to do.

He gave me a look like I was crazy, but he put his phone away. "OKAY, MAN. BUT NEXT YEAR WE WILL PUT YOU ON TINDER AND GET YOU A WOMAN."

"Thanks, buddy," I said. "I'll keep you, uh, in mind. About that."

That was last year. I am now divorced. I'm still not ready for Tinder. I'm not sure if I'll ever BE ready for Tinder.

But I will remember that conversation with those kids for the rest of my life, because it highlighted two very important things for me.

1. Love is a choice. No one can force me to be bitter, or angry, or hateful. Love is something higher and more powerful than romance, or feeling fond about someone, or even wanting someone to be around. 

2. People care, even if they don't know exactly what to do. 

I'll keep re-lighting candles, until my whole mind-palace is filled with light. No matter what gusts of wind come, there's a quiet fire in me that does NOT get blown out, and with it, I will light every candle as many times as I need to.

My kids, those students, are counting on me to do so.

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