A few weeks ago Richard and I celebrated twenty eight years of marriage. I began the day in my usual fashion, out on the lanai having my quiet time with God. My husband was inside having his quiet time too, and through the open door I could feel the connection as we each experienced our own unique relationship with God. As I read my various daily reflections, the meaning of that day slowly sank in.
We had known each other for almost twenty nine years. I met Richard towards the end of July 1983, and we married on 24 March 1984. It was a bit of a scary time for me. I had been married once before for almost ten very unhappy years and it had been ten years since I had separated and consequently divorced that man. I had lived much of that previous marriage emotionally alone, and had become very independent and self-sufficient in the ensuing ten years. Oh, and did I mention that Richard is almost twenty years my junior??
I thought back to that time after Richard asked me to marry him and remembered how much praying and self-questioning I went through. I had also insisted that we speak with the priest and go through counseling, and then I went on a retreat to distance myself from the relationship for forty eight hours, just to have some clarity and see if I had any different thoughts and feelings about the situation. After doing everything I thought I should do to be sure of how I felt, we went ahead and married.
I sat there on the twenty fourth of March this year with a very full heart as I traveled back in time, and the prevailing thought was “where had all those twenty eight years gone?”. The words from a well-known Christian song came to mind: “in the blink of an eye”. As I said goodbye to Richard that morning (he had a day-long class he had to attend), I remembered our first real kiss. It had me blushing for a moment because it was a very incredible and passionate kiss and I remember thinking that I could just have floated off in that kiss all those years ago. But it was also a very tender kiss, and I think that’s what sold me on Richard from the very first – he was such a tender person. Tender-hearted as a person as well as tender towards me, and others.
If I needed any other evidence of the years we have been together, we have a twenty seven-year old daughter, Melissa, who is proof-positive that all those “blink-of-an-eye” years really existed. I remember very well appearing in a play, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, when I was about six months pregnant with her, and my eldest son, Marco, from my first marriage, break dancing day in and day out during the pregnancy. Melissa was born to the rhythm of break dance.
While Richard was in class, I got on with my day and couldn’t help but notice in great detail the contents of our home, which is something between an art gallery and a curio shop. There are paintings and photos all over the walls. The paintings come from many different places that either Richard has travelled to during his years in the Navy or that we both have travelled to together. Then there are the statues and figurines that cover every shelf and available surface throughout the house. Many people are quite taken aback when they visit our home for the first time because of all “the stuff”. But everything is a joyful representation of the years that we have been together and the memories that we have created.
When Rich came home from class, we got ready to go out and celebrate our anniversary. First we went to the El Apache restaurant to enjoy a delicious Mexican meal. With tummies pleasantly full we then headed over to the Thrasher-Horne Center for Arts to see a show. A few weeks earlier, at a silent auction fund-raiser at our church, we had won the bid on two tickets for The Peking Acrobats which were dated twenty four March. I think the only reason we bid on them was because the date was the same as our anniversary. The show was quite breathtaking and very exciting and it was a great way to celebrate the day.
However, we didn’t quite finish the celebrations at that point. Instead of heading home, Richard pointed the car in the other direction. You see, he has an absolute weakness for Shakes, a small drive up cubicle that sells shakes and sundaes made with frozen custard. And so we completed our evening enjoying our favorites: for Rich this was a strawberry milkshake, extra thick; for me it was a kiddy-cup with one small scoop of vanilla frozen custard topped with a healthy drizzle of caramel – yum. A perfect finish to a perfect evening, and here’s to number twenty nine!!
Where do I start? As I look back along the path of my life there have been dozens of moments when the sets of footprints have been many. I know that God has been with me all the way, even when I have chosen to ignore Him. So I know that there has been at least one set along the sands of time when He was carrying me and, when I was “in a state of grace”, then we walked side by side leaving two sets of prints.
But those other times when more feet left their mark are when some very special people walked with me. People who loved me or at the very least cared about me enough to accompany me through difficult times. Sometimes these people were professionals whom I sought out for specific help. Other times they were special friends, the kind that leave footprints not only on the path of life but also across my heart.
If I were to be honest, even though I did not recognize it at the time, I would have to say that my mother was my first mentor. It would probably be even more honest to say that I was not capable of recognizing her in the mentor role. But with the wisdom that age eventually gives us and with the passage of time, I am able to understand and admit that she did indeed give me many of the values that I hold dear today.
My Aunty Polly was another mentor in my young life. She was not a blood relative but someone my parents knew from before they were married. She had an amazing ability to make me feel loved and cherished no matter what I may have done. She always had a compliment for me and she always smelled of some divine French perfume, and when she hugged me I wanted to stay inside her arms forever. As I struggled through my teen years her love and support never wavered. She was always ready to be my champion.
Sad to say I remember no particular mentors in my life during my upper school years or college years, although Aunty Polly was ever available if I bothered to approach her. This barren period of my life stretched into my marriage to my first husband. But the barrenness was of my own creation as I slid further and further into isolation.
It was not until a few years after I separated from my him that I began to seek help and became aware that there were some very compassionate people available if I but looked. Dear Fr. Hill, the Catholic chaplain with the U.S. Navy in La Maddalena, Sardinia was the first of those. His laughter filled the corridors of the Navy base and filled my battered heart with hope. In turn he introduced me to a young woman called Lou Ann who was to mentor me through the first few months of struggling out of my “dark period”.
As I took my place among my fellow citizens on this path of life I slowly understood that there was no stigma in seeking help from professionals. Since then I have been blessed with help from many psychologists and spiritual advisors: Dr. Lockart, Dr. Fernandez, Dr. Werbel, Dr. Boger, Chaplain Gerry Smith, Chaplain Steve Jensen, Chaplain Wendy Bausman, Chaplain Rod Kelley, Chaplain Terry Robertson, Chaplain Paul Witt, Chaplain Robert Church, Chaplain Mark Logid, Chaplain Greg Gillette, Chaplain Larry Smith. I know there were others. I can see their faces but my memory is being unkind and not allowing me to remember their names.
My dear friend Herm del Prato in Naples, Italy was another soul with whom I shared many personal stories and struggles. His ear was always willing and he was never judgmental. And how can I forget my “soul sister” Cawne who came into my life in 1987 and, in her own woundedness, opened up a whole new path of spiritual possibilities to me. Despite a large geographical separation we are deep friends to this day.
As I think of my life today I realize it is full of mentors in the unique friends who I choose to surround myself with. Men and women who are all questing on their own paths and yet willing to share and give of themselves to me. My beloved Mavis, who is also a substitute mother-aunty-sister-friend and who teaches me to remain teachable. Cathy and Lorelei in St. Augustine who help me stay true to myself.
Kathi, Paige, Tish and Robin who all help to keep me “right size” and show me how to live by going out there and living life themselves. Michael, who massages my body and through his skills, talents, knowledge, and experience helps me to get nearer to myself. Linda who helps me care for my garden and teaches me lessons of genuineness like no other.
And there are many more, too numerous to name, who through their actions and the way they live their lives, fill me with gratitude for their presence, for their friendship. They enrich my life with love, with compassion, with humility, with joy. They nurture me along my path. I am truly blessed.
I have always loved reading. My mother called me a bookworm. I would devour books, rarely putting them down until the last letter of the last word on the last page had been savored. As a little girl I heard, then read by myself, all the childhood favorites.
I learned the nursery rhymes one by one until I new them all by heart. I remember Little Boy Blue, Baa-baa Black Sheep, Mary Mary Quite Contrary, Little Bo-Peep, Mary Had a Little Lamb, Jack Spratt, and so many others. The characters all seemed so real to me and with my vivid imagination I would charm them all to life as I lay in bed.
Then, of course, there was Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. How many nights did I fall asleep with the image of myself in one of my very ordinary little dresses being turned into a shimmering creation of gossamer silver and silk. Or seeing myself with a handsome prince (who looked suspiciously like Johnnie the boy next door!), riding off in a glimmering golden carriage into a rosy pink sunset. And those were the ideals that were cast in stone in my childhood memory banks for the future that could be mine. I would be “rescued” from whatever paltry life I was living and I would be carried off to live “happily ever after”.
The only problem with Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty is that no one wrote the sequel. So here we are left with the never-ending final scene of riding off into that proverbial sunset and being happy. We are never shown what happens when they got back to the palace. I presume that’s where they were eventually headed.
I mean, I realize that if they did live in a palace they would probably have access to a maid or two, and a cook, and a butler, and a gardener. Life wouldn’t be too shabby as they created an edict or two and smiled magnanimously at their subjects. But they’d still have to think about day-to-day living and waking up to each other everyday.
However, I have to admit, that if ever my little girl mind went further than that ride into the sunset, I always imagined Cinderella walking the corridors of her palace in different ball gowns and tiaras, and leaning out of balconies in the palace turrets as little blue birds flew down to her fingers and sang to her. I’ve no idea what the prince was up to as she floated around in her perfectly idyllic life!!
No wonder we are set up for failure in real life relationships! Given the state of today’s society full of drinking and drugs, fast paced living, crime and abuse, there probably isn’t more than a handful of healthy families in each neighborhood. Pessimistic – maybe; realistic – probably.
Let’s just go back to the sixties. Actually we need to back further still, to the time of prohibition. Everything was forbidden, especially alcohol. When that law was revoked there was a wild swing into drinking which eventually ended up in the free love and drug experimentation during the era of the hippy sixties.
Although the sixties ended and the hippies went out of style, drugs had taken a firm hold. The hippy youth of the sixties became the next generation of parents. Many of them continued to use “soft” drugs and some “not-so-soft” drugs also spilled onto the market. You don’t need to be a psychologist to realize that these people were not the best of parents and a whole generation of dysfunctional families was created.
As their children grew up and began to look for mates we had the first layer of inter-dysfunctional marriages. Many people used alcohol to chase away their demons. Others got into heavier drugs which were becoming increasingly more available. Wherever there is a new market entrepreneurial minds will flourish, and many criminal minds were savvy enough to realize that there was much money to be made with drugs.
And let’s not forget the wave of people who began to turn to prescription drugs to treat the depression and other psychological ailments that came from the pain of knowing there was something wrong but not being able to pin point or explain that wrong. Very few people could bear the stigma that was associated with going to see a psychologist or therapeutic counselor, so they used whatever was available.
“Too depressing, way too negative”, I hear you cry. “Depressingly true”, I respond. “But what has this got to do with Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty”, I hear you ask. “Everything”, I say. When there is nothing, or at least very little, left but darkness or depression we look for salvation wherever we can find it. When no decent role models are around we turn to fantasy and make believe and the realm of fairy tales and try to turn them into reality.
Is it any wonder that the explosion of New Age religions and spirituality was so enormous? By now we have generation upon generation of dysfunctional people searching for something, searching for salvation, searching for real role models. On a subconscious level people realize that there is more to life than “sex, drugs, and rock and roll”.
Thank God more and more people are reaching out for the help that they need. There is definitely a movement toward the return of old values. Many people are seeking professional help as that stigma drops away. The rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous are growing in number and in size.
Many people see that it takes courage to ask for help and are discovering that courage. Even men, the proverbial “strong, silent, macho one’s” are becoming brave enough (they always thought it was a weakness!), to approach therapists. Couples are recognizing that jumping into divorce does not remove their problems. Divorce may remove the other partner, but each partner is still left with attitudes and behaviors that they will drag into a new relationship.
So perhaps we can lay the fairy tales to rest, or at least in recounting them to our children and our grandchildren we can help them to understand that they are just that – fairy tales. Perhaps some new good authors will emerge who can write a “second level” of classical fairy tales for our children as they reach early teens. Stories that will shine a light of good healthy reality on how life can and should be lived after that ride into the sunset.