I mentioned in one of my early posts since rebooting this blog that a very long post would be coming.  This is that post.

This is a very personal story.  Obviously, if I weren’t ok with all of it being common knowledge I wouldn’t post it here.  As with most things here, it is mainly for the benefit of my own reflection, but I hope that it might help you in some way.  Also, it represents one side of a story, I’m sure there are differences on the other side.  Probably only a handful of people know the story in its entirety, but here it will be very complete.

5 years ago, life was very different for me.  I lived in Maryland.  I worked as an integration technician for a government contractor.  Oh yes, and I was married to a girl (yes, I think girl is an apt description) named Holly.  I was generally quite content with life.  Then something happened.  That’s kind of the setup for most stories.  We have our hero, and all is well in his world, until one day, something happens that threatens the wellness of his world.  Not that I’m a hero, but, well, screw it, I’ll be a hero in my version of this story.

As was the norm, I woke up and got ready for work.  The night before Holly had seemed a bit down.  I approached her about it and she told me she was just tired, so I had decided to let her sleep, and left the bedroom so as not to disturb her.  However, that morning was not particularly memorable.  I’m not a morning person, so I’m sure that has a bit to do with it as well.  I do remember that we drove separately that day.  Oh yeah, we worked at the same place.  She was the receptionist in the building.  No, we didn’t meet there, I had helped her to get that job when I learned it would be opening, but that’s not important to the story.  Anyway, driving separately didn’t seem that significant, sometimes either she or I would be running late and rather than both of us being late, we’d just do that.  So, that day she seemed to be running late.  Fair enough.

At some point during the day, she told me that she wanted to meet and talk somewhere after work, and we decided to go to Baker Park. I arrived there first, and sat on a bench by the road and waited for her to arrive.  After several minutes, she drove up and walked over, sitting on the other side of the bench.  She told me that she wasn’t happy, and that she needed some time apart to think about things.  She also handed me a page from her journal that she had written the night before.

“I can’t sleep.  This is the first time I can remember something bothering me so bad I can’t sleep.  I keep thinking… about the countless nights I go to sleep alone.  About how far apart we truly are.  We still have our pet names and hold hands and kiss, but it’s all just habit.  For the past 7 months I think both of us have tried more than ever.  To understand, to love each other as man and wife.  My patience is waning.  How much longer should we try and hope against hope?  How much more can we put ourselves through?  What are we missing in the meantime?

The last time I had this gut feeling was 10-14-2005

It’s not very fair to either of us to go on like this.  How much happier would he be with someone who likes LOTRO and games and movie theaters and his friends?  How much longer can I tell myself “No you fit in.  It’s all in your head.”  Do I want to let my pride win by saying “I don’t care the cost, I’m going to stick it out.”  Even if it costs both our happiness.  I’m going to prove to everyone we’re going to stay together.  Even if we would both be happier with no one at all.

When we first started dating we said if we ever split up, it would be mutual.  I wonder if he still feels this way?

Also, if this would really be better for both of us… why do I feel that knot in my throat?  Why do I feel more pain now than when I left home?  Is it because I’m overreacting in PMS or is it because I’m facing a truth I’ve known about and ignored for years?”

At some point in the conversation she talked about how she had left the room after I came down to bed, because she hadn’t been able to sleep.  She said she hoped I would realize she had gone, and come up and talk to her, almost as though the fact that I didn’t was a sign of some kind.  For my part, I don’t recall her leaving the bed, and so I can only assume I was already asleep by the time she did so.

Oh yeah, an explanation is due concerning that date she wrote.  That refers to when she left her home in Texas to come and live with my family in Maryland.  She had… not the best home life, which no doubt contributed to this situation.  Anyway…

I can’t remember what I did say, but I do know that I was taken completely off guard, and needed to gather my thoughts.  After all, just maybe a month before for Easter she had given me a card in which she wrote “I love you more than ever.”  And generally by all appearances things seemed to be getting better between us, and not worse.  Regardless, we agreed to meet up the next day to talk.

That night was pretty rough.  I don’t think I slept much, and I thought a lot about what I wanted to say to her, and really what I could do to make things better.  I was determined to make things better.

The next day arrived.  It was a workday.  Being that I was miserable, I called in to say I couldn’t make it.  I can’t recall what I did that day, but I do know that when I tried to get Holly to meet me, she said that she wasn’t ready, and so, we didn’t meet that day.

Here is where I’m going to interject a bit of history.  This is a part that I don’t talk about really ever, mainly because even if the fact that I was married comes up in conversation (which is pretty rare), this part certainly doesn’t.  Very shortly after we got married, I found out that she was talking to some guy online, which included “cybersex” and the like.  This bothered me, and I confronted her about it, and it stopped.  It then went into the past.  Ultimately, it was only an online thing and she didn’t really know this person, so it wasn’t quite “real”.  I don’t recall exactly how much later, perhaps a year, maybe a bit less, and I again find out she is talking to someone online, doing similar things.  This time with a guy that was from her hometown.  I can’t recall exactly how I initially stumbled upon it, I think I was using her computer for something , but at any rate I saw something and then started digging and found several damning conversations.  The thing that actually bothered me more than anything about it was how hateful and mean a lot of what the guy said about me to her was, and that she didn’t defend me at all.   But, to make it as short as possible, this time there was a bit of a bigger blowout, but it ultimately resolved again.  Then there was the third time, just a few months later, but this time not online.  I still don’t know for sure how far things progressed, but it involved intimate talk and at least some physicality for sure (this is to say, I don’t believe they went so far as to actually have sex, but I have no way of knowing for sure).  This was with a person at work, who I worked with.  This time I was pretty enraged by the whole thing.  It’s hard to remember all the details, and summing it up it sounds pretty simple, but, after some time it sort of got patched up, with an understanding that it just simply couldn’t happen again.

Obviously, in hindsight, it seems odd that this would happen with any regularity and I would be caught off guard that something was wrong some 7 months later.  However, it is those 6 months in which I genuinely felt that things were getting better and better.  As she had said in her letter, we had both been working on it harder than ever, and to me it seemed to be working.  Evidently not to her, though she never told me about that prior to this letter.

Ok, so back to the part where it’s basically the worst day of my life and she’s telling me she’s not ready to meet up the day after she gave me the letter.  During this time, I later found out, she was in fact with a guy that she had been talking to and hanging out with (not secretly, I knew she was friends with the guy, and aside from one day when she was just gone an exorbitant amount of time I was perfectly OK with it).  Turns out, she had decided she might want to be more than friends with him.  So, that day she was spending with him.

We both went to work the next day.  Walking past reception was more than a little awkward.  Being in the back room with the guys was also uncomfortable, as I was fairly certain they knew something was up.  Over instant messages, I asked if we could talk at lunch, and she agreed.

We met in the cemetery  (fitting, I suppose) where she liked to walk around sometimes.  As a reminder, this is less than 48 hours from when she said she wanted to spend some time apart.  Apparently that day with the other guy was all that she needed to figure out that she didn’t just want time apart, she wanted to be divorced, and there was no room for any discussion on the matter whatsoever.  It was quite a departure from what I had been led to believe from our previous encounter.  We were going to talk about things, and from the sound of it try to work through some issues with some distance between us.  In fact, she had referenced our agreement to end things amicably if we had ever parted ways.  I realize that might seem a bit odd, because I don’t think most people make such agreements, but, it was something that I took pretty seriously.

The actual wording of what we agreed was that if we broke up, we would do so by mutual agreement.  Here is what the agreement meant: You can’t just get pissed and bail, or for any reason just leave without sort of giving the other person a chance to convince you otherwise.  The whole point was to convince the other person that it was for the best.  That she referenced it, and then made no attempt to abide by it was a bit shocking to me.  She basically told me what she had decided on her own before talking to me, essentially told me that she didn’t love me, and, in fact, had never loved me, and gave my back her ring.  Then, she left.

It’s difficult to describe exactly how I felt.  I wanted to be somewhere  that felt hopeful, and so I started to drive to the spot that I proposed to her.  It’s not a difficult spot to find, and I went there often enough, but my mind was such a flurry that I  kind of got lost, it took me quite a bit to get there.  I don’t recall much of what I did once there, but then I went to a mutual friends place to tell them what was going on. To that point, no one had known anything about the separation at all.

That night was, I believe, the most torturous night of my life.  I’m positive that I didn’t sleep at all.  There has never been a moment of more intensive self-examination in my life before or since.  I knew that it was possible that I had fucked up in some way without realizing it, but I was going to fix it, no matter what that meant.

Then a few days later, my cousin received a phone call and learned that Holly was in an accident.  As it turns out, Holly was so shaken by it that she accidentally called the wrong person (my cousin shares the same first name as the person she intended to call).    I was on my way to work, and I in fact got all the way there, but then, conflicted about whether or not I should go to the hospital, just went, because I decided that was what I really wanted to do.  It was at this point she was a bit shaken up, and she seemed to loosen on her apparent resolve to end things.  We had a pretty good conversation there.  I don’t recall the specifics of most of it, but the phrase she said that I remember taking away from this was that “you’re still my best friend”.  If that was true though, she had a funny way of treating her best friend.

We talked a few more times, with my primary goal being to understand the situation, because it just didn’t make any sense to me.  Her ultimate statement was that she needed to find herself.  She wanted to know who she was as a person on her own.  Due to her past infidelities, I had some suspicions about this being over some other guy.  I in fact specifically asked about this at that point, and she told me that she was not seeing anyone, and she didn’t want to see anyone.  She wanted to be alone.  I accepted that for that moment.

Shortly after this she informed me that she wanted me to basically not talk to her for a month.  Given what she had said before, I reluctantly agreed to it.  During the course of this month however, I learned from mutual friends that while she was telling me that, she was telling them that she didn’t want to speak to me ever again.  The reason for that was entirely unclear, and ultimately lead to our mutual friends no longer being her friends, because the reasons were unclear to them as well.

Also in the course of this month of not talking to her I discovered that she was in fact seeing that aforementioned guy.  I did not take that very well. I recall sending some very angry text messages her way because she didn’t answer the phone.  I also recall that her first response to me telling her that I knew was “Oh, so I guess we don’t need to do counseling then.”   (I guess I left that out earlier, at some point I had convinced her to reluctantly go to counseling, but it never actually happened.)

It was at this point that I took the unsavory action of informing friends and her family of exactly what her actions were, because, well, I was pissed, and I wanted people to see her for what she was.  In hindsight, it’s not the best possible action I could have taken, but, I think it was understandable and justifiable.    She was not happy about it.

I guess not much happened for a while following this.  I wrote an enormous letter which I still have a copy of on my computer…  I’m not sure whether or not she ever read it, but I am sure that she never replied.  It was sort of my last-ditch effort to show her that I genuinely cared about restoring the relationship despite everything.    It’s a little hard for me to understand why at this point.  As much as I would prefer that none of this had ever happened, as it did happen, I don’t know why I still wanted to be with that person.

After that not too much happened for close to a year, and then out of nowhere she sent me an email asking if I would be willing to meet up and talk.  Of course I was willing.  After I agreed, she sent another email asking if I could bring a copy of the marriage certificate.  I can’t remember why she said she needed it.  Anyway, I brought it and spoke with her, again I was trying to understand the situation, and again she said that she would like to be friends.  We spoke one more time, and then shortly after that conversation she sent me an email saying that she in fact did not want to be friends.  Well, OK then.

It was at about that time that she started up the divorce process and had me sign papers. At the time I was happy to sign them, because honestly I just wanted the process to be over with since it was clear that she was not going to try to make anything work.  There’s a small part of me that is a little bit vindictive and wishes I would have not signed them so she would have had to wait another year for the divorce, because as it turns out, while during that last conversation we had she told me that she just didn’t believe marriage was for her and she would never get married again, she did get married again.  Less than a year later.  Probably so that she could go to Germany with the guy that she married (he was in the military, so my understanding is, if she was not married to him, she wouldn’t be able to go with him).

Anyway, that’s the main thrust of the story.  There are lots of little bits that I do remember that I guess don’t have much bearing on story overall.

So it’s 5 years later, since we were separated, and functionally divorced, if not legally (legally divorced closer to 4 years, I don’t even know the exact date of that).  How do I feel about it now?

Well, I still feel like it is the worst experience I have ever gone through.  It was absolutely miserable and lonely and painful.  I also think it’s caused me to grow more than anything else in my life to date.  I am most certainly “over it” at this point.  I don’t long to be with her, or anything like that, but that said, I think that it still affects me in terms of how I approach relationships, and I do think it has given me some trust issues.  And there’s also still a definite part of me that wants her to get what’s coming to her.  I have no interest in trying to make that happen mind you, but I’d be lying if I said hearing that her life had fallen apart wouldn’t feel like vindication to me.  That’s probably wrong of me, but it’s also the truth.

I still miss being married, though, as I said, I don’t long to be in a relationship with her.  I do wish that she would speak to me.  It still feels like an unresolved issue in my life, and while there are people who I have grown apart from before, she is the only person where things ended pretty chaotically.

I had to fight to keep from becoming jaded toward marriage for some time…  as much as I miss being married, I think I am reluctant to pursue it again, not so much on an intentional level, but I guess on a subconscious level.

Wow that’s a long post.  If you read this entire thing you deserve some kind of award.  If you comment I’ll assume you read it all and buy you a coffee sometime.  You’re on the honor system.

That’s all I have to say about that.

The Problem of Evil

Usually I only post about things that I feel like I have figured out.  Not necessarily that I know I am for sure right, but that I know exactly what I believe about it and therefore feel comfortable sharing it.  That is not, however, the case with this one.

Really I have only been thinking much of this since yesterday.  I realized that in light of new ways of understanding things, my old model for this doesn’t really make any sense.  I’m not sure it ever really made sense in my old way of understanding either, and I guess not that much changes… because even still mankind’s evil choices only explain a certain amount of evil in the world.  Things like cancer, and birth defects, and natural disasters all seem to be manifestations of evil.

When one understands God to be the one who ultimately makes both the good and the bad to happen.  If you need Biblical support for that, try Isaiah 45:7 – “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.”  This idea is present throughout much of the Old Testament.  As these are Jewish scriptures, it is easy to see why a Jewish person would not believe in an entity such as is the Christian understanding of Satan.  God brings both well-being and calamity, there is no need for a figure such as Satan to explain it.

This is quite naturally troubling to us as humans.  This is, after all, supposed to be a God of love, and yet He at best allows terrible things to happen to us (a la Job), and at worst is Himself directly causing those things to happen.  These are things that hurt us and cause us pain, and in the more extreme examples, we cannot see any satisfying purpose in the suffering.  When a young child dies in terrible pain from sickness or from abuse, is there anything that can come of that which would make us see it as not a terrible evil?

This question of evil is a very old one.  It is entirely what the story of Job is about, and Job is believed to be the oldest book of the Bible, dating back to about 1500 BC.  We as humans have been struggling with this idea ever since then, and we are perhaps no closer to understanding it now than we were then.  What is the great reasoning for Job’s suffering in the book of Job?   Apparently so that God could prove to Satan that Job really was a totally loyal guy that would still keep doing the right thing even if his blessings were taken away.  There you have it, as least God isn’t insecure or anything…

Oh, but if that isn’t satisfying enough we go on to get this answer (In Job 38-39):

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors
    when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
    and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed limits for it
    and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
    and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

12 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
    and caused the dawn to know its place,
13 that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
    and the wicked be shaken out of it?
14 It is changed like clay under the seal,
    and its features stand out like a garment.
15 From the wicked their light is withheld,
    and their uplifted arm is broken.

16 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
    or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
    or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
    Declare, if you know all this.

19 “Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
    and where is the place of darkness,
20 that you may take it to its territory
    and that you may discern the paths to its home?
21 You know, for you were born then,
    and the number of your days is great!

22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
    or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
    for the day of battle and war?
24 What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,
    or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?

25 “Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain
    and a way for the thunderbolt,
26 to bring rain on a land where no man is,
    on the desert in which there is no man,
27 to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
    and to make the ground sprout with grass?

28 “Has the rain a father,
    or who has begotten the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb did the ice come forth,
    and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?
30 The waters become hard like stone,
    and the face of the deep is frozen.

31 “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
    or loose the cords of Orion?
32 Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season,
    or can you guide the Bear with its children?
33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
    Can you establish their rule on the earth?

34 “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
    that a flood of waters may cover you?
35 Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
    and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts
    or given understanding to the mind?
37 Who can number the clouds by wisdom?
    Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
38 when the dust runs into a mass
    and the clods stick fast together?

39 “Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
    or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
40 when they crouch in their dens
    or lie in wait in their thicket?
41 Who provides for the raven its prey,
    when its young ones cry to God for help,
    and wander about for lack of food?

“Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
    Do you observe the calving of the does?
Can you number the months that they fulfill,
    and do you know the time when they give birth,
when they crouch, bring forth their offspring,
    and are delivered of their young?
Their young ones become strong; they grow up in the open;
    they go out and do not return to them.

“Who has let the wild donkey go free?
    Who has loosed the bonds of the swift donkey,
to whom I have given the arid plain for his home
    and the salt land for his dwelling place?
He scorns the tumult of the city;
    he hears not the shouts of the driver.
He ranges the mountains as his pasture,
    and he searches after every green thing.

“Is the wild ox willing to serve you?
    Will he spend the night at your manger?
10 Can you bind him in the furrow with ropes,
    or will he harrow the valleys after you?
11 Will you depend on him because his strength is great,
    and will you leave to him your labor?
12 Do you have faith in him that he will return your grain
    and gather it to your threshing floor?

13 “The wings of the ostrich wave proudly,
    but are they the pinions and plumage of love?
14 For she leaves her eggs to the earth
    and lets them be warmed on the ground,
15 forgetting that a foot may crush them
    and that the wild beast may trample them.
16 She deals cruelly with her young, as if they were not hers;
    though her labor be in vain, yet she has no fear,
17 because God has made her forget wisdom
    and given her no share in understanding.
18 When she rouses herself to flee,
    she laughs at the horse and his rider.

19 “Do you give the horse his might?
    Do you clothe his neck with a mane?
20 Do you make him leap like the locust?
    His majestic snorting is terrifying.
21 He paws in the valley and exults in his strength;
    he goes out to meet the weapons.
22 He laughs at fear and is not dismayed;
    he does not turn back from the sword.
23 Upon him rattle the quiver,
    the flashing spear, and the javelin.
24 With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground;
    he cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet.
25 When the trumpet sounds, he says ‘Aha!’
    He smells the battle from afar,
    the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.

26 “Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars
    and spreads his wings toward the south?
27 Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up
    and makes his nest on high?
28 On the rock he dwells and makes his home,
    on the rocky crag and stronghold.
29 From there he spies out the prey;
    his eyes behold it from far away.
30 His young ones suck up blood,
    and where the slain are, there is he.”

And there you have it.  The explanation essentially boils down to this:  We have so little knowledge and understanding of the world around us that we couldn’t possibly hope to comprehend something like this.  That is the answer of the author of Job (and/or the answer of God) to this question.  It’s ultimately my answer to the question as well, as unsatisfying as it is.  I don’t believe a satisfying answer is possible here… at least not without answering a whole host of other questions which we likely don’t even know enough to identify.

I have spoken before of how I tend to understand God as a storyteller, and this does help me to understand some of the pain and suffering out there.  We discover who we really are in our suffering, just as we discover who the characters in the stories we love really are as they suffer.  No author delights in the suffering of those he created…  it can be hard to hurt or kill a character in your story, but sometimes it’s what the story needs.  Of course, life isn’t literally a story (or maybe it is, how would I know if it was?), but this is the most satisfying answer I can think of.

The title of my post is quite similar to the title of a book by C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.  I just sort of typed the first thing that came to mind, but I’m sure it was subconsciously inspired by it, as I almost immediately thought of that book when I started typing about this.  It’s been a long time since I read it, and after looking over some excerpts from it I don’t think he quite achieved a satisfying resolution on the subject, but I do want to share a quote that I think captures a good deal of truth.  It doesn’t outright answer the question of why such a world exists with the laws that it does, and I’m not quite sure what exactly it does answer… but to me it feels like it does answer something.

“Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.” – C.S. Lewis