Yesterday and this morning in Boston were what I call “L.A. days.” The temperature has been in the mid-70s to low 80s, the air hasn’t been very humid, the clouds haven’t been very prevalent, and the sun has been strong but not too strong. It is perfect weather for waking in the morning, lying down at night, and doing most anything in between. I do a lot of walking, visiting and errand-running on beautiful days like these.
As much as I am enjoying this brief paradisaical climate, it is a bittersweet experience for me. You see, under a different set of circumstances I would be preparing to leave Boston within the next week to start a new adventure where days like today and yesterday are not the anomaly but the norm. Six months ago, just as our historically nasty winter was about to roar its first bad breath, I was starting preparations to relocate to the Los Angeles area.
I had several reasons for making this move, which were received in varying degrees of enthusiasm by friends and family. The biggest reason involved being 3000 miles away from what was my strongest support system. I’ve written before about what I call the Wizard’s Curse: “to be ever loved but never wanted.” For most of my conscious life I’ve been the epitome of those people Douglas Adams speaks of in Mostly Harmless, who like to “congregate at boundary conditions.” I’ve been dancing back and forth across categories most of my life. I’m so attached to my family and the town of my birth so as to confound the expectations of my more independent friends, yet so far removed from what my family expected of me, both in appearance and in attitude, to be comfortable around them. That I’ve remained a devout Roman Catholic well into my adult life constantly alienates the people in my life who either don’t get it or think I should be far more enlightened or intellectual in my religious thinking, and yet my fellow Roman Catholics see my determination to better know and practice what I profess at least once a week to believe as something of an unrelatable aberration. Those gifts that have been mine to share – be it music, or voice, or knowledge, or perspective – have been regarded by many with interest and even respect but no real want, even among those I love and who love me. I’m too liberal for the conservatives, and too conservative for the liberals. I’m too traditional for the new school, and too new age for the old school.
In short, people may be quite fond of me or entertained by me when I’m around, but have no real interest in me beyond that – at least not enough to maintain an active relationship. I am a convenient resource, and an interesting data point. And I enjoy being those things, but also know I can be so much more. But every so often you’re given the wonderful gift of someone (or sometimes two) who not only respects you, not only accepts you as-is, not only loves you, but never gets tired of showing it, actively and intentionally and creatively, to the point that you do not know what you did in your life to deserve so great a gift (hopefully it was something good). To be loved as you love and to be wanted as you want – it’s one of the closest feelings we have of the divine in our human lives. Such is the Wizard’s Hero. And back in September, on one of my frequent visits to the City of Angels, I approached My Hero with a proposition. I was looking for someone to share in an adventure. It was going to be difficult, even a little dangerous at times, and there was a very good chance that we would not succeed, but I was convinced that the goal was worth the risk. With no real hesitation, with no knowledge of what was coming next – just trust and a bit of intrigue – he said, “I look forward to it.” From that point on, it was just a question of when.
In early December I came to the decision it was no longer psychologically healthy for me to stay here, separated from my best support. And the answer to the question of “when” became “mid- to late July 2015.” During the long snowy winter weeks I made my preparations, plotting out which books and furnishing would be coming with me, how I would get it there, whose help I would need, how much I could expect to pay in rent, where I could apply and interview – how to make it as fun and easy as a 3000-mile relocation could reasonably be. In fact, as I write this, I recall that today would have been my last day in my present job, and that I’d be on my way in another week.
Then, in early March, it fell apart. I won’t get into those circumstances here out of respect for all involved, but at the end I was confronted with the reality that my vaunted and lauded support system no longer had the ability, or the will, to provide that support. But the result was that for the first time in a long time I no longer felt lonely – I felt alone. Completely alone. My anxiety attacks, sporadic for years, became more frequent as we headed into Easter, and then more intense after mid-May, and there was nowhere for me to go (trust me, when separation anxiety and social anxiety are happening at the same time, there really is nowhere to go.) Communication that was already sparse became sparser. And even when people did express a desire to see me or associate with me in some way, there were times I have had to fight my body to see if it will happen, as my muscles and my nerves would spend a day or two at a time worn out from random panic attacks.
So…why am I telling you all this? What’s the point of this lengthy pathetic diatribe?
As sad or frustrated or angry or depressed or anxious or what-have-you as I got, there was not a point I ever reflected and said, “It’s not fair.” That’s not a phrase that jumps regularly to the forefront of my daily vocabulary. I may have entertained the notion when I was a teenager or even a few times in the wacky end of my undergraduate work. But I have a very distinct view of fairness. I can remember back to grammar school, to one of the many times where this young student was chastised for the mess that was the inside of his desk. My second grade teacher decided to clean it for me, very slowly, tossing books and papers onto the floor in what seemed to be a never-ending stream. I was ashamed and mortified, to be sure. But I don’t remember thinking that it wasn’t fair. My desk was a mess. It wasn’t supposed to be a mess. I got caught. It’s a silly little example, and it very well could be that I was just a wimpy little thing in elementary school. It very well could be that I’m still a wimpy little thing now! But even in low maturity I didn’t really share the view held by what seems an increasing majority of people: that anything bad or grossly contrary to expectation that happens is “unfair.” To quote Douglas Adams again, “If I had [a dollar] for every time I heard one bit of the Universe look at another bit of the Universe and say, ‘That’s terrible,’ I wouldn’t be sitting [on your couch] like a lemon looking for a gin.”
What i want to convey is this: When everything you have is a gift – and it is – then you are owed nothing. Fairness doesn’t enter into it.
A few friends trying to be supportive after things fell apart made the comment that it wasn’t “fair,” that I didn’t “deserve” what had happened. I didn’t understand it then, and I still don’t understand it. I appreciate where the sentiment came from, but I don’t understand the logic of it. This loving support of mine may have been the greatest gift I have yet received, and I may have prayed constantly to be allowed this gift “just a little while longer” – always “just a little while longer” – but it’s still a gift. And all gifts in this world are temporary. And now it’s been taken away from me, maybe for a little while or maybe for good. And I will have to find a way to continue to function without it. Does that mean I don’t feel sad about that every so often? It does not. Does that mean that being at the top of this “Tow’r Room,” looking out my Window to the West, doesn’t frustrate me at times? Absolutely not. I’d be lying if I said loss never bothered me. But does that make it unfair? Should I really call “unfair” the taking away of something that was never mine in the first place, something that I had done nothing to earn but was given to me freely?
I realize people, including my friends and family, have lost people and things precious to them, sometimes in sudden and drastic ways and sometimes in painfully slow ways. I know what losing something or someone precious does to you. I know what it’s like to be under a relentless assault from your own mind as if it were some kind of devil. I know what it feels like to have your will hamstrung by your own body. And I know what it’s like to want to die. All these things are terrible, they are scary, they are emotionally and spiritually degrading, and anyone who’s ever felt that chasm form inside, regardless the experience, has my deepest sympathy. But I urge you not to rail against the abstract and relative fairness of it all, but to do what you can to say “Thank you” when these things happen. Say “Thank you” for allowing those gifts that are gone – in fact, don’t wait for them to be gone! – to come into your life to begin with, and to be present as long as they were. And to paraphrase that great sage and philosopher Winnie the Pooh, count yourself lucky to have had something – or someone – that makes saying goodbye so hard.
Perhaps not to do so would truly be unfair.
“If you love and have desires, let these be your desires: to melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night; to know the pain of too much tenderness; to be wounded by your own understanding of love; and to bleed willingly and joyfully.” – The Wizard’s Hero