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Finding Hope, Part I

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This is the story of me finding hope again.

It's much longer than any other post in this series. So be forewarned. If you want to read it while you heat up the leftovers in the microwave, you might not have enough time.

"First the sun, then the rain.
Darkness fades away, light begins."

The first lines of a song, sung to single notes on my guitar. On a wintry night in Auckland. 1997. I am alone in a house old enough to be my grandfather's. I am new here. Just moved in. New and alone.

It's cold. I don't have a heater yet. I wear my jacket indoors.

Single notes connect. With each other. With something deep inside me. The tune is simple. Sad-sweet. And the words emerge -- because they fit the rhythm, because they fit my heart.

I am trying to create a gift. A gift for my friend. He is 38. He is in love. He will marry in three weeks' time. I am 38. I am not in love. I have been separated 21 months.

I am an immigrant. Met a Kiwi in England. Headed south to nest. Thirteen years, two sons. My family was my challenge, my heart, my spirit, my drive. My family was everything.

And I wasn't enough.

That's how it felt. The biggest dream, the biggest failure. Love translates to pain. And caring boils down to bitterness -- like a pot forgotten on a hot stove.

Grief becomes my companion. I spend weekends in the bath. Lights out, candles burning. Then one evening, I realize my sadness is not something that will pass. It is not a stage. It just is.

So I accept it. And almost immediately I begin to feel lighter.

I pluck, I strum. Single notes are now chords. I am trying to give a gift to this man I love, who I met at university 19 years ago, who is kind and forgiving and mischievous and joyful. I am trying to distil my experience for him. A whisper of advice as he commits to a course that saw me crash and burn.

"First we part, then we pair,
Find our love, as we lose our hair."


My friend is balding. The little hair he has left is turning gray. But his eyes have an ageless, impish quality. Irish-American eyes. Always up to something. Always about to make someone smile.

His name is Bill Solan. I call him Solo. He will have to change his name, of course. To suit his new marital status. The solo act becomes a duo.

But I am not likely to witness the transformation. The wedding is in Washington state, in the Cascade Mountains, four hours' drive from Seattle.

I need $2,000 to get there, my cash flow is more like an ebb. I don't make enough money to pay all of my normal expenses. The separation has made a comfortable salary inadequate.

The song, however, is coming along nicely. Heart and voice gaining intensity. Crescendo.

"And our love is... always rising
Like the bubbles in champagne.
Rising gently... against my logic,
My resistance on the wane."

I have no right to plan on attending the wedding. I have no expectation. But I do want to be there. For the vows. The ceremony. The celebration. For love freshly committed, freely shared, deeply felt.

Without any rational basis, without any logic, hope grows in my heart. I want to go to the wedding. The trip does not have to be probable for me to want it, to hope for it.

I pick up the guitar again and start to sing. In a house big enough to hold a family of four, alone, in the cold air, my voice rings out. I wonder if the neighbors can hear.

It's after midnight. I don't care. The song I sing may never be properly presented. The gift I make may never be given. Is it futile?

Maybe not. Maybe hope is never futile.

"Come stay with me.
Let's merge, form a company.
The truth is... it's scary.
But I love you, and you love me.
So let's not hedge our investment:
Love is its own... annuity."

I got engaged at the age of 19. My high school love. She went to university a thousand miles away. She wrote me a letter every day. I grew to expect the attention, and she starved on my complacency.

She rang one day to tell me we were finished. In my dormitory room, speaking into a telephone, I argued. I tried to convince her -- with logic -- that we should stay together. I failed. So I tried Plan B.

I boarded a plane the next morning. Proposed to her over the roof of a big two-door sedan. Snow and black ice on the roads and sidewalks. Treacherous footing. I reached for her hand over the top of the car. There was no logic now. I wanted her. I wanted us. She said yes. I missed my flight back. It felt like kamikaze love. But what a way to go. The cold air in my lungs, the fire in my heart.

"First the new, then the norm...
Our strange new world... now feels like home."

We went to England to study. We went to Harrods for tea. Bargain gluttony. All the cakes you can eat for £4.95. On the way to the tearoom, my life changed.

My fiancée stopped in the furniture department. She examined an elaborate sofa. Upholstered with what seemed like a 16th-century tapestry, trimmed with turned, carved, burnished wood. A two-seater for 1,200 pounds sterling.

She liked it.

She asked me if I liked it. I didn't. I worked it out at 600 pounds per seat. And this was in 1978. My butt wasn't that particular.

Anyway, I was young. I was a student. I loved poetry, truth, beauty. I hated money. In fact, to my mind, any furniture was a luxury. I told her we certainly wouldn't be spending that much on a couch.

I feared having to sell my soul to earn enough money for things like two-seaters. But I didn't acknowledge my fear. Instead, I stiffened. And the fear made me sound hard and cold and inflexible. I drew a line. This was the way it was going to be. And in the middle of Harrods' fine furnishings, we argued. About a two-seater. It was the tip of an iceberg.

And I was the Titanic.

"Then love hurts, then love wounds
But scars are evidence of healing, too."

My fiancée, I discovered, had a hidden agenda. She not only wanted furniture, but things like wallpaper, carpet, a washing machine. The idea of living off beauty and peanut butter in some writer's garret did not appeal.

She found another bloke. I lost my bearings. In more ways than one, I was dis-engaged.

Nearly 20 years later, my former fiancée, now a mother of two college graduates, told me the postscript. She said she thought she could have been happy with me. But she needed security. Financial. Emotional. She wanted curtains on the windows, not yellowed shades. She wanted furniture for her children, not leaky beanbag chairs tossed in a corner.

I understood the decision.

You see, about five years ago, when my wife and I were still together, we went out to buy furniture for a newly renovated family room. We could have bought secondhand.

But instead, we bought made to order. Stronger wood. Better construction. Top quality fabric. We bought furniture ample enough to accommodate my 6'6" frame, tough enough to survive the onslaught of children.

We bought a two-seater big enough to be a three-seater. Then we ordered another. We paid $2400.

The starving poet. The consumer who pays extra for quality. I recognize both parts in me now -- the one willing to sacrifice and the one who wants to be accommodated.

Irony. Now I finally understand what makes it so potent. It allows opposites to co-exist in the same moment. The friction as they rub together spreads sparks, reminding me of the inconsistency of life.

It doesn't make sense. It contradicts itself. And there we are, like mountain climbers without ropes, trying to find balance amongst the disparate pairs.

Face it. The whole gig is crazy. And love is never more precious than when we have just lost it.

"And our love is... always changing.
The knight in armor is sometimes a jerk.
And what once was... oh-so-easy ...
Sometimes now seems... oh-so-much-work."

(Part 2 of this blog coming soon.)

This is part of my Huffington Post blog series. I call it "For Men Who Have Everything, Including a Broken Heart -- Thoughts on Surviving Separation."

My goals are straightforward:
  • Offer hope and humor to men who are disconsolate after a relationship has hit the rocks
  • Offer a resource to women -- sisters, mothers, friends -- who care about such men

I wrote "For Men Who Have Everything, Including a Broken Heart" because I would have liked a book like this when my first marriage nose-dived.

I offer it in a spirit of brotherhood and with a strong faith that once our broken hearts mend, we have the capacity to be more compassionate, wiser, more resilient and stronger than we were before.

For those interested in reading the earlier posts of this series, links are provided below:

#1 -- For Men Who Have Everything, Including a Broken Heart, Thoughts on Surviving Separation
#2 -- Grieving is Healing
#3 -- Beware Precipitous Action
#4 -- Love Thyself
#5 -- Deal with the Real
#6 -- Blame is a Trap
#7 -- Create Multiple Explanations
#8 -- Freedom, Courage & Splitting Up
#9 -- Parenting Apart: Soccer and Wandering in Life's Changes
#10 -- Cut the Conflict in Front of the Kids
#11 -- The Next Relationship
#12 -- Beware the Penis Imperative
#13 -- Surviving Separation -- Getting to Know Myself Again
#14 -- Something All Men Share
#15 -- Just Being

For more by Steven Crandell, click here.

For more on love, click here.

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