Grow Bigger

When did I realize that the collapse of my marriage was an opportunity, not a failure?  An opportunity to grow beyond the self-imposed limits of the compromise I was living? An opportunity to become the possibility of being bigger than myself?  An opportunity of independence free from judgment?  An opportunity to connect more deeply with the world, and with myself?

I didn’t understand this sense of opportunity on February 9th, the day my wife told me she no longer loved me and no longer wanted to be married.

It’s ironic that this verdict was delivered on this day. At the South End Rowing Club February 9th is known as “the dreaded 9th,” allegedly the day the water is the coldest in San Francisco Bay. The idea was coined by South End swim legend Bob Roper, who annually scheduled a long and difficult swim on that day, to test the mettle of the strongest swimmers. That my wife and I had just returned from Bob Roper’s memorial service on this February 9th only deepened this irony.

Bob Roper

It was a cold day indeed. The details wounded. They hurt. My conception of love, stability, security, of the marriage commitments a man and woman were meant to hold sacred, was shattered. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to face the consequences of what my wife was doing, what she was saying, why she was saying these things. Jung wrote that if you want to understand why someone did something, look at the consequences and infer the motivation.

The classic Kübler-Ross model of grief has five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They are not necessarily sequential. I have been through them all since the dreaded 9th—and have come to add a sixth, and final, stage: celebration. This isn’t a narrative I’m creating to make myself feel better. I know that the journey getting to celebration will be rocky, with detours, roadblocks, speed traps, and maybe even a few short-cuts.

I can’t yet see the destination—maybe it’s always only about the journey—but I know in my heart there is one, unlike on the 9th of February where the only view I saw later that afternoon was the cold gray water and cloudless blue westward sky contemplated from mid-span on the Golden Gate Bridge: a windy, thoughtful place on a cold thoughtful day.

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I remembered Matthew Arnold’s lines from Dover Beach about the sea’s eternal note of sadness:

Sophocles long ago

Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought

Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow

Of human misery; we

Find also in the sound a thought,

Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

 

The briskness of that afternoon brought clarity, too—clarity that the only solution the ocean offered was to swim in it, to surround myself with the life-affirming currents, the ebb and flow, that yes, can remind me of human misery but also opens me to a welcoming oneness with a power greater than myself, a power that lifts me out of whatever puny state of mind I happen to be wallowing in.

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Plan the work and work the plan. That’s the deal I’m making today: downsize my life to what’s essential, and yes, what sparks some joy.  Move out of my wife’s house.  Live lightly, temporarily, until the end of the year.  Move to Boston.  Plan and transfer work to Boston and the east coast.  Look forward to swimming in Boston, being closer to my family, old friends.  Reconnect my past with a new future, a future that’s both familiar and uncharted.  Grow bigger.

When I once asked my therapist Dr. Ralph, about a different heartbreak, whether the pain inside my heart would ever go away, his answer was, “No, the pain will never go away. But you will grow bigger.”

Bigger indeed.

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1 Comment

  1. Kathy Bailey

     /  May 26, 2019

    I will miss your insights. Boston sounds great! Many of my UCLA colleagues now at Harvard love it there.

    Reply

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