Category Archives: Baby Boomers

Topics of interest to Baby Boomers.

Broken Glass

Amid the smoldering timbers
of a house burned
to the ground,
ignited by broken promises,
misunderstandings, unforgiveness,
the glass heart lay shattered
on the slate tile.

Sharp edges protrude,
irregular shapes, which once fit
so perfectly into the soulmate,
now a lost piece to a puzzle,
one piece in search
of a vast puzzle
that once came together
so beautifully at
Our Lady of the Pines.

The puzzle fell apart,
piece by piece,
broken dream by broken heart.
Only one piece left,
on the tile floor,
jagged misfit
of a puzzle piece,
too shattered to dare
believe in love
again.

Nothing fits
after a divorce.

What two divorces taught me about marriage

In a nutshell:

  • Marriage is the most selfless act a person can take on, aside from dying on a cross.
  • And divorce is the most selfish.
  • And the line between the two is as thin as a divorce decree.

That is what I have learned from two marriages and two divorces.

OK, they were dissolutions.

Call it what you will, when you take an ax to your own flesh and split the body asunder, one piece is divorced from the other.

It’s not just the one flesh that gets split into two, and don’t think that you’ll end up the person you were before you married, either. Dreams promises, plans, hopes, futures … they all get busted up in this action, performed in our courts every day as if it was an assembly-line surgery.

The offended but presumably much happier, separated components get up and on their happy way, relieved of the toxic or troublesome person in their life. And we all live happily ever after.

Yeah. Ask someone left beside the road five weeks after an ax-wielding robber cut off his leg and carried it away how he’s feeling? Has the  bleeding stopped, buddy? Are you getting along OK with just one leg? Have you learned to dance yet?

Nobody would be so stupid to ask someone so injured how they are doing. But when it comes to divorce, excuse me, dissolution, we just assume that the magistrate also dispenses each party a bottle of pills for the pain and bandages for the wounds.

I was married 37 years. Through a perfect storm of circumstances, I decided I needed to be with another person and that I’d had enough trying to make myself happy in a marriage that wasn’t going to work. I struggled with the decision 38 years. The pastor kept saying, “give it time. God will give you the love you need.”

I found love elsewhere. Amazing love. My soulmate. I  never felt this way before.

And I was assured that if I would just divorce, we’d live happily ever after.

After a year of anxiety and wrestling with all the spiritual, financial, emotional, familial and retirement issues that accompany divorce at the age of 58, I did it.

There was no time to heal. In less than three months, I was remarried, to my dream woman, my soulmate.

Less than four years after tying the knot, it’s over, and the pain is killing me.

What happened? What changed? What made something that seemed so sure, so positively inspiring and intoxicating go sour?

Everyone has their own perspective, answers. It’s over, so no sense in rehashing them. All I can do is learn from the experience, even as I watch the blood continue to spurt from the open wound.

It all comes down to this: ME instead of WE.

Marriage. The concept is two people become one entity. Even the courts and laws of Ohio recognize this simple fact that 50 percent of the couples who marry never grasp. When you get married, it is like accepting Christ as your savior, in that you become a new creature. Mom and Dad are out of the picture. You are out of the picture. It is now US, not you and me.

Love becomes an act, a decision, not a feeling. But when the feeling is gone, it is so easy to call it quits and think that if we just headed off into the sunset with the next feel-good relationship, it would all be different.

It is not. I repeat, IT IS NOT.

Different person, different baggage, different problems.

Jesus said Moses allowed divorce because of hardness of heart. The problem is not about falling out of love, not being able to agree on paint colors, how much to spend on a haircut or whether to buy a blue or green couch.

The problems are the heart and mind.

Guard the heart, guard the marriage. Guard the mind, guard the relationship.

Disregard the heart, allow it to become hard, and get an attorney.

Let your thoughts run negative about your spouse, and your marriage is going to be in trouble. Guaranteed.

Talk trash about your spouse, and come home to trash.

I’ve been to several marriage counselors, and more therapists than I care to remember. And most all of them are full of themselves. They got a good business going, and they know it. They are not about to make something simple.

I will. I am a writer. It is my job to make life easier to understand. Plus, I don’t make any money doing it, so there is no point in me keeping you on the hook week after week.

Marriage is hard work.

Divorce/dissolution/separation are not solutions.

Divorce shatters your trust in human beings. In the existence of truth itself. Everything seems like a lie. If you can’t trust the promises made by your best friend, by your spouse, who can you trust?

Nobody. Not even yourself, because you’re the fool who believed those lies in the first place.

Of course, we married to be happy.

And, ironically, we get divorced to be happy.

The therapists I went to during my first round of divorce decision making told me “You deserve to be happy. Get a divorce. Live a little.”

My balance sheet shrunk by most everything I had worked for. I am 62, broke and in debt. I have no retirement account. May I please have my $75 back so I can “live a little.” Very little, very, very little.

Happy. Oh yeah. Watching yourself bleed to death is such great fun.

So where do we get this crap? Where do we get this idea of a relationship being so toxic that the best antidote is to poison it?

Why not get rid of the toxin? Why not get rid of the stuff that turns the heart hard?

“You mean give up a bit of me? My self-esteem? My career? My time? I’m not budging on this. I have a right to be happy.”

And a right to divorce.

To break the most sacred of promises.

I read in one of the some two-dozen books on marriage that I consumed in an attempt to save the last union that every time we divorce, a part of our soul dies.

I feel like I have about one tenth of the soul I once had.

I still have a hard time looking at myself in the mirror because of the shame and disgust.

Don’t get me wrong, God forgives divorce. God even forgives hardness of heart. Perhaps in time He will soften it, as well, but I am kidding myself if for one moment I believe that God will heal it to its pristine, pre-marriage condition.

But it was not marriage that wounded this heart, it was selfishness. Mine, hers. It was my ME. Her ME. Our rights. That’s what killed the marriage.

No surprise. We destroy ourselves with food, pornography, alcohol, drugs, gambling and a plethora of other me-centric diversions. So why not our marriages, too?

So that is what I have learned. If you want to save yourself attorney fees, the cost of starting over again (I’ve done it twice now in four years and it ain’t cheap), the expense of court costs and box after box of tissues, take my advice, summarized below:

  1. Go back to those love letters, the ones where you listed the things you adored about that person you wanted to marry. Be honest. Has she or he really changed? Or is it just YOUR perspective that changed? Do a balance sheet. All your petty complaints on one side, all the stuff you adored on the other. What wins?
  2. Talk. Use words like “honey,” “babe,” “sweetie” before you say the rest of the sentence. It’s funny how hard it is to criticize another person when you start the sentence with an affectionate pronoun.
  3. Agree to remove the D word from your vocabularies. Write it on a piece of paper. Take it outside the property line and bury it there.
  4. Take a trip together and agree there will be no ME talk during it. Only WE talk.
  5. Avoid counselors and therapists, friends and co-workers, moms and dads, sisters and brothers. You ain’t married to them, this is none of their business. You know damned well they are going to take your side and end up encouraging divorce. After all, they want you to be happy.
  6. Being happy is not the goal here. Being ONE is the goal. If you can’t buy into that, don’t even bother talking marriage. And to do anything otherwise, to go into it with the idea of being able to get out, is pure deception. And don’t deceive yourself to think otherwise, or deceive the other person.
  7. That said, if either of you decide this is about ME, get an ax. A dull one, so it would cause a lot of pain in order to make it cut through flesh, bone, muscle and heart. Park it by the door. Every time you walk out in anger or in the middle of an argument, think about how good it will feel to have that sucker come down on your leg while you sit in a courtroom. “That’s a horrible idea,” you say. “In anger the couple may be tempted to grab the ax and use it in a crime of passion.” My point exactly. Except the ax is called divorce.

Reach for reason. Reach for emotion. Reach for the long term. Reach for God.

Not the ax. Not divorce. Not dissolution.

Send contributions that otherwise would go to the aforementioned professionals to my PayPal account. And to those who would say I have no right to make these declarations about something so personal as divorce, I would say that likewise that people of high character have no right to break promises. And that includes my sick, sinful self, ME.

Thank you.

Joe College, you were so cool

My brother-in-law from my first marriage died early this morning. Robert N. College.

Most people just called him “Joe College.”

Joe came into the family shortly after I and Barb married. Her older sister had met him while working in the Beltway. He was quite a bit older than Jane, I’m guessing something like 20 years, and the family was aghast. He’d been married a couple of times before, and that didn’t fly so well with the straight-laced Yankees, either.

Joe was a character. He’d been in the Air Force Band and seen the world. After retiring from the military, he got into banquet management. I think he managed an officer’s club in the D.C. area.

Whenever we went out to eat with Joe, he  critiqued the operation, the staff, the food, ambiance. Of course, in most cases he was certain he could do a better job.

Fact is, he probably could have.

He dabbled in the ownership of a liquor store for a while, then settled into retirement.  He and his wife had one child, Stacy, just a year younger than my son. They grew up together in Conneaut. He was a good father, very protective. When she got cancer, he became angry with God and his faith seemed to end. Some people say that its wrong to get mad at God because he allows bad things to happen to us. Maybe Joe was saying how much he loved his daughter, who suffered through a year of chemotherapy. It is human to hurt when someone we cherish is suffering; each of us expresses that disappointment with life, or God, in our own way.

And so God answered the prayers of the rest of the family. And Joe, well, he just became more Joe with each passing day.

Always one to have an opinion about any subject, Joe probably went through a few barrels of printers’ ink in his lifetime as the presses churned out his letters to the editorsof the Conneaut News Herald and Ashtabula Star Beacon. Always signed them “Robert N. College.”

He reminded me of Jack Benny, he didn’t walk, he sauntered with dignity. And the way he stood with his arm across his chest, well, Joe even looked like Jack Benny, come to think of it.

He grew up in the era when people listened to old-time radio, and I always chatting about OTR and big band music with him. He had a bunch of open reel tapes he’d recorded, and we always talked about putting them on CDs. I guess that was in another life.

I always tried to get Joe’s name for the family gift exchange. He was easy to buy for. There was this certain brand of pants, with the elastic waistline, that he liked. And so I’d get him a pair or two of those, and a CD or DVD of some obscure program. I always looked for the Air Force Band broadcasts, hoping that I’d hit upon a recording of a performance in which he played.

Did I mention that he played trumpet? He did. He loved the trumpet, and as his years grew to a close he found purpose in being a volunteer who played Taps at the funerals of veterans. I wonder if there will be someone to play for him?

Joe liked Cadillacs. He had one that must have been 25 years old. It was a money pit. But he loved the thing. I don’t know if it was a status symbol or he just liked big, solid, American-made vehicles. None of that matters now, except it is one of those things likely to trigger a memory of him.

Joe and Jane were married more than 35 years, I’m guessing. It took him a few troubled marriages to find one that would stick, but when he found it, they made it work. I remember him saying, and there was a plaque that hung in their kitchen to this effect, “If a man has enough horse sense to treat his wife like a thoroughbred, she’ll never turn into an old nag.”

I guess it worked, at least I never heard much nagging. And Joe would call his wife “Babe,” I’m pretty sure I remember, that.  Yeah, she’d get disgusted with his beer consumption and complaining, but she tolerated it and loved him all the same. You got to do that in order to stay married. In the end, they both got a good deal.

Joe had lung cancer decades ago. They removed a big section of the lung and he promised to stop smoking. Worked for a couple of months; I think he blamed the cancer on playing the trumpet in the band. Could be, I suppose. Who am I to say? Sometimes, what happens to us is our fault; other times, it’s just the roll of the dice. No sense giving it much thought. I just remember what a scary time that was, what with having an infant and all.

Later, he had blood clots that brought him within an hour of so of losing his leg. By golly and prayer, he survived and walked around on both legs for quite a few years after that, but had to take blood thinners, which limited him to a beer or two a day. Talk about a tough decision, mobility or beer when you are in your 60s.

So now Joe is gone, just like my first marriage and the one after that. As I am grieving the loss of loves and the loss of Joe, I realize that I never really got to say goodbye to him. I’m guessing the last time I saw him was, what, four years ago? A  quick nod, I was going through a divorce then, and the family wasn’t thrilled to see my face. A quick nod. I guess sometimes that is the best way to exit this place.

 

 

Scars

scar carl feather photoI have two rather prominent scars on my face, both of them acquired in my early years and both of them of my own stupidity.

There is one above my eye and one on my chin, both of the same side of my face. Both came when my parents were living in an apartment on Priest Street in Kingsville. I was only 2 or 3 years old when they happened, so my memories of the incidents that caused the damage are formed from hearing my mother talk about the trauma, blood and drama of the incidents.

One of the cuts came from jumping off my father’s lap and landing onto a metal toy truck. Back then, they made toys that could harm the body rather than the mind. The sharp metal ripped a hole in my face. My parents rushed me to the town doctor, John O’Bell, and he sewed up the damage and sent a bill.

The good doctor also repaired my face when I decided to ride my toy tractor down a flight of concrete steps. Something like 13 stitches sticks in my mind.

Nearly 60 years later those scars are still there. They will go to the grave with me.

I have other scars that people usually don’t see, including ones that mark the self-inflicted lacerations on my legs and arms. The cuts are there because of anxiety and depression, the dark nights of the soul.

We all have scars. Sometimes, like the scars on my arms and legs, they are reflections of even deeper cuts and bleeding inside us.

Three years ago this month I cut my heart and soul very deeply by divorcing. The scar will be there for the rest of my life; it is scabbed over, but there are times and situations that pick the scab off like a four-year-old who finds fascination in peeling off the crust to see if the pink skin below will still bleed.

It does. Mom knew what she was talking about when she said “don’t pick at it, it will become infected if you do. Your body knows what its doing and the scab will fall off when it is ready.”

A book I read said that a piece of our soul dies every time we break a vow, every time we divorce.

Scars disfigure us. If they are in the right place, we can hide them with clothing, revealing the wound to only those with whom we are most intimate or feel most comfortable around. Other scars, like the ones on my face or those on a tired professional boxer, define us.

I find it interesting that Jesus, when resurrected in what we assume was his immortal, eternal body, retained the scars of the crucifixion. As my Savior, his scars define him. I wonder if there is any other deity in the universe of religion who bears scars that resulted from my sins?

God  forgives sin, through the blood of his Son, but the scars remain with us. They are like the marks left behind by the branding iron: HUMANITY.

For all their ugliness, a scar indicates that healing has taken place. I wonder if the wounds Jesus suffered on the cross were healed and scarred over when he stated “It is finished?” If not, three days later they were; if the translations we have are correct, the disciples saw scars, not scabs; healed-over holes, not open, infected wounds.

Not so fast for us stuck in these mortal bodies. Healing of our cuts usually takes weeks, even with help from antibiotic products. The pain can be alleviated by balms applied to the source of pain, but bump or brush the wound in the wrong way, and it’s like having the trauma all over again.

The emotional pain from loss, betrayal or destruction of a relationship can be numbed by counseling, diversions, alcohol and anti-depressants. But healing takes time, there are no shortcuts, only scars. If only there were a “brush” in our toolkit would allow us to “Photoshop” the scars my soul.

I’d like to think I could be smart enough, wise enough in the first place to avoid the wounds that result in scars. You’d think that a kid who got a dozen stitches after after jumping onto a piece of metal would not try to ride a metal tractor down a flight of concrete steps, but he did. You’d think that someone who suffered the pain of a long-term relationship falling apart would be smart enough to avoid relationships altogether, but he didn’t.

The longer we live, the more scars we seem to collect.

People seldom ask me how I got my scars. I think it is probably impolite to ask someone that. Perhaps we ought to ask it more often, however.

The scars that reside on our hearts and souls, while invisible, are actually the ones hardest to hide. The eyes are not so much windows to the soul as they are windows to the scars that reside there. The scars are cataracts that diffuse and dim the beauty behind the scar tissue. Eventually, so much tissue accumulates, nothing of the soul can be seen.

This is my great fear of slashing my soul once again with the sword of divorce; more bleeding, more pain, more scabs, more scar tissue that obscure the person behind the scars. The question becomes if prefer one large scar or thousands of little ones.

 

Good music passing through

John Lilly at Mary's Diner in Geneva, Ohio.

John Lilly at Mary’s Diner in Geneva, Ohio.

Sometimes good things come out of the blue. Such was the case Saturday when John Lilly stopped by in Geneva to have lunch with me at Mary’s Diner.

John was editor at Goldenseal Magazine for the entire time I wrote for the magazine. He was a nurturing, kind and encouraging editor, adjectives seldom attached to that title. I loved working for John and especially appreciated the freedom he gave me in the development of the Back Roads feature, which I still write.

John left Goldenseal last year to embark upon his lifelong dream of being a full-time songwriter and performer. John has been called Hank Williams with a sunny disposition. His voice is rich, authentic and filled with life’s hardships and rare joys. His lyrics are real and probe the complexity of our emotions and relationships, with some yodeling and Irish and Scottish elements thrown in for good measure.

John played in Fairview, Pa., Friday night and was heading to another house concert, in Streetsboro, this evening. Another musician, Artie, a guitar player from Baltimore, joined us for melts and memories amid the 1950s diner’s decor.

John’s latest project is to record all of the state songs of the U.S. He recently did a online funding project to pay for the studio time that will require.

Last year, John released his solo acoustic CD, “Thinking About the Weather.” John’s great sense of humor comes through in “She Talks to Me,” a song about the woman’s voice on his GPS, while we can all identify with someone who has hurt us in “Do What You Do Best.” And he questions how it is that even though we get hurt by it, we still manage to fall in love again in “How’d You Steal My Heart?”

John loves singing his songs, whether in the studio, in a small house concert or on West Virginia Public Radio’s Mountain Stage. But he admits it is a very financially challenging life, even more so than he’d originally expected. It covers the very basic necessities, but the big items that hit us out of the blue can destroy the dream and send the musician back to the day job. How sad, but tragic, that for many of us Americans in this land of opportunity, where supposedly we have the freedom to follow our dreams and be that person we were born to be, economics and a playing field that is owned by corporate interests make the decision as to whose dreams come true.

Hearing, quite by accident, the untalented, cacophony called “hits” today, and thinking of how many millions these flash-in-the-pans, cleavage stars are making for screaming into a microphone, makes me wonder about our values as a nation when it comes to art. Perhaps it is because we are raised on noise that we are so quick to accept anything that is loud and irritating as “music.” Or perhaps it is because our culture is in love with eye candy. Whatever, true artists like John Lilly can still write a song that has lyrics that go beyond a single word and a tune that haunts you long after it has faded into the night ether.

Read more about John on his website and support his work by purchasing his CDs. Hopefully, John will be coming back up this way later in 2016 and we’ll have him in concert.

John Lilly web

Anxious times

My pastor, Mark Winner, is one of the wisest persons I’ve ever met.

His sermon on Sunday, which was about peace, especially in the setting of family relationships, was incredibly insightful.

First, he pointed out that war and strife are not the opposite of peace; anxiety is. Having lived with anxienty for decades, I always sensed that absence of peace. But I never equated the two.

About 30 months ago, I began a long journey through the valley of deep anxiety and depression, a journey in which I ended up casting off most everything that I had worked for and held dear. This lack of peace in my life seemed incongruous with all the spritual teachings I knew, yet it was undeniable and required medication and therapy to bring under control. On good days, I begin to feel some peace, or at least imagine what it must feel like.

Pastor Winner also talked about how we can bury and disregard our feelings of resentment, anger and frustration, thus pretending that they were never there. And we can have a time of peace in our relationships by that doing that. But it’s false peace; we’re just resting in the eye of a hurricane. Eventually the the second half of the storm is going to cross over, and it will be ugly. All those suppressed emotions will come to the surface.

That’s difficult for me, because I hate strife. After all, Jesus said the peacemakers are blessed.

I’m not sure how to reconcile these points. I’ve always felt that, as a Christian, it was my duty to absorb all the strife and irritations, then pass them off on God and let him deal with those negative emotions.

But the peace never came. The anxiety just hung around.

I suspect that’s because peace is a product of joy, which is a product of love. And all my life I’ve had a lot easier time understanding the wrath and anger of God rather than the love.

Every Sunday, I go away from Cornerstone Friends Church feeling a little better about my faith, my relationship with God. I’m moving away from the wrath-and-anger model to the love-and-grace model of God. It’s a hard transition. What if the wrath-and-anger model that I’d grown up with in fundamental churches really is the right way to view God? What if all those who foolisly believe that God is loving Father rather than a ornery taskmasker are wrong and I will end up in hell, another unforgiven fool?

These are anxious times.

A working man’s room

Traveling across West Virginia, writing and photographing as I go, I am compelled to stay in economical accommodations. I look for rooms that cost under $50 a night, all taxes included.

And so it was that began my autumnal pilgrimage in Bridgeport, where the clerk asked me if I wanted a “Working Man’s Room” or a “Nice Room.” After inquiring about the price and noting the nearly $40 premium for a nice room, I went for the Working Man’s Room. After all, this was a working trip.

The thing that immediately struck me was the shabby condition of the hallway leading to the room. It must have been built before brooms were invented.

The room itself was, well, working class. It should have been gutted years ago and everything updated. Rather, stop-gap repairs were done as necessary using materials salvaged from other rooms, I would guess.

The bathroom was particularly interesting — it was the first time I’d seen the walls of a plastic shower stall cracking and broken, patched with caulking and otherwise feeble attempts to keep the moisture from invading the unit below.

The room obviously had plumbing issues; a large section of the wall had been removed to access the pipes and, rather than re-seal that section, the piece of wallboard was just resting against wall. I found out that by moving it and looking down the hole, I had a nice view of the plumbing in the unit below.

The carpet was stained and ripped, one section was missing. My socks stayed on my feet the whole time, and after showering, I made a path from the shower to the bed using my dirty clothes to protect my bare feet from the oil and gas field residue.

Speaking of the shower, the fixtures were so worn, the bathtub continued to fill with water even when the flow was redirected to the shower head. And I soon discovered that the control that mixes the hot and cold water did not work when it was turned to shower. It was either all hot or all cold.

The lighting was dingy, which was probably a good thing. It keeps guests from fully grasping the despair of the place.

Since I was in the working man’s section of the motel, I had to contend with the late-night revelers and the early risers, whose paths began to cross around 3 a.m.  

 When I called my wife with an update about the trip thus far and state of the accommodations, she warned me not to take my bag of clean clothes into the room and DO NOT bring home any bed bugs. I hadn’t even thought of that possibility.

It appears as if I escaped Bridgeport without any hitchhikers on my clothes or body. Two two nights later, in Marlinton, I was able to rent a room for the same amount of money at the Greenbrier Grille and Lodge. I enjoyed accommodations that were clean and smelled fresh. Although not modern, the room and its furnishings were very nice and the workmanship top notch. The shower was incredible.

 The depot at Marlinton is a short distance from the Greenbrier, a comfortable lodge with very reasonable prices.

I highly recommend the Greenbrierier if you are ever in Marlinton and need accommodations or a place to eat. The waitressing staff was very friendly and helpful. Be sure to order their hand-cut french fries; they are so good! The brown rice veggie burger was excellent, too. However, avoid the thick pancakes for breakfast. They are so thick, they reminded me of a three-layer cake without the frosting and had me longing for Buckwheat cakes from Melanie’s in Aurora.

One other great feature of the Greenbrier — there is an assortment of ducks that hang out on the river next to Lodge’s deck. For 50 cents, you can purchase a bag of corn and feed the ducks (proceeds go to an animal shelter). And no, I didn’t see duck on the menu!