We come to the end of Hope’s story—at least this current chapter in her life. I love how she closes it with “a friend closer than a brother.” She has a settled acceptance of a marital love—a certain with-ness for over three decades. She also clearly has found life-giving love in a cross-gender transmarital friendship. Her story definitely does not fit into romantic myth formulas for intimacy. I am deeply grateful for the gift she has given us.
Part 8 – A Friend Closer Than A Brother
I met Lewis at college, in the classroom. We were the only 2 mature age students in that class, so naturally we ended up talking a lot together. I had my guard up, I was tired of being hurt (yeah, some of us are slow learners) and I was preoccupied with Matt, and trying to get my head around what was happening there. I was surprised how much I missed Lewis one week whne he wasn’t there – sometimes his opinions startled me, sometimes they expressed things I had thought but hadn’t been game to say, sometimes they directly challenged my presuppositions. But because I was not in a one down, disempowered position with him, as I had always been with people like Rick and Leo, I felt free to disagree, and enjoyed myself. I hadn’t talked with anyone like that since the discussions I used to have with Paul, years before. But these were better.
But I wasn’t going to get emotionally involved, not me! Do you think God was laughing when I made those resolutions? He knew what was coming. So, for the better part of 2 semesters we slowly (and deeply) got to know each other. Then one day towards the end of that second semester I offered to lend him some tapes I had (yes, we still had tapes back in 2004). I didn’t think it was any big deal, but he was so touched that he spontaneously reached out and hugged me. Who was I kidding about that emotion thing?
In terms of narrative, there isn’t a lot more to say. Our friendship grew slowly and carefully for the first couple of years, then became a settled thing between us. It hasn’t always been easy – not because of anything difficult between us, but because the exigencies of life have got in the way. He has had to work in jobs well below his capacity to meet his family’s financial needs, and both he and his wife have been in abusive situations both in the workforce and in churches. Sometimes he’s just too busy for us to have the time together we would like to.
We have just spent the last two years studying together, doing a Masters degree by distance from a major university. We both finished well, and I really honour him for that, because he did it on top of working 50+ hours a week in a job that wrings him out. But we are a lot more than study-buddies, though we do that very well. We laugh – a lot, usually about things that don’t make a lot of sense to anyone else, like the other day when he said something silly/funny and I told him, laughingly, he was the only person I know who’s a worse idiot than I am. He promptly replied that that was ok, because it meant I was the better idiot! We both found that incredibly funny – most people I know would just look blank.
There is honesty between us, and there are real emotions. And because there is honesty, the emotions can turn up when least expected – like the day when he saw some photos of my children when they were small, and he commented on how beautiful he thought I looked as a young mum (ok guys, we’re talking 20+ years ago here) and I burst into tears because no man had ever said that to me in my life before. I have no hesitation in saying that I love this man with the same deep, marrow-of-my-bones love that I have for my children.
Which doesn’t mean that I live on the brink of crossing some sexual line. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The more we love each other, the more we want to honour each other and do what is best for each other. He has a lovely wife, I strongly believe she’s really good for him, and I don’t want to ever do anything that would come between them. I think attraction between us is possible, but it’s not what either of us is looking for, and neither of us believes that it would do anything other than destroy this beautiful thing we have.
And how does all this affect my marriage? Dan has written a lot about cgf and the growing of intimacy in a healthy marriage, but I am going to go out on a limb here and talk about a different scenario. Here the spouse is not threatened by your intimacy with someone else because intimacy is not something they value or even comprehend. As long as you honour them by always giving them priority in any situation where there’s a potential clash for the use of your time and energy, they are perfectly happy. Leo is no longer an abusive spouse, he hasn’t hit me for 17 years – half our marriage. He also treats me a lot more respectfully since I have learned to stand up for myself better. But intimacy? On the surface all is well, but most people are like icebergs, with the largest part of who they are hidden below the waterline. For 34 years I have tried to find the man below the waterline, and I can’t find anyone there. If he exists at all, only God has the power to reach him. And he still has the power to flabbergast me! We are going overseas in a few weeks, and will actually be in separate places for 12 days, before joining up again, the longest we have been apart in over 30 years. Yesterday I suggested that he look into getting Skype on his phone so he could talk to me cheaply on the laptop. “Oh no,” he said, “I don’t think we need to talk to each other. I’ll just send you an occasional text message to let you know I’m ok.” Like I said, I was flabbergasted.
I’m not sure if this analogy will make sense to anyone else, but I feel like my marriage is a narrow canoe which will overturn out in the deep waters unless I have an outrigger to balance it. Conventional evangelical thought would tell me that I should stay in the shallow waters, and make myself small enough to fit within Leo’s expectations. After all, if we tip over, isn’t it because the woman rocked the boat? I am not going back there. Every time I tried to make myself small, I was denying God’s call on my life to grow. I need that outrigger, that attachment to people beyond the tiny world of Leo-and-me. All love is a risk, but it is what we are made for, and love ultimately requires the engagement of all that we are, and that may require many different kinds of relationships, since different people, with different needs call forth different parts of ourselves. There is no immunity to hurt unless we hermetically seal off our souls, and then they die from lack of oxygen! But there is an enormous difference between being hurt and being destroyed, and I am not afraid of the latter any more, for I know the God who holds me in the hollow of his hand, and no one has the power to pluck me from that place.
This morning I sat in church and looked at the dark cross on the white wall at the front while someone was reading 1 Corinthians 13, and it struck me afresh that the cross is the place where the fabric of this material universe has been torn and breached, so that the overwhelming love of God which is there forever, just beyond the reach of our fallen senses can flow through into our broken world. There is the place I can stand.
For those of you who have persevered through this mini-marathon of my story, I would like to finish with a poem I wrote in the early days of my wrestling with my multiple abuse issues. This is my aspiration, and my friends are the ones who lift me up:
They shall rise and fly like eagles,
Their wings subdue the air.
The earth shall hold them down no more,
And, some day, I’ll be there.
For these bones shall grow a body,
And the body shall be dressed
With feathers strong and golden,
His fairest and His best.
Theses eyes be no more blinkered,
But gaze towards the Son,
And by that gaze be lifted
Towards the Living One.
These arms, so peaked and puny,
Shall grow to wings, be strong.
This faltering voice be poured forth
In a fierce triumph song.
And the heart that shook in terror,
And sought a place to hide,
Shall joy above the conflict
And on the tempest ride.
He makes me for His purpose,
To see and soar and sing.
He makes this battered sparrow
An eagle of the King.