Six months ago, I was sure today would be a remarkably sad day. Six months ago, I was sure I wanted a divorce from the man I had been married to for twenty-one years. Six months ago, I was sure he would be better off with out me.
The cruel thing about God's installation of free will into our humanity is that we can only learn in reverse. Only when we are past an event can we examine it and understand what happened. Only after the shuttle explodes do we understand how o-rings are affected by temperature. Only after a catastrophic nuclear event do we learn that cheaper graphite tips accelerate atomic reactions. Only after the storm can we see where the levy was neglected and weak.
The grace in the aftermath is about what can be learned.
A year ago, I mulled over every possibility of the outcomes of decisions I had made in my life to that point. I knew what I was doing, and as reckless as it was, the idea that I could detonate a bomb and see who was left standing when the smoke cleared was exciting in a way that I'm not proud of. I wanted to know who I was, really. I wanted to cast off every label I found myself wearing and start all over again. I convinced myself that I would be better off on my own, so I attacked my husband with an arsenal of reasons to leave me.
Standing amidst the debris of everything I destroyed, my husband did what every quiet hero from every tragic event does. He looked for causation. He looked for warning signs that got missed. He looked for evidence that the aftermath was a place to learn something profound about how to keep history from repeating itself.
He would have given me what I wanted, and he would have been as amicable as possible about it. He would have let me rebuild on my own, in my own space and time and without him. We told the kids. Kids who understood far more than anyone gave them credit for.
In the aftermath, he asked for one thing. He wanted the chance to make it right. I didn't want to give him that chance, convinced that all the things that brought us to that moment would eventually take us there again. I have never desired to change anyone, fundamentally, from who they are... and I believed that twenty-one years into our marriage, we had become fundamentally different people. I didn't want to change him, and I didn't want to change who I was- who I had been becoming for quite some time- for him.
Every time a tragedy occurs, followed by an investigation and subsequent explanation, it always seems so obvious. Human error. Hubris. Fatigue. Breakdown in communication. In many cases, future safety is improved because so much was sacrificed by what went wrong in the past. I always think it's interesting when people unaffected directly talk about the chain of events preceding disaster as if someone should have known. Someone should have seen it, someone should have paid attention, someone should have done something different. And that's where we all miss the forest for the trees, because even when we see the storm coming we just keep being human.
Right after the worst of the worst happens, it seems like the mess is insurmountable. It seems like, if you're invited to walk away from it, you've been spared the arduous work of the continued demolition that has to happen as the remnants of all the things that once stood are cleared and the way is paved for something new. Lesser men would have taken that invitation.
My husband didn't.
And today, twenty-two years after we were wed, I am grateful for the person he is. I know he learned things he never thought he would have to learn in the last six months, and I won't speak for his journey.
I learned a lot, too.
I learned that faulting a person for not "seeing you" is paradoxical in nature if you never take on the responsibility of being who you are. How can someone else see you if you refuse to see yourself?
Most remarkably, I learned that if you want to be loved exactly as you are, you must love others exactly as they are, without prejudice. If you want to be loved for who you are, then you have to actually be who you are and give other people the opportunity to actually get to know you... the real you... and be willing to do the same for them.
We can't stop storms from coming. We can't prevent every mistake or even come close to predicting where the next breakdown might occur.
But we can pay attention to the wreckage and honor the sacrifice by rebuilding with strength and wisdom, and eyes wide open.