Ex-Spouses

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RudyFor followers of this blog, surprise: I’ve been married twice.

An even bigger surprise: the first time was to a woman.

The marriage was brief but the love was real.

My second marriage has lasted far longer. I compare it to a few marathons I’ve entered: at times I’ve cramped up and wanted to step off the course and applaud everyone else, but I never have given in to that wish, and I’ve always been grateful when I’ve reached the finish line.

For years I wondered what happened to my wife. When we were together, I had not yet run a 5K let alone completed 28 marathons. I was still at the beginning of my career. Although we hoped for children, parenthood was a distant dream, and now that I am a parent, I realize how truly unprepared I would have been back then to become a father.

Many friends and acquaintances guessed I would leap right into a relationship with a man after my wife and I separated. Actually, I didn’t date until after the divorce was final and for a few years after that it was only with women. I was numb from the experience of my first marriage. In some ways, being alone was a relief.

In fact, the week before I met my husband, I had decided that I was going to live the rest of my life as a single person. I was a good friend to many people, gay and straight, but my attempts at finding a permanent, intimate, committed relationship were a series of unfinished marathons.

Now, for the past 18 years, I’ve hung in there thanks to my husband and our daughter. I’ve loved the stability, the trust, the excitement of seeing them every single day even during moments and hours that can be frustrating.

I’ve had very few What If moments these past 18 years, but I still think about my first marriage from time to time.

Even in the age of social media it’s been hard to find out whatever happened to my wife. I’ve had a few friends from my past life write that they corresponded with her years ago, but I’ve never been able to find out where her life’s journey has taken her.

Until last weekend.

For the first time in two decades, I found a picture of my ex-wife. Had I clicked on the picture, I would have learned a great deal.

As a trained journalist, I so wanted to. But I’ve let it go an entire week. My wife and I didn’t have children together. Our families did not stay in touch. We didn’t exactly part as friends. We didn’t share too many friends, and the few we did now are many miles and years away.

I love tidy, happy endings, but I’ve learned they don’t always happen. I wish my ex-wife great happiness and hope that she found a partner for life. That may be the best I can do, a personal challenge as difficult as any marathon or perhaps several: letting go forever.

Night Shelf Stocker

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Da kommt ein Sturm!Happy Valentine’s weekend, Dear Readers!

I’ve often heard and read that adult Quakers don’t celebrate holidays because every day is sacred.

Well, I’m a Quaker. I celebrate holidays albeit in a low-key way! I had a date on Valentine’s Day with my husband. A babysitter, also a Quaker, came to our home for a few hours to look after our young daughter. My husband and I went to a restaurant, just us, for the first time in 9 years!

After a little awkward silence, we engaged in conversation with a couple next to us in the small, upscale but unpretentious pizza temple. What did we talk about? Our lives, what brought us to Hawaii, and, of course, our daughter!

We did not mention our daughter’s extra chromosome nor show a picture of her as that may have changed the tone and turned a light, fun evening into something more serious. Our lives are plenty serious most of the time. Besides, I am a Quaker. I try to live simply. My idea of a crazy evening is to add another spice to a casserole I’m making!

But I have a rebellious, wild streak that peeks out once in a while.

I once had my ear pierced and a few months later, on a whim, took four weeks off from work and literally flew around the world with stops in a few chosen locations, including Hawaii, a place I had always wanted to see. Not bad for a guy who has a huge fear of flying.

Once there, and this was in my mid-20s, I didn’t want to leave. It was the most beautiful, magical place I had ever been.

I seriously considered giving up a lovely job at an embassy in Europe, to forego the flights back to what was then home, to just, pardon the pun, wing it until I found a job, any job, and settled in Hawaii.

I went back to Austria. Years later I moved with my husband and our daughter to Hawaii. This will be our permanent home.

Ellen_hat_es_geschafftI had plenty of dreams growing up on the edge of Appalachia. The dreams kept me going during day and night. They helped alleviate some of the pain of growing up gay, especially in the ’80s, in close-knit families and in a rural area where being gay was rarely discussed except in derogatory ways.

But I had a pretty decent mind and I knew it could take me places, help me escape a youth I wanted to leave behind. And I did. The roads traveled weren’t always easy, but I’m glad I chose them.

So why is the title of this post Night Shelf Stocker?

Ellen ist acht Jahre alt!I wonder every day what my daughter’s dreams will be as she becomes a teenager and a young woman whom some people may want to date but won’t because of her extra chromosome, how she will find ways to make it through lonely patches, bad dates, frustrations, but celebrate when she finds unexpected happiness at a job or with a friend or partner. I want her to be patient, to be safe, but to take risks like I did when I boarded a plane all those years ago and briefly conquered my fear of flying so I could make it to Hawaii.

My daughter is growing up here. I stumbled across an ad this week with job requirements for a Night Shelf Stocker. I smiled when I read it. Jeez, I thought, had I seen this ad all those years ago when I stayed in at the YMCA in Hawaii for 10 days, I would have applied for it, and, if it had worked out, never returned to Austria, the embassy, probably even the mainland. My initial romantic feelings about settling in Hawaii with wages as a night shelf stocker would have given way to the practicalities of finding a higher-paying job, but it would have been a start.

I pray every day my daughter will be given chances I was given, that if she’s rejected she will work through the pain, that someday she will sit back, as I did last night at the restaurant with my husband, let go, and simply enjoy Valentine’s Day.

I love you my daughter and husband.

Lone Wolves

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RudyHow many of you saw the headline this week about the lone gray wolf who wandered for 8,700 miles trying to find a mate?

She never succeeded.

She crossed and recrossed three states in her efforts, and although her pedigree was impressive, she never found her life mate or pack to hang out with while she was looking — and hoping. It’s not certain, but she probably died lonely.

I’ve never thought a great deal about wolves until I read a few articles about this wolf known as OR-54.

Since then, I’ve learned about their being endangered species who also were a great nuisance to some people such as ranchers and farmers.

I also found out that some wolves are excluded from their packs. Those lonely travelers are sometimes elderly females or young adults seeking new territory. They seldom remain lone wolves, but if they do, they are often intelligent and develop keen survival instincts.

It will probably come as no surprise to followers of this blog that for years I considered myself a lone wolf! My mother was a legendary teacher whose own parents were strong-minded legends in their own families. My grandfather, the oldest of 16 children, was considered the leader of his pack and in some regards my mother inherited that status!

But I … Jeez, where do I start?!

Die Frühen Jahre (1)I looked and felt different in so many ways early on. I have a mild birth defect, an indented chest that I’ve never had surgically corrected (but hasn’t prevented me from being a lifelong tennis player and runner). I had a massive nose that got worse after I was pushed as a child onto a concrete landing. After years of constant nose bleeds it was corrected. Before surgery, I kind of looked like a skinny, blond wolf!

And, of course, I was gay which definitely left me out of the pack!

But, like OR-54, I was determined to find love. It took me years and thousands of miles. I lived in two different continents and four different states before I found my mate. I’m sure I was a nuisance to many while I crossed and recrossed paths hoping that fate would lend a hand in making that magical person appear.

And he did, out of nowhere! And we’ve been together 18 years and are raising a daughter born with an extra chromosome who may need to run many marathons before she is embraced by that life partner at the finish line.  She may also need to make sure that person will truly stay with her through thick and thin.

But if she is as fortunate as I have been, she will know that every mile has been worth it!

 

Out of Somewhere

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With the QueenI love the music from the film Out of Africa, the soundtrack that melted my heart the first and only time I saw this romantic drama that moved glacially for almost three hours.

I was a very young man at the time, and I watched it alone in a vast theater in Austria where I was living at the time.

Looking back, I now laugh at how smitten I was with the melodrama, but the music still haunts me.

I’ve been looking back in time a lot lately as the new decade has begun. I’m a hopeless romantic, so even the toughest years that were often layered with loneliness as I struggled to find my place in the world as a young gay man growing up in the ’80s now have a hopeful soundtrack to them.

I romanticize what it might have been like to live in another century. As a professed Plain Quaker, I imagine vast golden fields of solid work and worship, of fellowship, of coming closer to the Light. Truth be told, I probably would have wrestled mightily with wanting a family — that during those times could only have been achieved by marrying a woman and having children with her — while secretly yearning for intimacy with a man.

Fortunately the world has moved forward with two men enjoying a family together although in some regards and in some countries or parts of countries it is unfortunately moving backward. Although I often wonder what it would have been like to be me centuries ago and wonder if maybe I belonged in a different era, I have to believe there are reasons for where and when I am now with people who mean all that I care about: my husband and our daughter.

 

Lily Dale

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Dear Readers,

I wrote the title of my weekend post and then I thought, “Oh boy, where and how do I begin with the actual content?”

For readers who know very little about Lily Dale, well, check it out on your computer. I’m curious to know if you will be impressed or underwhelmed!

Let me write right of the bat: I’ve had a long up and down relationship with Lily Dale!

Growing up near Lily Dale, I was underwhelmed! I had the privilege, as a bassoon player (!) of spending a great deal of time when I was young at the nearby  Chautauqua Institution (to my mind, a horrible name — please bring in marketing experts and focus groups!), and Lily Dale, known for being a significant center of the Spiritualist movement, paled by comparison. Yes, I smiled when I chose the word “pale” and I hope readers will too!

EngelLily Dale for me was an occasional diversion. Growing up gay on the edge of Appalachia, I craved escapes. Since I was not manly enough to be a natural to receive my driver’s license, I would occasionally beg my father or a friend to take me for a short visit to Lily Dale. Years after I left my difficult teenagehood behind, my father even became the town or hamlet supervisor of Lily Dale!

So why Lily Dale? Why write about it?

I’ve always believed in the afterlife, most of the time.

At the risk of coming across of being a bit out there and losing followers of this blog, I will write that certain life experiences, and the gift of looking back from the vantage point of middle age (yes, there are advantages!), have deepened my conviction that angels among us and even those we can’t see have played a major role in my life and those I love dearly.

Did I really just write that?

Why? Why now? Why Lily Dale?

I’ve often heard that as one grows older, time marches by more quickly.

I want to live until I’m 100 and enjoy life with my husband and daughter for many more years.

But of course there are no guarantees.

Or maybe there are.

Let me leave this post at this last paragraph: read about Lily Dale, let me know what you think. Every time I read more about Lily Dale and the promise of the afterlife, I’m more encouraged that when I’m not around like I am now, I may still be around! Who knows? If you do know, or think you know, please share!

Looking Back and Letting Go

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RudyI’m at an age now where I don’t feel old but I sure don’t feel young either, where my life experiences are bearing fruit for doing well at my job, for being a more patient father, husband, and friend, for even becoming a better writer and teacher.

I have written many times in this blog how I consider marathons beautiful metaphors for life, how all the miles in training are invaluable for getting to the starting line and enduring the tough miles — for me usually miles 15 to 20!

Although I’ve completed all 28 marathons I’ve begun, I sometimes look back and realize how I could have navigated some miles more strategically to enjoy the last half or third of the course rather than praying to see the finish line!

I have woken up a couple times this week wondering about friendships that are in the past, even about the past itself, what I might have done differently if I were given the chance.

Two of those friends were just a little older or younger than I when we were close in my late teenage years and early 20s. Then we lost touch, but 25 years later or so found each other again and wrote and even spoke on the phone. In my excitement about greater meanings of life, I would bring up memories about the friendships in our conversations such as a tennis match we played or a movie we saw together that stayed with me for decades. Guess what? The other person had no recollection whatsoever of the event!

marathonToward the end of this past week a dear cousin who lives in a different continent and I sent several messages to each other to fill in gaps in our relationship as we have not seen each other since we were children. We both realized that looking back at the past can be painful like those miles that come in the second third of a marathon.

I’ve taken a little time to discern what this could mean — wondering about the past whether it’s been during the first hours of a new day when most everyone else is asleep, or corresponding with a cousin thousand miles away late in evening.

I don’t have tidy answers that love to find, but something tells me that what I’m going through is pretty normal, that it’s fine to look back but not try to relive every mile, to keep moving forward and make those miles more enjoyable with lessons we’ve learned at the beginnings of our marathons.

What do all of you think? Please share your thoughts! I wish you all joy for whatever tracks you find yourself on now, or that you find peace when you look back on paths you chose in your past.

My Daughter’s Poem for the New Year

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Dear Readers,

Ellen ist acht Jahre alt!It was back to school for our family — all three of us! Along with the high school students my husband and I teach, our daughter, who is in fourth grade, and I’m sure many of her classmates, we were ready for the weekend to arrive.

Returning from winter break is like resuming training after taking some time off after completing a marathon. I even felt it, and I spent a fair amount of time in my administrative office where I work during the break — that came after I finished two marathons in December!

I’m fortunate that my passions — poetry, language, and community engagement — inform my professional and personal lives. I have the best of both worlds!

And now that our daughter is a little older, it’s lovely to see her blossoming into a poet. She’s already written a new poem in 2020 that I will share with readers of this blog:

Bees fly through trees
to reach flowers and sigh
when it all ends.

© By my daughter, 12 January 2020

 

Poetry as a Pathway

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BingoIt’s a rainy, cold weekend morning in Hawaii in the new year and decade — not exactly inspiring conditions to go out and face the world full of energy to begin checking off all the resolutions made for 2020 and beyond!

It is, though, even in Hawaii where the seasons don’t change all that much, a time for Besinnlichkeit or contemplation.

My daughter, born with an extra chromosome, loves a good poem. She also writes poetry on her own. Often we will sit together, discuss an idea, and she will write a few drafts. By the time the poem is finished, about 80 percent of it will be her original writing and the rest composed with my guidance.

One of my main goals for the new decade that will also be my daughter’s new decade as she enters her 10th year is for her to continue holding her own with any classmate or other person her age, not just to be a precocious girl with Down Syndrome.

It can be a lonely road sometimes both for my daughter and for my husband and me as parents. She has some challenges academically and socially, but when our daughter was very young, a few early education specialists remarked how alert she was, how she took in her surroundings and responded as most children would.

Ellen_hat_es_geschafftMy husband and I have worked hard to find schools and communities where our daughter is right in the mix, not placed in a special classroom, a Girl Scouts troop or hula halau, or other settings with asterisks (places for kids with special needs).

To be honest, some people have been a bit uncomfortable with our daughter being included with their children, but others have embraced our family and encouraged us to stay our course.

I began writing this blog many years ago to sort out my feelings about raising a child with Down Syndrome and perhaps to find or inspire a support community for families. It has become so much more. It has helped me rediscover my love of poetry and become a better parent by writing poems with my daughter.

When I was growing up poetry became an unexpected way to gain much needed self-esteem. Every time I won a national award in high school with my poems, I moved a few grueling inches forward to accepting that I was different than many of the boys I knew, many of whom made me aware of that (!), but perhaps some day I would be able to live my dreams.

Maybe my daughter’s paths in life will be more rewarding with poetry. To my mind she has already confounded many people with her sensitive, beautiful writing. Many people don’t expect her to speak well let alone be a capable writer.

My job in the new decade is to be as loving and encouraging to my daughter as I can as she approaches and moves through her teenage years. I am grateful that poetry appears to be as joyful and rewarding for her as it has been for me.

Happy New Year — Guten Rutsch!

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Well, Dear Readers of Tennis, Trisomy 21 and Taking in Life Together,

Draussen vor der Tür!Can you believe it’s 2020?! I sure am in disbelief.

We mostly avoided the deafening, unrelenting evening of fireworks here in Hawaii by staying with Quakers in a quieter part of town. This morning, after breakfast, we rushed home to change for a Buddhist New Year’s Day service.

Even though I’m a Quaker, I chanted loudly. I sat surrounded by dozens of folks, mostly older, mostly of a heritage different from mine, next to my gorgeous daughter and husband and thought, “How lucky I am! I’m living in Hawaii. I’ve had a few major and minor bumps in the road these past six years, but my family and I have been embraced by many different communities. My brilliant husband discovered his faith. My daughter is learning hula and four languages. She’s holding her own even with her extra chromosome. I’ve had the honor of meeting so many people with stunning life histories. It’s amazing just sitting here!”

It’s also amazing being part of a blogging community and being inspired by all of you: writers, readers, artists. If you have goals for the new year or decade, I wish that they come true and that you enjoy whatever paths you take to achieve them. I wish you good health, perseverance, happiness. Thank you for inspiring me.

 

Merry Christmas!

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Weihnachtsengel!A few of my fellow bloggers whom I religiously follow (an appropriate word for this time of year!) have noted it’s been hard for them to get in the holiday spirit this year.

I have to admit it isn’t always easy, especially when your husband comes down with the flu and even had to go to the emergency room on Christmas Eve day, when the letdown of the rush of completing two marathons in the past few weeks has set in, and — gasp! — I’ve realized more than ever I’m a work in progress!

But as I have written many times before, my family and friends are a true miracle, every single day. My daughter wrote a poem for this holiday that is just one more reason why I am so lucky that faith finds me everywhere. Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it! And for those who may not, may you find peace and good health in the new year.

Thank you to all of you for following my blog.

Christmas

Christmas reminds me of well-being,
of coming into this world
to parents who waited a long time
for a child, for wishes to come true
or something entirely new
than ever imagined or even feared,
whose world opened to a view
they never expected to find.