Friday, March 28, 2008
Easter Friday: Scenes from an Italian Restaurant Parking Lot
His name was George. But, he traveled with the alias of “Loneliness” and “Despair.”
We chatted a bit during dinner at Ciao Bella, one of my favorite little Italian restaurants on The Cove. I had just had a dinner of fried oysters, a specialty of the Chesapeake Bay and the Del Marva Peninsula, along with linguine tossed with garlic and olive oil and served with freshly grated parmesan cheese.
And yes, a glass of wine. Pinot Griot. Australian. And bread. With butter. Real butter. I’ve been working five to six hours a day on the revision to my thesis. And, I’m on holiday. Gimme a break!
Ah, but George.
He was having dinner with his adult son and daughter before leaving for Florida in the morning. Bought a condo on the water. His new home. Just prior to his divorce from his second wife.
Mary. His first wife’s name was Mary. He never mentioned his second wife’s name
“I still talk to her three or four times a week,” he said, as his son and daughter looked down at their food. “I love her. She loves me,” he said, adding sadly, "We just can’t live together.”
The short, easy answer to the past 10 years which have, no doubt, been marked by the slowly growing reality that their marriage was dead.
He wore his loneliness around his shoulders like the tattered, old zippered sweater he wore. A mantle of false protection. A walking advertisement for his current predicament. A transparent vest, baring his soul for all who had eyes to see.
“My second wife just couldn’t understand how I could talk to my ex-wife three, maybe four times per week. Jealous? Yeah, maybe."
We were in the parking lot now. He looked up at the dark sky, “Maybe the truth is that we were just two, old, lonely people who hadn’t had sex in a long time. That’s not much to build a marriage on.”
It was a startlingly honest confession, one which was not lost on his adult children, who were lurking in the shadows by our cars.
I started my car and my iPod began to wail out a Billy Joel song. Too loud. Rudely interrupting his need to continue the conversation.
“Do you live here?” he asked. His question was more transparent than his pain. “Yes,” I said, “Yes, I do. Well, at certain points of the year.”
“Where do you live when you’re not here?” he asked, moving in closer to my car.
“New Jersey,” I said brightly, happy to relay the distance to him.
He got it immediately. “Far away from Florida,” he said.
“I wish you traveling mercies tomorrow,” I said.
“Traveling mercies?” he asked, confused.
“Yes, traveling mercies. It’s an old expression some of us in the church use.”
“The church?” he asked, then, checking out my windshield, noticed the sticker which proclaimed, “Episcopal Priest.”
“You’re not, are you?” he asked, a bit befuddled.
I looked over to my sticker and then back to catch his gaze. “Why, yes. Yes,, in fact, I am.”
“Look,” I said, “I’m in a long-term committed relationship. I’m very happy. And, you know, someday you will be, too.”
“Yeah, sure,” he said as he shifted his weight from side to side.
“I’m sorry for your loneliness,” I said, “but you know, happiness is out there, if you are willing to be vulnerable to it.”
He drew back as if I had said a curse. “Vulnerable?” He stopped in his backward retreat, stood his ground and fired back, “Vulnerable?”
“Yes,” I said. “That’s exactly the word.”
“Vulnerable,” he repeated. “Not a word in my vocabulary.”
I was quiet for a while as I shifted my weight in my car seat. “Better study it,” I said, “if you ever want to be in love again. If you’ve ever . . . . . . ”
“Nope,” he said, “not me. Never again.”
“Well, you know, what they say?”
“What? ‘Never say never’? Or, ‘Third time’s the charm’?”
“Actually,” I said, “I think that’s ‘second time’s the charm’. No, it’s not about charm or luck. In my business we get straight to the point: You gotta have faith.”
He nodded his head and looked up at the night sky again which was filled with outrageously bright stars. I wondered if he was able to see them, beckoning him to something brighter in the midst of the deep darkness of their background.
I suspect that, to him, the stars were just an annoying distraction from the unfathomable depth above him. He looked down, shifted some gravel around under his feet, looked up at me and said, “Well, I guess this is a night for Captain Jack.”
“C’mon, Dad,” his son called out to him, opening the car door.
I turned up the volume on my iPod, shifted into reverse to back up and then shifted again, forward, out of the parking lot, waving farewell to George and his son and daughter.
I hadn’t noticed before but Billy Joel was singing, “Captain Jack”. It’s a song I’ve heard for years and loved but never really fully appreciated until tonight.
But Captain Jack will get you high tonight,
And take you to your special island.
Captain Jack will get you by tonight.
Just a little push, and you'll be smilin'.
I sensed George knew all about Captain Jack’s special island. He also knew about crucifixion. That much was certain.
What George had yet to learn was the power of resurrection. Instead, he had chosen a ‘geographical fix.’ Far, far away from his current, painful reality.
Traveling with ‘Captain Jack’ will take you places filled with smiling people and you’ll still be alone. Here’s the thing: You can be alone, but not necessarily lonely.
On the other hand, loneliness can haunt you even while you are surrounded by people who love you. Your family. Your son and your daughter. Your ex-wife with whom you talk but never speak twice a week. Your new wife, a fluffy piece of arm candy whom you married for the sex.
But, vulnerability will bring an end to your journey into loneliness – in Florida or anywhere you choose to live.
And, lead you to the new life of resurrection.
Traveling mercies, George. I hope you can find whatever it is you’re looking for. The Orthodox have just begun Lent, and for them, Easter comes later this Spring.
There’s still time to learn that sometimes, in order to find strength, you have to find weakness. Before you can find courage, you must first explore vulnerability.
Before you can unearth faith, you have to dig deep among the stars.