I had a discussion recently with someone about the things that happen to us. The friend asked why I say Our Story Begins and why I seem different and whether I think constantly about being widowed.
My response was this: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
I’m a storyteller at heart. I’ve always been one, I just never realized it early in my life. I started on the radio. I went into television. I told stories, initially in front of the camera, then behind it. Every portion of it the control, the feel, the shaping of what gets put together was thought through. I stitched pictures to words and wove a tale every day, in two minutes or so, and put it out into the ether for the region to see, eventually making its way through the atmosphere and drifting as bits of signal waves moving past Saturn and Jupiter, likely never seen again. I did this not knowing at the time that I was weaving a tale every day.
Our lives became a tale, too. I wasn’t realizing it at first, but those first, brightest, strongest emotions burn themselves into the synapses of your brain and live there, forever. The feelings pump through your heart and every cell . . . every electron that bonds your molecules holds a portion of the most powerful of things you experience. I met an amazing woman and through a period of successive years I had one child . . . then a second came that nearly killed my wife in childbirth. When we were told she likely wouldn’t have children again she got pregnant…with twins. Our lives a roller coaster of emotion and feeling and stress and elation.
Then she left.
It would have been easy . . . hell, it should have been easy to say the story was over. It was finished with a classical ending befitting of the Bard himself, a tragedy of epic proportions.
But our story wasn’t a Shakespearian tragedy. Sure, it starts to feel that way at first. Those burned-in moments, like the blue spot on an old tube-based video camera, burn the brightest and you forget all the other details. You focus on the spots, not the entire picture. You forget the arguments and the screams and the depression. You forget the loneliness and the distance and the lack of communication. You forget how nothing in the life that you live is perfect, it’s perfectly imperfect. All you have is those bright, burning spots, sparking the lightning of synapse across the hemispheres of your mind and drawing you farther from the tale you should be telling, not the story you’ve already read.
Along the way, though, and for me I cannot tell you the exact moment, those bright stars in your memory start to burst like a star as it starts to fade from night toward dawn. They never go away . . . just like the stars in the sky never leave, they just get obscured until you look up and see them again as the sun sets, giving you that smile, that warm feeling and not the ache for what was lived.
My life isn’t the end of one story, it’s the continuation of my story . . . of our story, mine and the kids. When the bright, burning memories return to their former glory you remember the little things that both confused and angered and enamored you. The nervous laugh, the silly moments, the hysterical moments come back into focus and you realize that you’re okay. The days, months, for some people years after are filled with the best moments and the most regrettable moments in rushes of emotion, tears, and worry. But they are replaced by acceptance and restoration of the life lived.
I am the man I have become due to the influence of my wife . . . and I’m also the man I am because she left. I am neither and both on many days. It’s a story, like a Hollywood script, with moments of intensity and moments of slow plodding. Hyperventilation followed by breathless ecstasy. I have recounted my story before and will likely do it again, but each time the real story comes more and more into focus.
The person I was talking with above asked if I’d embrace going back to being married and who I was if Andrea, my wife, came back tomorrow. They seemed taken aback when I simply said “no.”
No . . . I couldn’t go back. The kids may think it would be great, but we’ve come too far on our own, adjusted too much and changed too many things for that to be a transition we could survive. She would be the same and all five of us would be different. Change is hard, particularly for kids who have faced so much change in the last two years. But still, we faced it and embraced it. Our lives now are filled with adventure in the smallest of events. The big things that come our way, the love we see or hope to feel we know we need to grab or it will slip through our fingers.
Life, we now know, is fleeting and the moments we live are the ones that will burn in those portions of our memories forever. I can see that my life up to now isn’t a morality play or a tragedy, it’s been a journey . . . a great story full of thrills, emotion and impact. I no longer grieve for what could have been, I celebrate what I have.
“How can you look at your life this way, not even two years later,” the person asked me.
I repeated the phrase: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
“That’s an amazing phrase,” the person told me, “did you write it?”
No, was my response.
“It’s Dr. Seuss,” I told them, and smiled as I walked away from the conversation.