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Mending A Broken Chain
I wasn’t sure exactly when my wife had left me. I had been at a business conference in Denver for ten days and I came home to a half-empty house. Everything my wife owned was gone, as well as the TV. I hadn’t exactly loved her, but it still made me mad. It’s one thing to threaten that you’re going to leave if your wife doesn’t change, it’s another for her to do it to you and not give any warning.
My trip to Denver had not gone well. My boss had done his annual job reviews during March and, because I had spent most of my time thinking about my failing relationship with my wife, I hadn’t been able to concentrate while doing my job. I ended up costing my company money last year. I don’t know how much it was, but my boss wasn’t pleased. My meeting was bad news as soon as I walked into the room. I was on one side of the table and everyone else faced me. My boss coughed, said that everyone liked me and it pained him to say this but wouldn’t it be better for my personal health if I stopped being a member of the company’s team and instead sort things out with my wife? Now, there I was, out of a job and three days until my flight home from Denver. Worst of all, it turned out that I didn’t need to stop work to sort things out with my wife because by that time she was gone.
I had thought that once one of us left the other I’d feel some relief, but instead I just felt empty. Even if I’d hated my wife, she was still there as a noise in the kitchen, a rustle by the TV, a voice in the bedroom. I didn’t know how to deal with her absence. I tried turning on the radio but that didn’t fix anything. Eventually, I decided that I needed to be with people and that at some point in the future I was going to need to start making money. I pulled out my phone and tapped on the “Drive Now” section of my Uber app.
Once I started driving, I realized that I didn’t want to be with people. I wanted to be alone. Actually, I didn’t know what I wanted. Somehow I hated my wife, no, my ex-wife, and I loved her at the same time. I didn’t want her back, but I didn’t want her gone either. Mostly I just wished that I knew what I wanted.
I looked at the guy to my right. He was wearing a denim shirt that had a hard time stretching around the belly of a man in late middle age. “Do you mind if I put on some music?”
He fingered a golden cross necklace he was wearing around his neck. “I’d rather not, man. I like talking to people. Maybe. . .” He trailed off.
“I really don’t feel like talking right now.” It was true. I didn’t.
“I’m good with being quiet, then.” If it had been a different time, I would have been fine with that, even appreciated it. Now, with all that had just happened, I got mad.
“I just got fired from my job! Do you care? No, you didn’t even know, did you? My wife left me while I was gone and I don’t even know what happened. You know what? I don’t even know if I’m happy she left! I just want the woman I married back, but I can’t have her. I can’t have anything I want. Right now, I hate my life! I thought it would help if I spent time with people, but it hasn’t. Everything you do bothers me and makes me mad. I don’t know if it’s your fault or mine but it sure as crap doesn’t make a difference. Just leave me alone.” I turned on the radio and twisted the dial up. Then I turned it up again. If the person sitting next to me existed, I didn’t want to be able to tell.
We got to 39th Street before I realized anything was wrong. The guy in the passenger seat hadn’t made any noise and I was doing my best to ignore any signs that he existed. Eventually, I had cooled down enough that I decided to apologize. Like it or not, I was doing a job and I had to start acting like it. I turned off the radio and looked over. My passenger was slumped in his seat and was red in the face.
“Dude, are you okay? Are you trying to get some sort of sick revenge? Look, I’m sorry, just . . .” My passenger wasn’t responding. He looked dead. Suddenly, my emotions flew from anxiety to anger to fear. “Crap! I’m not ready to deal with this. Not now. Please.” I pulled out my phone to call 911 and sped up.
“It seems as though he suffered some form of cardiac arrest. He hadn’t complained about any heart pain at his last check-up and we didn’t see any warning signs, but he also hadn’t been here in three years. Long story short, if we had caught it right away, he probably would have lived, but we didn’t.”
I felt waves of guilt rushing through my body. What kind of person was I? If I hadn’t been feeling well enough to drive responsibly, then I shouldn’t have been driving at all. I abruptly slumped over in grief. My job, and then my wife, and then this. I didn’t have anything left. I stopped caring about any personal dignity I had left and buried my face in my hands. I hadn’t meant to start crying, but I did, and it soon became great, heaving sobs. I couldn’t do anything right, I wasn’t able to control my own life, I was useless and a fraud.
Looking back, I feel ashamed for weeping there in a hospital waiting room, right next to a sister who had lost her brother and children who had lost their father. At the time, however, I didn’t care. I was caught up in myself and my troubles. Someone else had some sympathy for me, however little I deserved it. I felt an arm reach around me, and I accepted a hug. There I was, feeling sorry for myself, while somebody who had probably just lost their husband was comforting me. I pulled away. “I’m sorry. I should be comforting you. I can be a jerk sometimes.”
“No, it’s fine. I didn’t even know him.” I looked up and saw a young guy in a stylish suit, complete with a hipster type beard. “I’m one of the chaplain’s here at the hospital. My name’s Jake.”
“Lonzo.” I paused, trying to process what had just happened. “Shouldn’t you be comforting his family?”
“No, I started by talking to them but then their church’s pastor got here. Unlike me, he’s someone who knows them and their needs. And that’s great, because I think I know your needs.”
“I’m fine. You can go work.” Actually, I wasn’t fine. I was a wreck and I had been all week. I was just too caught up in my pride to admit it.
“No, you’re not fine. Everyone here could have told us that. Besides, this is my work, talking to people who just saw death and can’t get over it.”
That did make a lot of sense and I needed to vent to someone. I made a decision. “Do you want to go get some lunch?”
“. . . and I feel guilty for his death, because another time I would have been paying attention to him. Maybe I could have helped him, I don’t know. Right now, I feel like I escaped from a conviction of murder and could be brought back onto trial at any time.” I didn’t know why, but I was telling Jake everything that was on my heart. I hadn’t even been this open with my wife.
Jake ate a bite of salad. “I’m not going to say whether any of this was your fault or not. Right now, I’m not going to judge you, because I can’t know. But I can do something for you. I can give you direction. If you did do something wrong, you need to ask for forgiveness. Say you’re sorry to that guy’s family, tell your wife you won’t do the things you were doing again, that you’ve changed. That you don’t want to be the same anymore. I can talk to you later about faith, about purpose, and I will, because that stuff is really important, life and death level importance. But, right now, what you need to do is ask for forgiveness.” He let me think about that for a minute, then announced he had to go back to the hospital. He gave me his business card and left.
I sat at my table for a long time, digesting what he said. Did I do what was wrong? I’d always told myself I’d treated my wife the way she deserved, and sometimes that was true, sometimes she did treat me like a dog, sometimes, sometimes, sometimes. . . But, no matter how I tried to twist reality, more often it was my fault. It was typically me who acted like she was there simply for my own enjoyment and not as though she were a person.
Eventually, I picked up my phone and dialed her number. Voicemail. I almost hung up then, almost took the easy way out, the inviting road back to whatever it was I had before. Finally, tears streaming down my face, I began to talk.
“I’m sorry. I gave you what you didn’t deserve and took what I wanted. I did what was wrong, but I want to change, to try it all one more time. Please, just give me another chance! Please, please, please, give me what I don’t deserve one more time.” I bent down, never meaning anything else so much in my life, saying, crying, pleading, “Please, forgive me.”