Friday, May 23, 2008

The Easter Weekend from Hell: Postlude

In the TV series Heroes there's a character named Hiro Nakamura. His heroic gift is to be able to teleport himself through time and space. Often he meets up with and interacts with a younger or older version of himself.

Well, if I had the fictional Mr. Nakamura's ability, I would teleport myself to my room in Coverdale* College, Oxford, on a Saturday in late April 1989, and knock my younger self up-side the head for being an ass and a blind fool. And I'd give one Lukas Renzberger* what-for for being a being such a self-centered turkey.

The precise account of what happened that day is in my regular journal, not in my travel diary, and won't be transcribed here. But a week after Lukas* and I had both returned to Coverdale*, I was still avoiding him, unable equally to make nice as if nothing wrong had happened between us on Iona or to confront him with it, either one.

Finally after lunch that Saturday, where I'd spoken to everyone at the table except him (though he'd attempted repeatedly to catch my eye), he'd followed me up to my room.

He said: "You've been avoiding me. Something's wrong between us and I want you to tell me what it is."

Yes, really. He did. And-I-Quote.

For a long stretch I could say nothing. But at last I blurted out, "I think that if somebody asked me if I'd seen you in Iona, I would have to say, No, at least not the Lukas* I know at Coverdale.*"

We had a long, long talk. It lasted till the bell rang for dinner. And if I in my 2008 self were there listening, I wouldn't fault either party for much of what was said and concluded. It's true that I needed to get over the idea that everyone else (especially big hunky good-looking guys) was always stronger and more capable and more secure than I. It's true that I needed to understand that I was as capable of hurting his feelings as he was of hurting mine. It's true that I needed to allow him to be weak and vulnerable, too.

But oy vey! After all was said and done I sure hope my 2008 self would say, "Pardon me, Lukas*, but you say you held back from being friendly to Blogwen at Iona because you were convinced she expected you to 'integrate'-- that was your word, 'integrate'-- her into the Abbey group, and you just couldn't, because you knew that real conflict underlay the ostentatious cameradie of that crowd. Where, pray tell, did you get the idea she wanted in? You say you were confirmed in that conviction when you observed her inability to get deep into conversation with anyone at tea after the Maundy Thursday stripping of the church. Did it never occur to you that she might have been exhausted from travel and the weather? That your own failure to give her a friendly word at the tea table might have put her off, just a little? That your swings that weekend from cold aloofness to ceremonial intimacy and back again might have been distressing and alienating, considering your usual relations at Coverdale*?

"And Lukas,*" I'd go on, "you say your coldness and distance at the train station in Oban was mere lack of sleep and exhaustion, that you hadn't even wanted to deal with the Abbey group people you were chatting to on the bus, let alone Blogwen after the tensions of the previous four days. Did it never occur to you to say something civil to her like, 'I'm really tired right now, I didn't get to bed at all last night, please forgive me if I'm not up to talking. I need to get my train to Inverness and I'll see you back at Coverdale*'? Something that acknowledged this vulnerability you want her to allow you?"

"What it sounds like to me, " I'd continue, "is that you, Lukas*, want your weaknesses to be understood, overlooked and excused, while Blogwen's are to be repented and punished and done penance for. Sounds a little unequal to me, doesn't it to you, hmmm?"

And to my 1989 self I would say, "Hey, you! He's said some things you needed to hear. But enough already! You've told him that you found no comfort in the amateur theatricals that passed for worship service content. You told him you were starved for the clear reading and preaching of the word of God. You don't need to apologise for that. You're letting him make it out that that means you're living too much in your head and need to work instead from your heart. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is heart food! It's the only genuine heart food there is!

"What's more, young Blogwen, you're letting him sit there analysing you! You're submitting to playing the patient or parishioner to his pastoral counsellor! Remember, he's as weak and frail as you are. Don't flop like that! Grow a backbone!

Then, "Oh my God, child, he's just asked you to tell him what you can do to become more extroverted! Yes, it'd be a good thing, but after Iona, Lukas* is the last person who has the right to coach and correct you on that! I mean, where was all his extroversion that god-awful weekend? Stop trawling for his approval! He's got his role in your life, but that ain't it!"

To be fair to us both, after dinner I went to his room and made it clear that we still both needed openly to repent, receive forgiveness, and be reconciled for what we had done to each other "through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault." I forgave him and received his pardon in return. And in case I ever should forget that, I wrote it down in the back of my Bible the next day during a slow period in the sermon.

But even after that, my 2008 self still would have private business with the 1989 me. It'd go like this:

"Kid, you keep talking about your weakness, weakness, weakness in all this. It's high time you recognised that all your depression and alienation and near-hopelessness at Iona and at times throughout that entire tour wasn't really about weakness, it was about Control.

"Yes, young Blogwen, control. You wanted to feel you were in charge of your life, even if it meant being in charge of bad things happening in it. After the first few days, it never occurred to you once to take into account how vulnerable you were physically, mentally, and emotionally to the stresses of the journey. Getting lost on the road almost daily. Pushing yourself too hard driving and walking and sightseeing. Dealing with severe, even dangerous, weather. Skipping meals or eating food that was unbalanced or inadequate. Not getting enough sleep. Did you think to yourself, 'Of course I'm a little cranky, I've been through a lot this past week, just taking this trip'? No. You didn't even consider it. You just assumed that your stamina was equal to anything, that you were in control.

"Then you got to Iona. You recognised that the lack of spiritual food was getting you down. Good. You griped some in your journal about the weather and the programming. But you didn't face how much they were wearing you down. Think how your straitened funds and the fact that you'd prepaid for the weekend kept you from even considering checking the ferry timetable and leaving, say, on Saturday--psychologically and financially, you were trapped! Think how the weather made it impossible to go outside safely alone after dark so physically you couldn't break free of the lockstep of the evening schedule. Hey, didn't you notice how a lot of the people at the MacLeod Centre were jumpy and emotional? Marie* with her schwarmerei about Seamus.* Karen* with her outrageous stories. Jeannie* irrationally blurting out that you must hate her. Did it never occur to you that you all were suffering from cabin fever, that you were going a little stir-crazy? No? Is that because you thought you were strong enough to deal with all that? That that part of things, you had under control?

"And the trouble with Lukas*, the part you're confessing as your weakness, as your lack of control: No, young Blogwen, that's where you sought to retain power most of all. Once or twice you played with the idea that the problem and therefore the responsibility might lie most of all with him. But most of the time you were saying to yourself, 'What have I done wrong? How did I make him treat me like this? What must I be to deserve this?' Sounded really humble, didn't it?

"But, young Blogwen, humble it was not. Because if you could put Lukas'* uncivil behaviour down to something you had been or done, you were still in control. You could fix it, or solve it, or atone for it, or change yourself from being it. But you can't fix, solve, atone for, change, or control him. Not Lukas Renzberger*, not any other person outside yourself.

"And, kid, you know what's funny: if you'd been awake to and willing to accept your true weaknesses and vulnerability, you would have achieved true control-- that is, over your own attitude. You could have confronted the stresses and storms raging in your life head-on like the adult you were supposed to be. What's more, you could have said, 'Lord, I've got a lot coming at me, I can't handle it on my own, but I trust You to help me focus on You and live in Your strength, not in my own weakness. Things aren't wonderful up here at Iona, they're not what I expected, but with Your help, Lord, I can make the best of them. And if my friend Lukas* of his own fault has a problem to do with me, You can help me make the best of that, too."

All this is what I'd say to Lukas* and to my 1989 self. But it's a good thing for me to say to my 2008 self, too.

One last thing, and we'll get on with the journey. In our conversation that April Saturday, I'd told Lukas* that I'd seen and feared his Easter behavior as a repeat and worsening of his sudden coldness to me at Christmas in Switzerland. He told me he'd had no idea he'd lapsed into nothing but Swiss German after Christmas dinner. Nor had he felt any constraint between us. The German, he said, had just been the result of his being at home and relaxing and going back to normal home habits. Nothing else.

That's what he said in April. But in June, shortly before we both returned to our respective countries, a revelation emerged. Seems when I came to visit in December, his mother found out I could sew, cook, keep house, and I was good at picking up languages. So at Christmas and from time to time subsequently she'd been dropping little hints that I might make her son good wife material, hmm, ya know? And while he felt safe enough with me at college, when it was just us out in the world, he felt obliged to, well, discourage anything in me that he took to mean I was, um, agreeing with her. And in fact part of his problem at Iona was that he was sure I was there largely to make his mother's wishes come true.

Oh, good grief. The truth will out, whether it's in time to be useful or not!


Anonymous said...

Your pep talk to your younger self is almost exactly what I said to myself, right before I met my husband. I kicked everyone destructive out of my life, and started taking responsibility for my life and my decisions. It was the best thing I've ever done. I occasionally still lapse into "oh no, why doesn't he like me" attitudes, but then I think, "no, I am proud of how I act and what I do, I am not the problem". And I move on. Good for you. Good for both of us, actually.


Sandy said...

That was one heck of a pep talk!

Anonymous said...

A really wonderful piece of writing and thinking here!

I also had to do something similar in facing up to some past issues that I handled in a way that I wish I hadn't.

I've got the student loans now to prove it...

But back to your post: It seems like Lukas really no idea how to relate well to someone who he was close to while he dealt with his own issues with even being close to someone. Does that make sense?

My other reaction was in how he was also doing a typical 'guy thing' in chasing you down like that! Rather than inviting you to share yourself, he seems to have tried to 'fix' something that had come up.

Man, we guys do that a lot!

Ah, experience is a hard teacher...

St. Blogwen said...

Whiskers & Sandy-- the blessing about the pep talk (the good of which comes not from me, but from the Holy Spirit) is that it's one that I can keep profiting from, when circumstances get me down and I'm tempted to get depressed because I can't "control" them. Oh, golly Moses, I'm not God, imagine that! (LOL!)

Re: Kicking out the destructive people: Funny, isn't it, how we put that off because we think we "should" be strong enough to cope with them. Or that it's our job to "help" them. Admitting "No, I'm not up to this," is, oddly enough, the way to health.

Toby--Yes, what you say makes sense. When Lukas* & I were talking that afternoon, he admitted that if he hadn't had some long talks at Iona with the woman I'm calling Fiona*, he wouldn't have been able to talk to me four weeks later about our conflict. Actually, I'm glad he did the "guy thing" and chased me down. I would have put it off longer, trying to work up my nerve. The off thing to me was his opening line, as if he hadn't a clue what was wrong. He knew good and well, but that opening rather put it on me, ya know? I had no problem with him trying to fix our friendship; it just would have been nicer if he'd led off by admitting his role in breaking it!

Well, we were both young. And he was younger than I.

Thinking about his behavior over that Easter weekend is a good caution to me as a pastor and as a Christian. If I think I can treat people cavalierly or insensitively in day to day life, then expect them to believe me when I talk about the love of Jesus from the pulpit or the Communion table, I'm out of my mind.

Sandy said...

"If I think I can treat people cavalierly or insensitively in day to day life" - I can't imagine you every doing that.