Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New Perspective

Someone from my past has come back into my life and has challenged my perspective with a 25 year old memory.

He was the first guy to ever really break my heart (other than my dads---yes that plural, and that's a topic for another post).  I was a sophomore, he was a football-playing senior.  I liked him, and he said he liked me...but my dad (and several friends) told me there was only one thing a senior could possibly want from a lowly sophomore.  I don't think there's any need to spell out what that one thing was, but suffice it to say I was not making myself available for "it". Every time we were to together I made sure he knew were I stood on "the issue". 

One day at school he picked me up (literally) and carried me across the gym lobby.  I realized just how strong he was and it scared me.  I wrote him a long note and told him (again) that I was not going to keep going out with him if all he wanted was "it" .  (Brevity was not my forte even then so the note was most likely several redundant pages long.)  In my memory, he called me that night and told me it just wasn't going to work out.  I bawled like a baby for hours.  I told my Daddy, and all my forewarning friends, they were right.  I don't remember ever talking to him again after that.

For the next 25 years I told that story over and over.  Usually my point was how I had held onto my morals, even at the cost of not going out with a guy I liked, or as an illustration of how all guys are only out for one thing.

Fast forward to a week or so ago when I got an unexpected e-mail from him.

When I saw his name I once again felt the cold phone receiver in my hand.  I could hear his voice speaking those words to me, "It's just not going to work....".  The clear memory of hot tears, streaming down from swollen eyes, burned my cheeks as if it were happening all over again.   The pain of feeling objectified for one purpose only, the agony of unreciprocated love, and the weight of that defining moment in my life suddenly came crashing through the background of my mind and was once again staring me in the face. 

In a quick succession of messages back and forth, we discovered that our memories of the exact same event are vastly different.  The reason for this is not that the objective truth was different for each of us (that's impossible, we all share the same reality in life)...but that we viewed the same set of circumstances from completely different perspectives.  Our memories converge at the point of rejection.

In his memory, I broke up with him.  Although he's willing to admit the one thing I believed was the only thing on his mind might not have been too far removed, he insists he loved me with a heart full of hope.   He says he would never hurt me, then or now.  His love for me was pure and innocent.  He doesn't remember the phone conversation.  What he vividly recalls is going to school one day hoping to find me waiting to leap into his wide open arms, only to see me running away from him.

As clearly as my mind took me back to the night on the phone, his thoughts transported him to that day at school.  Feeling as if he had done something very wrong, but not understanding what that might have been, fighting through the pain and confusion of my rebuff, he valiantly attempted to talk to me.  I ignored him.  Worse than that, I ran away from him.  The pain of feeling misunderstood, the agony of unreciprocated love, and the weight of that defining moment in his life came crashing through the background of his mind and was once again staring him in the face.
Accepting his perspective as truth, I am forced to view the memory with a new understanding.  In hindsight, I know that when we dated, everything he said and did was seen through the lens of my deeply held belief that I was unlovable.  This filter surrounded my heart like a forcefield, put in place years before I ever met him, as a result of events in my life he had no control or knowledge of.   I had adopted the perspective from which I viewed the behaviors of others long before he came along....and held onto it long after he was gone.

This new understanding has made clear to me how the lens of cynicism still discolors almost all of my relationships.  It distorts my view of other people and more importantly, my view of myself.  To this day, when I meet someone new I am automatically on guard against being hurt.  I keep people at arm's length.  When my second husband left, I allowed God's love to break through that self-made forcefield.  Upon meeting my current husband, I poured out the broken pieces of my heart to him, like dumping a jigsaw puzzle onto a table.  I openly shared all the pain and mistakes of my past, fully expecting him to duck and run for cover.  The fact that he stayed, the fact he has been able to navigate through the myriad of obstacles to my love, the fact that he cared enough to make the effort, has allowed me to accept the truth of his love for me.  

The reintroduction of this person from my past, and his willingness to share his experience of our relationship, has caused me to see it's time to adopt a new perspective.  It's time to do away with old habits that no longer serve me well.  This new vantage point has shown me the walls of protection put in place so long ago to keep pain out, are nothing more than a prison holding the pain of the past in, a prison with no locks on the doors.  I am the one who keeps myself here, and I am the one who has only to get up and walk out to be free.

I'm leaving the bars of Alcatraz behind, ready to see people in the world from a new perspective.


  1. Do we ever leave our prisons behind? I know I don't, can't, want to. Sometimes the prison cell is preferable to freedom.

  2. Just beautifully written, Dana.

    I don't agree with what "akh" wrote. I believe that we can absolutely leave our prisons behind. We will always have the memory of steel bars and stone walls, but I believe we are stronger BECAUSE we spent time there.

    But then we can step out of them, and better appreciate the fresh air, blue skies, bird songs, and true, true love better than ANYONE who never spent time "behind bars."

    Anyway, that's the perspective of THIS former inmate!! Thanks for another thoughtful, lovely post! Happy Valentine's Day!!

  3. That's an amazing story. How great that you got back in touch. All the best with freeing yourself :)

  4. I just found your blog and I'm so glad I did! Your writing is captivating and beautiful; I'd say more but I'm all atwitter to go read more. ;)

  5. Sent some love your way, Babe! Bask in your awesomeness!!

  6. Wonderful post...I believe we all have these bars that hold us back, but that is what draws us even closer to God. Only he loves the unloveable and makes us feel fully accepted. Your post was wonderfully written. I could see the picture you painted in my mind as I read. Thank you for sharing.

  7. You are quite a talented writer! I think it's wonderful that you are able to see the obstacle that's held you back for so long. Many people never get there and stay imprisoned for their entire lives.

    It only gets better from here.

    Blessings & Hugs,

    PS - thank you so much for stopping by my blog and leaving kind words behind. How could I not reply? I love making new friends. :O)