Last month at brunch, a new-to-me acquaintance noticed the various birdsounds that we could all hear on such a quiet Saturday morning. I learned what a woodpecker sounds like! Later on, in the middle of a conversation, he leaned his head to one side, keen to identify another bird we'd just heard.
"Is birdwatching a hobby of yours?" someone asked.
"Not really," he replied, "or, not by choice: my ex wife was a zoologist, so I picked up a few things from her."
I don't know anything about this person's story -- how long he'd been married or divorced, nor the circumstances around either. But as I thought about what he'd said, it dawned on me just how much our significant others -- whether they be boyfriends or girlfriends, partners, spouses, or exes -- leave indelible marks on us. Indeed, they inject a part of themselves onto (or even into) us -- permanently, whether we know it or not; whether we like it or not. The person I met at brunch will probably always listen to a bird's chirping, and whether he can identify it or not, he'll listen, on account of someone who was a very important part of his life, even though she isn't any more. Amidst the sadness, or anger -- or whatever, like I said, I don't know his story -- of the situation, it was clear that there can also emerge something beautiful. A significant other's touch on one's life doesn't simply end at the breakup.
So it's okay to remember not just specific incidents or trips and occasions but also the mannerisms and phrases and other points of fact that were created in my relationship with DC. For my part, I know that among other things, certain news topics will prick my ears more than they would have before I knew him. As my running improves I'll remember that he's a runner, and how he got me out with him a couple times, and now I finally understand a bit better why he enjoys it (though I don't stray as far as to put the two together in a "what if" scenario). Of course, I hope that as he remembers us, he'll be okay holding on to some of the things he learned from me, or that we discovered together, or that we simply made up and laughed at between ourselves -- but if he doesn't, that's okay. No, I won't obsess or imagine -- I stopped doing that long ago! -- but the big takeaway is that I don't have to stomp out or feel bad about memories like I thought I had to or was supposed to.
That revelation stayed tucked in a shallow recess of my heart for nearly two months; I was reminded of it again when I went through my Post Secret ritual last week, during which I came across a secret that touched me for both dumb and profound reasons. It read: "Our relationship left me listening to country music and believing in God. You changed me. Thank you." It resonated with me for obvious reasons, but particularly because for a nanosecond I hoped that it might be DC's secret (not gonna lie), whether published or not. But -- and more importantly -- this secret reminded me that it's okay to have changed or been changed by someone in a way I might not have imagined or expected. And also because it brought me beyond forgiveness.
A lot of people (and books, and blogs) say that forgiveness is the point where you're no longer wishing that person ill but where you truly want their happiness. Admittedly, it's a big jump to make, especially if feelings of anger and betrayal have been engendered by the breakup. In my case, there was anger and confusion and fear and pain -- many of which were first-time feelings -- and, however briefly, I did harbor ill will towards DC. Then there was the hurdle of my own ego: to realize that I was not the best thing that ever happened to DC hurt my pride more than my heart. When I allowed myself to dwell on the injury to my pride it dragged my heart into the fray, which in turn led me down the path of regretful reminisces. Learning to love myself and protect my heart meant admitting out loud that DC wasn't the best for me, either. This was scary because our relationship was so good in so many ways; it also challenged my faith to trust that God was preparing me for a better, future person. Though it wasn't exactly a straight shot, I made the leap to forgiveness sooner rather than later (according to trusted friends, who, unlike me, had been there before). It was faster, cleaner, easier for me because my heart of hearts had always wanted -- and still wants -- the very best for DC.
But there's another leap: from forgiveness to gratitude. For all the breakup cliches I've heard, I like the one that says you should leave a person a little better than you found them. DC did that for me, and I'm certain I did that for him. For me, gratitude is that place where I can thank DC for having been a part of my life. I am well favored and blessed that that relationship was such a good one. I can leave it saying not only, "Good-bye and God-bless," but "Thank you." Which is pretty huge. And though it took me a while to get here, and I'm not sure if I'm entirely "there," I at least know that I'm on the way towards a future relationship that will be much, much better than I can imagine.
There's lots back there, in just the past few years. A lot of it's good. A lot of it's bad. I'm okay with both. I'm okay with glancing back now and then, knowing both are there and a part of me. So I let myself glance. But I don't go back there, I don't live back there. I live here. Now. I look forward to tomorrow. And it doesn't have to be a secret.