It came as an email from the court-appointed custody study expert. I'm not going to share any of the details, or how I felt about them, except for this: that day was the bottom for me. I was beaten, exhausted, alone. I was a tired old man.
There have been times in my life when a defeat like this--or, as sometimes happened, a cascade of defeats--left me reeling for months, sinking into a state of misery from which I could not extricate myself. Both divorces were like that, especially the second, which triggered the end of my career in ministry. The night after I received the decision, I was wracked with insomnia. I think I finally got to sleep sometime between 5 and 6 in the morning, then had to be up at 7 to get to school. Teaching was therapeutic--I was still in my elementary job in Banks, and the kids were wonderful--but I had enough down time that I was able to formulate a recovery plan. I came to a decision point: yesterday was the bottom of the eighteen month decline that had begun with a broken engagement. From here on, there was nowhere to go but up.
Step one was to change my address. I had moved to Forest Grove the previous summer in hopes of enrolling my son at Banks High School in the fall--assuming my case went forward in the way my attorney assured me it would. Since that hadn't happened, I had no reason to be there anymore. The commute from Portland to Banks hadn't been that bad, my friends were in Portland, my nonprofessional life was in Portland, and being in Forest Grove was just an ongoing reminder of the campaign that failed. So I began looking for an apartment in Irvington, something within walking distance of the Peace House.
Step two, launched around the same time, was to get my personal life back in balance. I needed to date. So I took the same approach I'd taken since 1995: I posted a personal ad. I put it on Craigslist.
There were other steps I took, digging back into the outdoor workouts that had been so important to me during previous recoveries, seeing a counselor who was well acquainted with this situation, and, once I had moved, becoming more involved in the Metanoia Peace Community. And things began turning around. There were some complications, but I was building a new life for myself, an empty nest life that promised to be a great new chapter.
And it was working. When Banks lowered the boom, right after spring break, and informed me I was likely to be laid off in a budget cut, it didn't phase me. I was seeing Amy now, finding in her qualities I'd been seeking in a partner for most of my adult life. There was a synergy between us, a mutual enthusiasm that pushed us to try things together we'd always dreamed of doing, but never could for lack of a similarly minded companion.
The best thing Amy brought to my life--apart from her wonderful self--was the philosophy of "Yes and..." It's the credo of improv: take whatever your partner offers, accept it, and build on it. It took me until recently to verbalize it, but I'm certain this is what really turned my life around, and helped me transcend all the losses I experienced that year. It's how I stopped being an old man, and faced life like a 25-year-old--something I never managed to do when I was actually in my 20s. There was so little to tie me down, and now with a life partner who was also turning her life into an adventure, a time to try all the things she'd denied herself earlier in life, I could finally embrace all the offers the world was making to me.
Hiking every trail in the Columbia River Gorge? Yes and! Climbing the South Sister? Yes and! Joining a jazz band? Joining a garage band? Improvising at ComedySportz? Backpacking? Bicycling? Snowshoeing? Skiing? Exploring New York City? Forming a comedy cabaret act? Learning to appreciate craft beers? Yes! Yes! Yes! Aaaaannnnd....
My world has changed so much in the last four years. Metanoia is gone. Thanks to band directing, ComedySportz, private teaching, and playing for the Parkrose UCC, I am a full-time working musician. I am in the best physical shape of my entire life--and that includes my days as a marathoner. I'm writing every day. Life is good, better than I've ever known it to be, and while I am a genuine old person, with an AARP membership (lapsed), a grey beard, a significantly receding hairline, and adult children, I have never felt younger. Put some of it down to laughter, and the company I've been keeping:
Most of the credit, though, belongs with the decision I made to live, and live well, and the woman I found to live with who had herself just made the same decision. The decision to do that together took time--we'd both been hurt enough times by enough people to guard our feelings--but when it came, when it burst forth one night as we declared our love for each other, we didn't just say "Yes."
We said "Yes and..."