Left Behind

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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She was one of several people who came up after I’d read some fiction at a small college in Ontario, Canada. She was tall and thin and had the unmistakable allure of affluence. She waited in the short line that formed until everyone else was finished. For the most part, it was, by that time, just the two of us.

“I need to tell you my story,” she said, passionately. I smiled politely. Such things had happened before after readings.

“My husband left me,” she said, and then began to tell me a story I don’t have to repeat because it’s become, sadly enough, cliché. She was sixty years old, I’d guess, and her husband, she said, had found some trophy wife somewhere; someone whose youth would undoubtedly make him feel younger too.

The words that spilled somewhat too carelessly from her heart made it clear that the anger she’d carried since his leaving was still roiling in her soul. “Anything having to do with our family is a royal mess,” she said. “Marriages, birthdays—it’s impossible to avoid the awkwardness.” She didn’t cry, I remember. She was too resentful.

“And the church,” she said, her finger pointing. “He walks in there as if he did nothing wrong—can you imagine?” He was an officer now, an elder in the congregation he attended, she told me, someone with far too much stature, given the way he’d walked away from her and his wedding vows.

Later, when I told a friend of mine what happened, he said he knew the story all too well. It wasn’t fiction. She’d been tossed like a rag doll when her husband found a sweetheart. A millionaire many times over, he was relatively unscathed. Most churches would just as soon not lose their millionaires.

She was a victim, and she had every right to be deeply hurt and viciously angry.

But all of that had happened, my friend said, more than ten years ago, and, sadly enough, I wasn’t the first visitor who’d been held hostage to her story.

What I can’t forget about her isn’t the story she told me—that one, as I said, is tragically old ground. What I remember is the prison that story created in her soul.

Hate and love are startlingly strange kissin’ cousins, but they live and breathe very similarly. Both states of minds require every last inch of our emotional capital. You can’t hate or love halfway; if you do, it’s neither.

Pitiless as it seems to say it, what that woman-left-behind had to do is go on. She could not continue to live in the darkness of her hate and grief. She had to have a new reason to find tomorrow worth reaching.

Anger, like simple negativity, offers perverse pleasures. We locate identities in our tragedies. We can actually enjoy seeing the world darkly. Like Chicken Little, especially as we age, we rather enjoy believing the sky is falling.

But the negative space afforded to us by our sadness, our anger, or our hate is always a prison.

I wonder who’s listening now to the truly painful tale of woe that rich woman is still probably telling.