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Coming off that kind of emotional high, I was hit smack in the face, first thing Monday morning, with all kinds of human misery. The bruised, the terrified, the homeless, the helpless, the hapless, the psychologically broken. The usual Monday crowd, filling up our little waiting room with despair. Every cracked plastic chair occupied by a lost soul, many with babies or toddlers – or both – whining or sniffling or clinging, in as much confusion and fear as their mamas. Did it only seem worse that day compared to my own happiness?
How could I feel so good, how could things be suddenly so good for me when they were still so terribly bad for so many others, and in a way that I simply couldn’t fix?
I talked with Patty over lunch, a quick 20 minutes or so we grabbed in the dingy break room, ignoring the ever-present smell of burned popcorn. “Everyone has their own karma, Hani,” she reminded me. But my mind balked at that. Big time. Wasn’t I supposed to fix everything? For everyone? Wasn’t that what a decent human being did, or tried to do? Wasn’t that what I’d always believed?
I flailed around the next few weeks trying to find some kind of balance on that karmic scale, spending more and more of my time with Bob – he came and spent nights with me in my crappy apartment while I was working during the week. His work, his world, was flexible, fluid, portable. And our talk just naturally turned toward the future. He was full of ideas, and he was the kind of person to make even the most outlandish dreams into reality. He had that touch.
I can’t even say when the assumptions shifted from talking about what he wanted to do to what we were going to do, together. I guess that happens when you fall in love.
You hear all these cute stories about how guys proposed to their girlfriends, all these carefully staged scenes in romantic locales, complete with props and accomplices?
I wonder how many proposals are actually made in bed, in the middle of the night. Because that’s how Bob asked me to marry him.
I didn’t point it out, and it didn’t occur to him until later, that he hadn’t thought to offer me a ring. When he realized his oversight, he insisted on taking me to Tiffany’s on my next day off, ready to buy the place out. But then, we stood outside, looking in the windows, and suddenly we looked at each other with the same thought.
When we finally did go inside, the snooty saleswoman quickly lost interest in this couple who only wanted a pair of plain gold bands. Even when she noted the name on Bob’s credit card, looked up at his face – a face that had been on the cover of Forbes only a few months before, and a name beloved by the folks at the Wall Street Journal – I could see that she thought it was just an odd coincidence.
Whatever he’d budgeted for an engagement ring, I convinced him to use the balance instead on some new chairs and sofas for the waiting room at the Crisis Center. Maybe I was just trying to ease my guilt, but it sure spiffed the place up.
There was a poem I remembered reading months before. It was by Mary Oliver, a poet Patty had recommended to me, a poem called The Journey. It’s incredibly powerful. But don’t take my word for it; listen to the poet herself reading it. Then, if you’re agonizing over your own next move, find it in print and let it sink in.
And yeah, once I determined – as Mary Oliver said – to save the only life that really was mine to save, there wasn’t any good reason not to put those gold bands to good use right away.