Heart of the Play

In the play of our life our heart is mostly hidden, but it’s the most vulnerable actor on the stage.  We’re smart to protect our hearts.  Why should we risk getting it hurt?  Sometimes though we have to reveal what’s in our heart from time to time.  Most often to receive the relief it brings to finally unburden ourselves.

In Judaism and Christianity the word “heart” represents the core of a person.  We expose who we are when we open our heart to someone.  Can we trust that other person with our heart?  They might be appealing, attractive or charismatic enough to persuade us to.  We can be right about them or we can be wrong about them.

We tend to pick the wrong people to trust when we’re young.  We’re hungry for love and friendships but very unwise.  You get older you learn who you can trust.  It takes experience before you can find those people.

In the play, The Time of Your Life, by William Saroyan, the main character, Joe, is open-hearted to an unbelievable degree; also quick-tempered.  He’s wise and tough, generous and hard to figure out.  In the first scene Joe looks for best friend Tom, but doesn’t see him.  Tension builds, then Tom suddenly walks through the door.

Joe tells Tom sternly, “I want you to be around when I need you.”

“I won’t do it again,” Tom says.  Joe saved his life once and he owed Joe, not forever, but at that point in the time of his life.

At one point in my life I turned my life over to God.  When you hear someone say, “I gave my life to God,” it comes across as a cliche.  If somebody you know suggests that you “Give your life to God,” you might shrug, mumble, “Sure, sure,” and just forget it the next moment.  It may not make much impression on you then.

One thing about Jesus that really sticks when you read the New Testament is that he grabbed people’s attention with the sincerity from his heart, and I’ve always found these words of Jesus to be especially powerful:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30


That’s bold by anyone’s standards.  Yet you can feel his heart in his pleading tone!  He had to know he wasn’t only speaking to those assembled.  He had to know he was speaking to you and me and everyone else.  Historical persons like Jesus know they have the world’s attention, not just for their place and time.  Jesus surely knew his words would reach us today, right here and right now.

I can vouch for Jesus that he’s trustworthy, that he has my back and yours.  But I guess it’s up to you what you do with that.  Please let me know, because I am interested.  May God’s Mercy follow you along your path in all the times of your life!


Thankful for Family

“We can be thankful for those we’ve loved, near and far, past and present, who’ve loved us back; thankful for family, whether through blood, choice or happenstance.” *

Mercy is the goodness of God, his free act of choosing us to receive his graces, leading us to His Rest, where we will find peace eternal.

I realize that any correct understanding of life comes from my Father and Creator, that any true wisdom always comes from Him.

What does the so-called wisdom of the world teach us?  It says, “Find your own way and you will be happy.”  Upon closer inspection, however, that advice will lead us to unhappiness.  True wisdom whispers, “Find your true way by stepping carefully, for there are many traps to step over before peace and freedom are found.”

Thank you, Father, for all I know or will know by Your Grace.  I accept fully that there are mysteries about this life I cannot understand.  I accept that there are things beyond the reach of my human intelligence.  This is ordained by Your Wisdom.

* Quoted from the Curtis cartoon strip, written and drawn by Ray Billingsley, published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


Blade Runner, Meet Maria Faustina of Divine Mercy

I have two marvelous books to share with you.  The first is Philip K. Dick and Philosophy: Do Androids Have Kindred Spirits?  If you have visited this blog much, you know I love absurd humor, theology and philosophy.  Let me quote from the other book, by a woman who wrote only one, but a great one, nonetheless.  What she lacks in absurd humor, she makes up for in mystical revelations.  Her book is a diary called Divine Mercy in my Soul.

“Only love has meaning,” wrote this author, Maria Faustina Kowalska.  “It raises up our smallest actions into infinity.”  Let’s follow this logically: if her statement is true then love becomes the sine qua non, absolutely indispensable and essential for our lives to have meaning.  Maria’s diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, was written for the sole purpose of introducing the world to the ocean of mercy that is open everyone who needs a miracle.  And who doesn’t need a miracle?  Can you think of anyone you know who may need one?

Her diary contains revelations. But wait, you may be philosophically skeptical.  Good!  It’s not philosophy, it’s hope in diary form.  Philosophy is a wonderful discipline, but it may not be what you need now.  You will not be disappointed spending a little time looking through it.

Phillip K. Dick is also a writer who does not disappoint.  He is the late great master of the philosophical sci-fi novel.  He penned the original story that the movie, “Blade Runner (1982)” is based on: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  

“Blade Runner 2049 (2017),” the sequel, starts with the character K (Ryan Gosling), who moves the plot forward.  We learn that K is a blade runner, an officer who hunts and removes other rogue androids, called replicants.  In the course of his investigation K learns he might be human.  To discover the truth about himself becomes K’s burning quest, and ours.

K’s quest for meaning is also his quest for love.  For K, if a human, he could know love, give love, receive love.  His life then, through love, would be given meaning, as Maria Faustina reveals only love has the power to do.  Maria Faustina Kowalska and Phillip K. Dick cross paths here on this ground of truth.

K is ordered by his superior to find Richard Deckard (Harrison Ford) the hero of “Blade Runner.” Although Deckard is played by Ford as a crotchety hermit, love takes over his story also.  In the end, he finds his meaning when he begins his quest for someone he loves after K enters his life.  In his own earnest seeking K lights the way for another soul.

Maria Faustina, as a result of her visions, was compelled by Divine Mercy and Divine Love to write her book for nothing less than to shift the destiny of mankind toward eternity, infinity and our reason for being.  Mercy is the quality of the Supreme Being, God.  He is the original Giver of monumentally enormous generosity.  Mercy is the greatest thing about God for us to understand, before anything else, she proclaims.

Maria, a simple, cloistered nun, was asked to proclaim to us the greatest attribute of God, which is His mercy, and to reveal that every good thing we experience is a sign of His mercy.  All we have to do is to open the chest containing this everlasting treasure. 

Thanks for visiting this space and please come again soon.





by Ron Houssaye, LMFT, SASA, licensed psychotherapist

No matter how devoted, few of our parents were able to respond perfectly to all of our needs. We all had some parts of our childhood that were tough, even perilous. Every child experiences a “primitive anxiety” that the world is not a safe place.

There’s a group that was created for adults with emotional scars from childhood, and those who are recovering attest that their scars are healing.  The group is Adult Children of Alcoholics.  I was a member for nine years and I can tell you that during those years I uncovered my own wounds, many of which are healed.

I no longer worry too much about what people think of me.  I no longer spend my weekends feeling I must go out and party to feel accepted.  Instead, I can stay in and read a good book, or go out to dinner with someone, then come home to my nest.  It’s because I now feel secure inside, so the outside doesn’t matter as much.  In short, I no longer fester in the wounds of my childhood.

As a therapist, I know that people enter relationships with the expectation that their partners will magically restore to them a feeling of wholeness.  For those of my readers who may be in that category, I recommend this book: Getting the Love You Want, by Dr. Harville Hendrix.  He explains The Imago, which is the psychic image inside each of us that leads us to our “perfect partner,” although that unconscious mental picture is merely a composite of the positive and negative characteristics of our parents.

Once in the relationship, when we are beyond the romance stage of about six months, the chickens come home to roost, so to speak, and we must confront the reality that our partner is flawed in many ways we did not see before.

Then often begins the call for healing inside both people in the relationship.  If they seek help and don’t blame each other for the psychic aches inside them they can make it.

So don’t give up when you realize your parents weren’t perfect.  None of ours were, that’s for sure.

The Confessions of an Anxious People-Pleaser

It’s hard to resist people-pleasing.  People pleasing brings rewards, perks, even material advantages sometimes.  I’m a people-pleaser and I’m going to be completely transparent.  Take a glance at that photo of me below.  I look like a people-pleaser, don’t I?  I know I do.  Look at that smile and you can tell right off.

May I take a stab at defining this?  People-pleasing is acting in specifically contrived ways so that others will like or approve of you.  You may relate to this or you may not, or you may know someone who people-pleases.  Maybe you are a reformed pleaser and escaped it somehow.  If so, good for you.

I am “in recovery” from people-pleasing.

I used to believe that my life was about becoming what others wanted me to be.  I craved acceptance at any cost.  I tried so hard to make you like me.  Today, if I sense someone doesn’t like me, do I obsess about it?  I wish I could say I didn’t.

I still do obsess, but I’ve stop obsessing as much.  I mean I don’t obsess about it as long.  I used to obsess days and days, even sometimes weeks and weeks when I sensed someone didn’t like what I did, or didn’t do, or didn’t like what I said, or didn’t say.  Now, thanks to a wonderful therapist, I only obsess hours and hours about it.  Okay, I am not fully cured of people pleasing.

I’m in partial remission, which means I’m in a training-wheels stage.  I don’t call my therapist between sessions to talk about the last session “in more detail.”  So I’ve made progress, which is good, because that drives therapists crazy, believe me.

Do my insides match my outsides now?  Not really.  I’m calm on the outside but nervous on the inside most of the time.

I’ve come a long though.  I used to believe the entire purpose of my life was to become the best replica of the person you wanted me to be.  Not true anymore.

My anxiety about whether you like me or not is still the same as it was, truth be told.  Sometimes it goes through the roof because now I refuse to pretend who I imagine the other person wants me to be.

Today it matters very much to just be who I am.  Writing helps me do that.  Who has the time time to play around with projecting images to others?  Let me know if you have any thoughts on this issue of people-pleasing.

“Why can’t I please them all the time? What’s wrong with me?”







The Boy Who Found Peace

Before we were born, God sent each of us a love letter.  He sent the letters to very private mailboxes deep in our hearts.  This is about how one boy discovered his letter from God.

Connor Kravitz had large brown eyes, which glistened like two small moons, as if searching for some magical country he believed existed somewhere.  Except for that, Connor was like any boy of twelve.  Yet he lacked one quality–connection. For some reason he was disconnected.  He felt alone in the world, cut off.  And he didn’t know why or how that had happened.

It was a mystery Connor very much wanted to solve.

Other children had a native buoyancy and cheerfulness.  He could see that quality in others at school.  It was an energy inside them which seemed to lift them up. He didn’t think he had that.

Connor was even different with respect to his family.  He lived with his parents and his older sister, Julia, in a state of anxious isolation.  It was a local joke that Connor walked around in a peculiar manner: that he floated ten feet off the ground, .

“That boy’s a real space cadet,” Dick Carter, a local store manager, would say.

His parents were just too busy arguing with each other most of the time to notice much about their son.  After school Connor just wandered about like a ghost.

All the sensations in the world were not enough to make Connor happy.  Nor did he have any peace within.  Sadly, he was hollow, and what he truly needed was peace inside, a peace that was personal and his own.

On Sundays the Kravitz family went to church, where Connor and Julia learned about Jesus.  Connor was curious about the Nazarene and wanted to know more.

Yet another problem Connor had was that he couldn’t seem to genuflect.  You were supposed to bend your right knee, but Connor always went down on his left knee.  He would order his right knee, “Go down, go down!”  but always the left one went down instead of the right one.  His teachers thought it was very odd and sort of funny.  It caused a few to snicker and Connor heard the snickering one time, but he tried to ignore it.

Connor remembered hearing that Jesus promised peace to the world someday, when he returned, because Jesus was the mighty “Prince of Peace.”  Jesus would then give each one a personal peace, special to each of person.  Connor sensed he had something in common with Jesus, which was that they were both odd, different, both set apart from the crowd.

Connor definitely wanted to know more about Christ, but he yearned for more than what his teachers were teaching him in catechism.  Connor was different in this also, that while other boys and girls were focused on having crushes, going to parties, playing sports, getting good grades or being rich someday, Connor didn’t care about any of those things.

Perhaps that was why he seemed to float “ten feet off the ground,” as Dick the storekeeper would joke.

Though Connor was an altar boy, it wasn’t enough for him, so he began to spend time in the Eucharist Chapel, where Jesus waited, in the form of a white host, contained in golden monstrance, inviting everyone to come and spend a holy hour with him.  His teachers encouraged Connor to make these holy hours a part of his life.  His parents didn’t mind, but Julia could not figure out what the point was.

Connor felt the Eucharist chapel was a very special place.  After about ten to twenty minutes sitting there he started to feel something wonderful.  It was a soft, lilting feeling.  He felt lifted up, but not physically.  It was entirely spiritual.

One day Connor was about to leave the chapel when the holy hour was up.  He heard a voice inside him say, “Stay with me awhile longer.”  He had the thought, “It must be Jesus speaking to me.”  It didn’t take him very long to realize and believe that it was Jesus speaking inside his heart.

Jesus had a soft, sweet voice, a low voice, a humble voice.  It wasn’t imperial, demanding or full of pomp.  Nor was it regal.  It was simply a very human voice.

“Stay with me awhile longer, Connor,” the voice repeated.

So Connor stayed in the chapel with Jesus for another twenty minutes.  He consciously gave the time away to Jesus, who protected him from his depression, his loneliness and his anxious isolation.  Connor finally knew a happy peace inside, which Jesus gave him.  Connor felt very gratified to have been given so special a gift.

Connor came to see, over time, that His Divine Friend was bigger than any problem he had, bigger than his loneliness and isolation, than his parents’ torturous marital problems, than his grandmother’s sulking sadness.  These personal problems were secret, mostly.  No one in the community was smart enough to even suspect that those forces had silently oppressed Connor and had nearly suffocated his spirit.  However, Jesus knew.  Gentle Jesus had always known.

In fact, Connor knew that Jesus was even bigger than all the hatred and violence and alienation in the world, and in so many people, too.  Therefore, Connor prayed for all of them that they would discover real personal peace from Jesus, as he had.

Next and best of all was the private heart of love Jesus had begun to create inside of Connor, along with his personal peace.  Eventually, Connor’s childhood ended, as it does for all of us, and he became a man. Yet, he never forgot the core of this amazing experience as a child.

My Canadian Vacation

From “Oh Canada Eh!” dinner show, Niagra Falls, Ontario

I know I risk putting my readers to sleep writing about my vacation.  Please, should I bore you, write and let me know.  I will come to your home and personally apologize.  Or, since the demands of my counseling practice may prevent such a visit, I will send you an apology via email instead.

Let me begin with “Oh Canada Eh!” It is Canada’s longest running dinner musical and it is squeaky clean.  It’s a high-energy show, too, featuring over 70 songs, with colorful characters from Canadian Legend, most memorably a stalwart, virtuous mountie, a frontiersman, along with wholesome fair damsels and frisky barmaids.

Here’s the truly amazing part of our experience.  Both myself and my lovely wife each suddenly became part of the show!

I was invited up when one golden-haired maiden walked from her place on stage into the audience, right up to our table and, smiling, she faced me.  She wanted me to waltz with her, as the music began to swell.  I had a choice: freeze, and thereby chicken out, or stand up and accept her invitation.  Thankfully, I managed to call up the guts to accept.  I stood to my feet and we began to waltz.  I was so glad for those ballroom dancing classes I had taken, over fifteen years before.

Arleen, my extremely understanding wife, didn’t grimace with ill humor, as some wives would have.  Perhaps she was as stunned as I.  But how could I resist such an offer, to be a ham actor one more time?

It had been several years since I was on a theatrical stage.  Specifically, it was the winter of 2011.  I was cast in a play called “Someone to Watch Over Me,” in which I played an Oxford Professor of Old English Studies, who was kidnapped off the streets of Lebanon, then chained and thrown into prison.  Needless to say, I didn’t resist this opportunity.  I ordered the ham, which was me.

It was only for less than a minute that we danced under the soft spotlight.  I then sat down and heard the people applauding us.  Just think if I had ordered chicken instead of ham!

Several minutes passed.  From the stage a mountie strode down from his place and faced Arleen, just as the maid had done to me.  He took her hand.  He then sang to her in a manly baritone voice, swept her off of her feet, then returned to his fantasy life onstage.  We knew this wonderful cast had concocted this turn of events: nor would it have been right if Arleen had not been given her moment in the spotlight.

Only one of our Canadian vacation experiences was more memorable.  It was the special time we had with our Canadian friends, Carol and Wayne, whom we had met on a Princess Cruise some years before.  Were were with them for two full days.  They graciously gave us a personal tour of Toronto, taking us first to High Park and then to Toronto Islands, a chain of islands just a ferry ride away from the mainland.  It was windy but pleasant the day we visited.  Just talking intimately with our friends, on a wood table at the Toronto Islands, was the best my memories hold of that trip.

Now let me briefly share with you the excitement of the Hornblower boat ride, which took us and fifty other people right up to the edge of Niagra Falls itself.  I ventured with my Samsung Galaxy S8 camera to “the edge of doom” and I survived, not really risking life and limb to capture the rush and surge of the falls close up on my device.  It was a very sturdy craft, to be sure, and staffed with a fine crew of mates, both women and men.

So what did Canadians think of America at the time we were there in the summer of 2018?  Not anything different than what they’d always thought—we  were their “good neighbors,” tariffs or no tariffs.  Our friends had to admit they were scratching their heads about what was coming out of Washington at that time, but we avoided politics as much as possible.

I loved what I’d read that the Canadian actor, Ryan Gosling, said about American-Canadian relations: “Americans are starting to notice that there is a place called Canada, that we’re not just America’s hat.”  Ryan was hard-pressed to explain to the interviewer why he was the current mega-heartthrob, considered by many American women as “the perfect boyfriend.” It remains something less than a deep mystery.

So ends my first vacation tale.  Perhaps we will visit Europe again soon and I’ll write about that.  For now, please let me know what did not bore you about this post.  I would love to hear from you.







Having Compassion for Oneself

Self-compassion is giving yourself kindness, empathy, understanding and forgiveness.  Psychologist Kristen Neff has touched many with her research on self-compassion.  After learning of her work, I was moved to feature self-compassion on this blog.  I hope you find what follows encouraging for you, or for someone you know who needs it.

Imagine an elderly woman walking along any street in America.  You can’t see her face because her head is bowed over a can of cold beans.  The beans are her meal today.  You may feel her need.  You may imagine the tiny room she lives in, the crummy neighborhood, the crime there, and the danger she lives with, day in and day out.  Perhaps you feel for her.

Now think of the need you have inside.  You know it’s there, but you may not have really looked at it before.  Does it have a name?  You may have expected others in your life to meet your need.  They may have failed you.  They may have ignored or neglected you, or forgotten you.

But you did not deserve to be ignored.  Yet, that may have happened.

What have you always needed?  What is it you need right now?  It may be to feel secure inside, to like yourself, to have good friends, to have a more comfortable life, a better job, or to feel you belong, to feel you are worthy of love, to feel you fit in, or to have some of the good things life has to offer, for you and for your children and family.

Or, you may have stopped caring, or almost stopped caring.

Right now try to talk to yourself with kindness.  You can do this silently or out loud.  Tell yourself that you are worth it, worth being loved and cared for–respected, even honored.  If the dear lady in the photo is worth it, my friend, so are you.


(No copyright infringement of this photo is intended.)


Addiction’s Ripple Effect on Family Members

Yes, Mercy for Our Families main mission is supporting family members affected by addiction in the family. I come from such a family, so I’ve been there. My Dad was an alcoholic in recovery. My family suffered as yours may suffer, in all the ways we can suffer. And the addiction that you suffer from can be anything.

Addiction is defined as “any related, compulsive behavior which interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones and one’s work environment.”

You can be addicted to a drug, a liquid or an activity, like video games or other games. Or it could be social media, your cell phone, spending, gambling, sex and romance or something else. The board is open.

Yes, the board is open. Here I’m talking about intense games, such as chess. You can be addicted to that “royal game,” which I “played” for over thirty years. Before I quit it had become an obsession, which centered, like all addictions, in the brain.

You can easily spot someone who is addiction if you know what to look for. Look for the following:

Loss of control
Continued use despite serious negative consequences
Obsessed thinking about the substance or activity

Addictions reveal themselves when the victims of them try to hide what are impossible to hide, which are obsessive-compulsive behaviors, such as:

Staying up all night occupied with the addiction
Doing it multiple times during the day or night
It’s the main thing they enjoy doing, far beyond others
Person is unable to limit how much time they give to it

If you are a family member of a person with an addiction, you may have once thought there was nothing wrong, then suddenly or gradually you realize there is something very wrong with your loved one. You then became stressed and obsessed with their behavior. That is what we call “the family disease of addiction.”

If you see signs of this in yourself, don’t hesitate to get help. Once you get that help, you will be in a better position to help your addicted loved one.

Mercy is God’s Gift to all who are in trouble. Seek out someone who can help you. Pray about it, even if you’re new at praying. That person sent to help you will appear. He or she might be your pastor, a therapist or someone you meet in the grocery line. Grace and Mercy will find you.

Please note: quoted passages from this blogpost are by Chris Tuell, Ed.D., Clinical Director of Addiction Services, Linder Center of Hope, Dept. of Psychiatry of the University of Cincinnati.

The Relationship Triangle


“And from the midst of cheerless gloom
I passed to bright unclouded day.”
Emily Brontë

The three people in this relationship triangle live in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, population 11,000.  A relationship triangle is an unbalanced, three-pronged state of confusion.  This one began when Olivia Gardner and Colin Fenwick found themselves uneasily in love.  When partners are unstable, a third point person is often unconsciously created to stabilize them.  Perry, Colin’s mentor and Olivia’s big brother, became that third point for these two.  Perry Gardner, 36, is a biology professor.  He was running along Lake Michigan this morning, not happy with Colin at all for breaking up with his kid sister.  Colin sent Olivia an email message that read: Olivia, I’m sorry, we can’t be together anymore. But I hope we can still be friends.

Perry knew about the complications of a triangle, when two people pull in a third person to reduce their anxieties.  Points one and two aren’t fully aware, but sense their need for a point three, who was Perry in this case.  It was a responsibility he consented to, for an undetermined brief period, to help them; but not indefinitely, because it’s a no-win situation being a point three.

It was Christmastime when I met Olivia and Colin, at a party.  Olivia struck me as a little self-centered.  After some study I pegged Colin for an anxious introvert.  Perry is bright but not self centered; composed and thoughtful, but not anxious.  He teaches biology at Marquette, the Catholic university in Milwaukee.  When they started dating he worried about their compatibility.  Eighteen months later, Colin abruptly broke up with her, without any warning.  On the surface everything looked fine.  He got into this triangle almost worse than a lamb to the slaughter, but he was released from it quickly.

Perry fumed as he ran, glancing at the surf hitting the shore.  You don’t break up with someone with an email—not okay. Olivia agreed with her brother about it.  Olivia was a grad student in clinical psychology and picked up on the triangle, of course.  She was at home, stunned and angry, with her cat, Sneakers.  He was black and had little white feet, like sneakers.

Poor Perry, she thought.  Poor me didn’t even enter her mind.   Perry’s brotherly bias was, Olivia deserves better.  What’s wrong with Colin, anyway?  Sneakers sensed something was not right with Olivia, which moved him to curl himself around her ankles.

Olivia had the traditional and pure kind of charm of a Dolores Hart or a Dina Shore.  She was beautiful, brilliant, kind-hearted and understanding.  Olivia’s personal ethics were Humanist.  She didn’t identify with a church or subscribe to any religious tradition, nor did Perry, their liberal parents, their aunts, uncles or cousins.

Colin was indeed a religious person, and a poet, and a student of Philosophy (favorite philosopher Socrates).  He had once thought seriously about entering the seminary and distinctly possessed a talent for composing religious poetry.  He admired and respected Bishop Fulton Sheen, was a fan of Martin Sheen, the Catholic actor, who took the good bishop’s name to honor him.  That’s one thing Colin admired about Martin Sheen.  He liked his acting, too.

What Perry wanted to know was why Colin’s theological stance had to stop them from moving to the next stage in their relationship?  Although reluctant about it in the beginning, he had become comfortable with it despite the oddness of it.  Perhaps their breakup didn’t have to happen, he thought. Maybe it was caused by Colin’s stubbornness.  He didn’t know what to think at this point. Besides being a published poet, Colin worked as an English tutor at the university.

At the very moment Perry was running and thinking, Colin was studying a poem he greatly admired, “The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo.”  He scanned the poem’s opening lines:

How to keep—is there any, any, is there none such,

nowhere known some bow or brooch or braid or brace,

lace, latch or catch or key to keep beauty, keep it,

                            beauty, beauty, beauty from vanishing away?


Here sat the unlikely villain, at a table near a window looking onto the quiet street, reading a poem penned by a Catholic literary figure. He reflected as he did about Olivia’s rare and almost vanished kind of beauty.  Her beauty it reminded him of was the beauty of his love, more pure, more spiritual, than any he had known.  That was his love for Olivia.

As Hopkin’s poem made clear, she and her beauty would eventually pass from this world, and nothing could stop that.

Perry reviewed his memory of Colin becoming infatuated with his sister.  Colin basically had divorced his literary studies to get to know Olivia.  The two had been enjoying a mutually respectful, affectionate, non-sexual relationship, which had been growing deeper for a year and a half.

Colin had a dark side—not evil dark, but as someone who must rise from a resistant inner cataclysm, known only to him.  Outwardly he was “a nice, sensitive guy,” we all knew that.  Inwardly he was deeply melancholic.  Depression ran on both sides of his family, which was no wonder to an experienced observer: his parents’ marriage ended in a bitter divorce when he was twelve.  It had been decimated by their religious differences.  His mother also suffered from depression.  Before her suicide, she had been a strong Christian, or had tried to be, but with many crises of faith along the way.  His father embraced a popular brand of science-justified secular humanism.

Perry was determined to know what provoked Colin to abandon the bond with Olivia.

Colin and Perry agreed to meet that morning at The Odd Collections Coffeehouse.  Colin was early and continuing the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, scanning the line: just finishing the Hopkins poem at a table near a corner window.  He read these lines that responded to the former lines:

No there’s none, there’s none, O no there’s none …

Meaning there is nothing that can keep beauty, ever on this earth, from disappearing.  Reading it as intently as he was reinforced his melancholia a very great deal.  Not easy at all to cope with.

Perry had thirty minutes before he taught his first class of the day.  He finally arrived, found Collin’s table and sat down.  He just stared at him as he read the lines quoted above.

Perry let the exasperation he was feeling show now.  “I don’t understand you, Colin.”

“Hello, Perry.  I’m sorry.  I don’t understand either, but I accept what’s hardest to accept,” Colin replied.

“Don’t mistake fear for courage,” Perry said coolly.  As he spoke his anger surfaced.  “Olivia called me and I couldn’t believe my ears!  You told me you loved her, man!  Now you drop this bomb on her!!”

Looking grave, sad and remorseful, Colin sighed, cleared his through and looked away.  Finally, he looked back at Perry and said, “Yes, I had to end it because I knew it wasn’t meant to be.”

“Without consulting Olivia?  How do you think she feels?  Did you think about that?”

He grew very sad.  “I don’t know but she can’t feel worse than I do.”  He hated to have hurt two people he cared about so much, at the same time, by the same action.  He had once hoped for something special to grow between them.  They just turned out to be too different.

Perry inserted a reflective pause.  “What do you want from life, Colin?  You must want something from life.”

“I used to think that way, Perry, but not anymore, because this world is full of vanities and false hopes.  Wanting something out of it is just asking for sorrow.  In the end, whatever it is we find, it doesn’t satisfy.  I’ve accepted it.”

“I think your standards are way too high, and your expectations way too low.

“Maybe, maybe not.”  He pointed up at the ceiling, through the skylight.  “You see those clouds above us, drifting by?”

“What about them?” asked Perry, looking up.

“There’s more than just clouds up there.”

“Perry was impatient with the direction of this discussion.  Can we get back to you and Olivia?

“I’m saying that time is passing, just like those clouds.  Moments evaporate in succession, one after another.  They have since the beginning of time, and one day it will all come to an end and time will be up, literally.

“Perry couldn’t tell whether his friend was depressed or just in a very dark, ghastly mood.  He was really worried about him.

“After time comes eternity.”

Perry was losing his patience by the second, but he controlled it.  Perry had a lot of self-control and managed his feelings and impulses pretty well.  “Is there a small chance that you’re taking your religious beliefs too seriously?”

“My concern is that people in general don’t take human destiny and the Four Last Things seriously enough.  I’m talking about Death, Heaven, Judgment and Hell.  I don’t expect you to agree with me.

Perry didn’t take a position on eternity or whether there was or wasn’t an afterlife.  He didn’t care to reflect on it.  He had a full day in front of him, and anyway there just wasn’t time.

“I want to talk about you and Olivia, Colin, not eternity.”

“Don’t you get it, Perry?  I haven’t stopped loving Olivia.”

“You have a strange way of showing it.”

“When you love somebody, you warn them when they are going to make a big mistake—I was her big mistake and she would have been mine.  It’s that simple.

“Right, simple.  And so I assume that the mistakes you both were to each other had something to do with your philosophical differences about time, eternity, judgment, hell and whatever else, right?

“Correct.  Perry, you really should spend more time thinking about these major existential concerns.  Time is just a construct, a grace, if you will, so we can choose where we stand in the next life.  In this life we choose our eternity for the next life.  It’s a such vitally important concern in my mind and I really don’t know of a bigger one.

 “Well, I think it’s better to live for today. 

“We are at an impasse but I respect your opinion.

Perry now had a very hard time controlling his frustration.  How impudent!  How stupidly poetical!  But he controlled himself, somehow.

“Good, well done, I’m glad.  So why can’t you put philosophy and theology aside for just once, kid!?  I don’t understand why you can’t when so many others can.  And I frankly can’t understand why you both can’t resolve this thing and somehow keep going.

“I think we can be good friends eventually, I do think that’s possible.  But whether friends or not, eternity is where we’re all headed.   Okay, now you tell me what you believe, Perry.  Let’s hear what you believe.

“My belief is that everything–matter, energy, cell life to human life, known or unknown worlds, infinite space—all of it may be nothing more than a mixture of unrelated oddities on a massive scale.  Where’s the evidence that it isn’t all just matter and energy, which is unintelligent and undesigned, a colossal, cosmic fluke?

“Colin looked inward, whispered “okay,” and spun his Bible to sit right in front of Perry.  “Check out Genesis  1:1.”  He rose.  “I have to pee, most urgently.  Excuse me.  I’ll be right back.”

How could he be so polite all of a sudden?  Perry looked down at Colin’s Bible and read the verse.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” which made him Perry think of all the origin theorists he’d ever studied, including Darwin.  He thought of the movie, “Inherit the Wind.”  He fancied that he was Clarence Darrow and Colin was Matthew Harrison Brady.  In the same moment going pee, Colin ached with frustration and sadness for Perry.  At bottom he felt in this moment that Perry would never understand him or his faith.

Colin sat back down.

“Colin, I do respect your personal belief and all, but with evidence …

“Evidence.  This passing, flimsy reality is the evidence itself, Perry.  It’s staring directly into all unbelieving eyes, like yours, like mine were once.  Without faith you can’t see.

“Do we all have to believe as you do, Colin?

“Of course not.

“Everything here in this reality is ephemeral; doesn’t last.  The opposite of ephemeral is eternal.  You look frustrated or mad.

“I find it hard to follow you sometimes, I guess because I’m thrown when you say “this reality.”  I just live in one.

“I understand.  I’m sorry”

“You don’t have to apologize for what you believe.  It’s still a free country.  (He smiled and he reminded Colin of Olivia—they had similar smiles).  So go on.  Finish your thought.

“It’s crystal clear to me that an intelligent, eternal being, of great love and great power, set all of this in motion.  I don’t believe in evolution simply because it’s illogical to me.”

“You’re talking to a biology teacher, you know.

“Yeah and you’re a good one.


“You’re also my friend, Perry.  I’m talking to a friend, not an adversary.  Look, Perry, I don’t have to prove eternity.  Creation in all its’ wonder and precision proclaims Someone greater, who is beyond it and who existed before it.  Yes, God is hidden, but his creation speaks for him.  The origin theory I believe in is Intelligent Design.

“I see.

Perry now formulated a theory that Colin broke up with Olivia because she didn’t share his religious beliefs.  This made him a little feel uneasy; broke a rule he had adopted that religion shouldn’t be allowed to make people uneasy; that it should be de-prioritized for some reason.  People should have enough sense to rise above it, he felt.

“Okay, that’s what you believe, Colin, okay fine.  You need to talk with her, Colin, more that you need to talk to me.  You didn’t break up with me, you broke up with her.

“How important is it to tell the truth?  I wish God meant for us to join in marriage, but I discovered he didn’t.  That’s why I broke up with her.  I gave up my will and accepted God’s over my will.

Colin looked up and saw Olivia standing there.  She was listening with a bemused look on her face.

“Hello, Colin.  You might have talked to me after talking to God.  Isn’t God polite?  I just want to know why God opposes our being together.

Colin looked startled, because he was.

“Perry called me that you were meeting.  I asked where, he told me, so I came.  Do you mind?

“No, not—not at all.  Please sit down, Olivia.”  He grabbed a nearby empty chair and pulled it up for her to sit down.

Perry was very relieved indeed.  “Perfect timing, Liv.  I have to go anyway.  So if you will both excuse me.  I hope you two can work things out.”

“Thanks, big brother.”

“You’re on your own.”  Then departed point three of the triangle, leaving the original two points to fend for themselves.

“I’m here and I’m all ears.

“First, I’m sorry.

“Oh, for breaking up with my by email?  Doesn’t everybody do it nowadays?

“Again, I’m sorry.

“You said that.

“I don’t know what else I can say.

 “You’ll think of something.  I thought you loved me.

“I do.   I love your soul, too.

She laughed.  “First prove to me that I even have a soul.

He thought of replying, Prove to me that you don’t.  However, that was too confrontational.  He couldn’t say it.  Instead he said, “I wish I didn’t have to prove it.  Can you prove I have a mind?”

“There’s no proof that anyone has a mind, my love.  All that’s required to have a mind is a brain.  Because the brain supplies the mind, or the illusion of one.  Our brains create the illusion of our having minds.  No brains, no minds.  It’s very likely that for some, the illusion of a soul is necessary, so their brains create that for them also.

Colin couldn’t disagree with the plain fact that she was smarter than he was.  But he believed the discussion was more important than who was the better debater.  It was hard not to compete with her and he was trying very hard not to.

“Let me admit you have me in this area: I’m not a psychologist.  But what if it’s not an illusion? A major change in our thinking would be when we could perceive ourselves as souls, not only as brains in bodies, but as spiritual and material persons.”

“So finally, after eighteen months of delicate avoidance of the elephant, we are having this conversation.  Well, good, it’s about time.  But at the same time it doesn’t matter.  Because I don’t expect you to be like me or think like me.  Can you say the same?  No, I don’t think you can, Colin.  I don’t think you can, though I dearly wish that you could. … Now I’m crying, dammit!”

He wanted to somehow rescue her from her pain, but he knew he didn’t possess that power.  All he had was empathy and compassion, which he wasn’t used to showing.  He was more that a tad schizoid.

Colin took a quavering breath and managed  to say, “God, I wish love relationships were as simple as these self-help relationship experts make them out to be, Liv.  I read three of them in the last year.  They made me think of my poor parents’ failed attempts at lasting love.  My mother left my father trying to save her sanity, but in the end she killed herself.  It was her illness.”

“I know, Colin.  I’m sorry.

“I was sure that if we stayed together much longer, I would at some point leave without saying goodbye like my mother.   You wouldn’t deserve that.  See?

“Yes, I see.  But what about you?  Did you deserve her to abandon you, so that now you deprive yourself of the happiness we were given, and could have continued to enjoy, because of that fear?  You don’t have to repeat her mistake, you know.  It’s not inevitable, unless you believe it is.

Colin thought about what she had said.  His distorted belief, a form of fortune-telling, battled her more self-compassionate, rational thinking.  His metaphor of them being oil and water splashed about unevenly in his mind for a few seconds, then thankfully disappeared, leaving him relieved and calm.  For Olivia’s part, something intolerant of this side of human beings, or human souls, wanted to censor him, abolish or discount his sensitivity and vulnerability.  Instead, she protected him from it.

She bridged the physical space between them and cupped the side of his face with her long hand.  A flood of warm emotion came into him.

“Why did you do that?

“Ah my dear.  Did I need a reason?  You do need a therapist, my dear, but I can’t be that for you, nor do I want to be.

He smiled, then laughed, causing her to smile, then laugh.  “I would pay you good money to be my therapist!   C’mon, why not?”

“Not happening,” she said.  “There is some suffering I won’t endure for anyone.”

He remembered a line by another poet, and quoted it, of course.

“Human beings can’t bear too much reality.  T.S. Eliot.”

She knew Eliot; not her favorite, but okay.

He ventured on, this time confidently.  “Yes.  God made us to need one other.  We just can’t help it, I guess.  So, it’s a reality I am going to have to accept.  Can we start over, you and me?”

She looked at him a long time.  “Well, my tender-hearted poet, what major riddles exist that we can’t face together?”

He thought about it and finally said, “Maybe the Oedipus Complex.  For me that would be very tough.”

“Believe it or not I can understand how it would be.  I’m half Jewish, half Italian, remember.  You’re mostly of German ancestry.”

“We’ll break all the rules in the book!”

” What should we do about that, you think?

“For starters let’s find a German-Jewish-Italian restaurant and have dinner tonight to celebrate.”

“You know, I love you the most when you decide not to depress yourself.  Did you know I love you for your brain?  Does that offend you terribly?”

“Hurts a little, but I’ll live.  I’d trade a big brain for a big heart any day.”

“Well, I’m definitely up for that.  I want to see a personal transformation in the coming years.”

“Uh-oh, you sound like a sexy version of my therapist.”

“It’s okay, you sound like my rabbi with Catholic leanings, so we’re even.”

Colin and Olivia rebooted their relationship.  They eventually got engaged, got married and moved to the west coast.  Olivia opened a full time practice as a clinical psychologist, specializing in mood dysfunction and trauma. Colin teaches religious studies at a theological seminary.  Perry and I agreed that they’ve had an equally amazing impact on each other.  Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, happy endings are indeed very possible.