I have a weekly phone date with my friend Lynn. Every Monday and Tuesday morning we speak for a juicy 15 minutes while she is driving. We talk about art, relationships and about how much we miss one another.
Today we talked about the good soldier.
She explained that in Japan, when a man returns from war he must “honor the good soldier and put him to rest,” so that he may properly re-enter civilian culture.
My response was immediate. Reflexive. “I need to put to rest my good soldier: The Good Wife.”
I often think of my divorce as a big whack upside the head from the universe. My Hindu goddess, Mother Durga, shaking me with all of her many arms saying, “He didn’t make you the doctor’s wife. You made yourself that. You have squandered your gifts!
“I’m going to shake you to your core. Rip out all that is familiar to you so that you may return to yourself.
“It won’t feel like love. But trust me, it is.”
The role of good soldier, good wife, served me well. It kept me from myself. From my life. It freed me of any responsibility for creating my own happiness. It meant I didn’t have to take risks. And I could blame him for what I wasn’t doing.
Not having a baby – because he didn’t want one. (Mind you I wasn’t certain I did either.) Not going to Rabbinical school. Because it meant living apart. Or leaving the six-figure dream job he had just accepted to incur a second six-figure education debt.
I asked him to get behind my half-baked dreams – ones I couldn’t quite commit to myself. And when he wouldn’t, I blamed him for reneging on the promise that “my turn” was next. Perhaps, without even knowing it, I was building my case for leaving all along. Creating a laundry list of impossible reasons why we couldn’t be together.
And yet, I didn’t want that responsibility either.
Before I left Seattle, he asked me, “When would you have said, ‘enough?’ “
I thought it was because there was still work to be done. Maybe I was just afraid of the fall out and ending our marriage. And of having to own it.
By asking for divorce he told me the war was over. He asked me to put down my weapons. And he dropped the rope. I did too. Lest I be standing, somewhat confused, with a flaccid piece of braided twine in my hands. But first, I went reeling. I was holding on to my end so tightly, when he let go I toppled.
Nearly a year later, I’m upright again. Dusted off, mostly. And yet, I notice so much of my story, of my daily speech, is still tethered to that identity – the good soldier, the good wife. I’ve just put an “ex” in front of it.
If I put my good soldier to rest, who will replace her?
Perhaps I don’t need to worry so much about the “who.” But instead pay attention to my marching orders – whispers from the universe that point my compass and make my heart feel expansive and glowy. They say, “Yes. Dance.” “Yes. Write.” “Yes. Travel.” And “Don’t worry so much about the boys…..”
Sometimes the words come from deep inside of me. Sometimes I hear them in the voices of friends. Like at High Holy Day services. I asked God what I was meant to do. Within moments a friend of the Rabbi’s sidled up to me, leaned in and said, “I loved your blogs about Africa.” I thanked him and told him I used to write professionally. He responded, “It shows.” And was gone.
Hearing the story, my friend Tom said, “Your Higher Power responds quickly.” Indeed.
And now I’ve got no one to blame if I don’t follow those directives – the gentle prods of God and of my own heart.
Rest easy good soldier. The war is over