February 19, 2004
The Haunted Divorce
She was beautiful. She was sweet, smart and reflective. She was a devoted mother of a little girl, clearly able to love and to carry on a bright, thoughtful conversation. We connected, and, in first moments made drunk by hope, we discovered a shared passion for the poet, Rumi, and told each other favorite lines...
"Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways
to kneel and kiss the ground!"
"Don't run around this world
looking for a hole to hide in.
There are wild beasts in every cave!"
There was spark between us. There was energy. There was a bucketful of that holy grail of dating ... chemistry.
And then the conversation turned to what happened to "the marriage." I told my sad story. And she told her sadder one -- of her tender ex-husband, a loving, charismatic man who also happened to be bipolar. And who, on one bad day, off medication, killed himself.
As a new dater, I suddenly became afraid of ghosts.
Not the transparent kind that say "Boo," but the opaque presence of lost love, something fleshy that sits in the room between the two of you, crooning to only one of you, "I still love you."
Setting out onto the yellow brick road of singlehood at 40, I could already see it would be a haunted trail. Those of us, man or woman, who have been married a long time, who have birthed children together, dandled and diapered them together, those of us who thought we were building lifelong partnerships before we were betrayed or bored or desolate or dead inside, cannot help but be haunted.
Clearly, however, there were going to be all kinds of ghosts. To start, married -- especially with kids -- ghosts feel different than old boyfriend/girlfriend ghosts.
To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, marriage is based on the exaggeration of the virtues of one woman above all others. Jewish tradition might put it this way: marriage is a decision to hold before you the purest soul that dwells within your partner -- no matter how cranky or depressed he or she may be at times -- and by this practice, you will weather the inevitable storms of life, and perhaps touch the Divine.
"Harei at mekudeshet li, b'tabaat zu." With this ring, I make you holy to me.
With apologies to the Catholic Church, you might say marriage, therefore, makes holy ghosts.
For while love -- untended -- dissipates, holiness is forever. Holiness hands you the parting gift of a permanent spectral companion who whispers in your ear, "Because you knew me, no matter what you hope or dream or believe about yourself -- doubt it!"
By this early date, I already knew that I was accompanied by my own ghost, one made faint by long-palsied love. I would get used to it. But across the table, stoked by love interrupted, hers burned with the chilling luster of still holy love.
It was suddenly very cramped. Me. Her. My fading ghost. Her blazing one.
When I was married and miserable, I never understood why people said they hated dating. It looked like so much fun. Bodies in motion. Now I saw that when it's more than fun, that when something deeper in you suddenly touches something deeper in another, ghosts come out to call and feed.
Clearly, I was a novice at this dating thing in more ways than one. I knew I wasn't ready for this table for four, so I didn't call her back. At least I could curl up with my Rumi, who whispered something more encouraging....
"Keep walking, though there's no place to get to.
Don't try to see through the distances.
That's not for human beings. Move within,
But don't move the way fear makes you move."
It was going to take a lot of practice.
Adam Gilad is a writer, producer and CEO of Rogue Direct, LLP. He also teaches creative writing based on Jewish texts at the UJ and privately. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .