Various recent events have caused me to drift back to distant memories.
In one old alumni note, I see that someone from the past has described their current relationship status as “Spoken For”.
It caught my imagination, that phrase that was so commonly used once, but that now rings with the sound of olden times.
Remembering the person who employed that self-descriptor, I am sure it was delivered with a delicious sense of anachrony.
An anachrony that betrays a delight in using evocative language.
In older times, of course, the term was used to describe the patriarchal handing-off of daughter from father to suitor, a meaning that, under the circumstances, could not have been intended by this user.
Nor need it be; nor need it be even gender-related.
It is an evocative phrase, indeed, and one that may have more than one level of meaning.
Someone spoke; someone responded and a bond was forged.
What was spoken?
Nothing casual, you may be sure.
For it was a word that forged a lasting bond; a word that unlocked the very core of the hearer.
That time when all of the important things in life or self are hard to recognize, much less prioritize.
Lost in the shuffle, perhaps, those things that are most important.
Lost to peer-disapproval, perhaps, those things that one cannot do without.
Lost to a lack of wisdom or a lack of creative thinking that seems to mark certain roads as dead-ends that can never be overcome.
Lost identities, orientations, commitments to others…
Dismissed, perhaps, as unimportant; something that can be done without.
Ah, the follies of youth.
When gold can sift through clumsy fingers and be lost forever.
A folly that will initiate a series of misbegotten attempts to replace the lost with something that we deem of equal value.
Making ghosts of ourselves, as we try to cram events and people into the voids of people and things that we have left behind.
Making ghosts of others, as we expect them to be what they cannot be and fulfill needs that they cannot possibly fulfill.
In our times, this is a pattern that is easily recognized by those who have chosen to celebrate rather than continue to falsify their gender identity or sexual orientation.
More obscure, perhaps, yet more common, a pattern that can be recognized by all of those among us who gave up people or things that were, and so are, of core significance to us and our identities.
Lost, denied, buried…and at what price?
The price that is paid when others suffer from our misbegotten attempts to twist the world to our own forgotten needs.
The price that is paid when we suffer as we live like ghosts for years, decades…
Can it be that there are places in our identity that can be filled by only one person or thing?
Many would agree with that statement.
Post-modern thinking would indicate that there is a certain place in us that can be filled by only one gender identity.
Traditional Christian rhetoric would indicate that there is a certain place in us that can only be filled by Jesus Christ.
But how often we hedge when it comes to a matter that seems to imply choice!
As in the choices of the feckless college student.
In matters that seem to imply choice, we would endow ourselves with infinite elasticity.
“Move on!”, we jingle, “Don’t live in the past! Get over it!”.
Like the phrase “Spoken For”, the idea that one can be completely filled by one person for all time seems to ring with the sound of olden times.
Conjuring images of the widow who never remarried.
The young maiden who lost her wayward betrothed and became an old maid.
The couple who lost a child and never attempted another.
Objects of pity, nowadays, by those who would assert that all such places in the heart are freely-expandable, leading to the notion that “No, you can’t replace someone, but there’s room for someone else…somewhere... there…there‘s always more room…”
I do not believe that fear or regret or grief or bitterness should deter us from moving on, should we feel moved to so do.
But a frantic press for motion cannot speak to those who, with or without fear, regret, grief or bitterness have found themselves full.
And only they can say when this is so.
There are those of us who have found themselves with a place in their heart that is so replete that it is complete.
And although some would say that this is a dismal lot, I would argue that the alternative is far more grim.
For the alternative is a self-delusion that can bring great pain into the world, as others are mislead and used in an attempt to cram people or things into a place that is already full.
And such self-delusions can bring great pain upon oneself, not only in terms of the burden of guilt for the cramming, and the burden of guilt for using others, but in the turmoil and chaos of a misunderstood life.
Such self-delusion can be ended, but only at the price of accepting the possibility that there are places in identity, places beyond choice, that can be filled by only one person.
And only at the price of a moment of recollection that one may wish to avoid.
For that recollection can lead to a realization that slams home with all of the power of a long-denied gender identity, a long-denied racial identity or a long-denied spiritual identity.
Making sense of much of the turmoil and chaos in one’s past.
In one incandescent encounter with one’s own identity.
It is a moment that may wrench us over violently in pain, unable to breathe; or a moment that causes us to close our eyes and lean for support against anything that will bear our weight; or a moment that causes us to pause, breathless, in wide-eyed wonder…
As we remember the sound of a voice that called for us, a voice that spoke to that one particular part of us, a voice that knew that part of us, a voice that loved that part of us…
And we remember…
And we remember hearing the sound of their voice speak that most familiar word; their voice speaks that most familiar word in the world, and it’s as though we have not heard it in years.
And then we know.
That’s what it was.
That was my name.
I think of those long-ago days, here, now, where the wind and rain have taken their toll on the brilliant New England foliage…
As I stroll my lane, marking again the passing of the seasons…
Remembering older times, and the great foliage festivals of days gone by.
The leaves have fallen and the trees are barren.
Those days are gone.
But no matter how absent the company, I am not empty.
For in those days, and from those days on, I, too, have been spoken for.
I post new articles twice-monthly in "Author's Corner".
If you live in or near the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, and you would be interested in meeting with others for prayer and/or discussion, please contact me at email@example.com. All are welcome, regardless of identity or personal choices. Please understand that I do not have the resources to guarantee that I will be able to read or respond to all other correspondence.
Toward Dawn is a privately-funded outreach, and it neither solicits nor accepts contributions.
Rob Wright holds advanced degrees in education and performing arts, and he has been a professional teacher for over seventeen years. In his home denomination, he has served as a lay minister in liturgical, educational and ecumenical activities. He lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire with his spouse of twenty years and their daughter.