Sometimes pain touches your soul. It shatters your dreams and your relationships and your faith in only a moment. And a moment becomes more than a moment. It becomes a tear in the story of your life. Pages disappear, and the book of your life never shuts quite right again. The readers will wonder at the growth you made and how, but you can’t explain that. They will look back and forth between the gap and wonder at the mystery. But it is more special when they don’t know, when it is between you and God.
I remember my family sitting. He was praying. She was watching. She adored him when he prayed. My brother was ignoring. I was trusting because that was all I knew. The table was peaceful, and the scene was beautiful. I was proud because the scene was mine.
I remember my family standing. She was pointing. He was cowering. He wished it could all be different. My brother was crying. I was dreaming. No, I was breathing. I wanted to dream or I wanted to wake or I wanted to feel, but I had to focus to breathe.
I looked at him. I heard him silently pleading for a sign of my feelings. I heard my own breathing like my ears were covered, and I could not hear anything else. He wanted to talk, but there was nothing to say. He searched for an emotion that would allow him to begin. I stared at him until I finally left.
And so then I was alone. I drove away. My brother sat shotgun, and Weezer played “Only in Dreams.” But I was alone. The shock of the moment tipped over the bookshelf of my memories. The picture of him and her spilled from the shelf and shattered. I reached out to the sliding books, the ideas that inspired me and the morals that shaped me, but they slipped through my hands. I tried to cradle the pictures of falling memories and place them back in the organization of my past, but it was gone.
There was no answer to why. The greatest pain was not understanding. I asked God, begged God every night, to let me understand. Instead of the sharp pain of a moment, the confusion was an aching wound that refused to heal. But silence was my answer.
He cheated on her. He was the husband and father that everyone pointed to, and every wife screamed, “Why can’t you be more like him?!” when she wanted to make her husband jealous. He was the businessman that everyone respected for his blameless integrity. He was the pillar in the church that other men asked advice from. He was my dad.
And God watched in silence. I remember because I tried to listen, but I couldn’t hear anything beyond her crying. Her disturbing wails penetrated my heart in the innocence of her pain. She sat against the wall, trembling in fear and anger and pain. He sat on the bed, pleading for forgiveness but wanting her to hate him. I sat in my room, not understanding.
He trapped me between the truth of his life and the truth of a moment. I received no defining crown to uphold, no unbearable reputation to shoulder. My inheritance was confusion. A good husband committed adultery. A good father broke the hearts of his sons. A good man destroyed the legacy he spent so many years struggling to attain.
He trapped me between the desire to protect the image of my family and the need to share the burden of my pain. Everyone thought they were perfect and loved the idea of them, and no one ever perceived my loneliness. And I could not tell anyone.
I remember scrolling through my cell phone. Small, annoying beeps sounded as I clicked through the names, breaking the silence of my car. The radio was off, and my brother was gone. A new hope surrounded each name. I needed to talk. Each name conjured a scene of merging pictures, memories of the influence of a friend in my life. And then the scene would stain with the presence of him, and I would click to the next name. Name after name disappeared from the screen, stolen by my father. When I got to the N’s, I knew I would not find what I was looking for.
I looked at him. And then I saw him touch every stage of my life. I watched him teaching me baseball and laughed when I hit the camera that my mother was using to film our game. I cringed when I remembered him making me go to my first cello lesson on my 14
birthday. I smiled as I heard him coaching and teaching my friends about sports and life. I saw him as the pride of his family and the example to his brothers and sisters who had real problems in their lives. And I realized that no one else could have left me so alone.
The hope of every conversation and every relationship, the unquenchable desire to feel close to something, the need to satisfy truth, they became empty. I did not have any relationships left to trust. My parents not only created me physically but defined me spiritually. They crafted my heart and soul by the values they instilled and the God they described. They were gone. My world died with the idea of them.
Pain touched my soul. It shattered my dreams and my relationships and my faith in only a moment. It dropped my life like a mirror on a rock. And then I wanted to feel and not move, to allow my pain to consume me or to be consumed by the struggle of why. But I learned that there are places in the human heart that cannot be occupied by people. There is a vacancy crying to be filled, a shape delicate and unique to each person. The void is infinitely larger than the mass of a human relationship, however intimate. I required the pain of a moment to realize the aching of my entire life.
I looked at him. And I saw a man desperate to restore his family and struggling to prove himself. I saw a man so like me that it scared me. It frightened me to see I could repeat the actions that had broken me. I saw the depth he touched me in love and in pain. But the shadows of painful moments lifted the idea of him from the canvas of my mind into the dimension of reality.
When I let him be human, my heart changed. I understood him as a man. I didn’t have to hate him, and I didn’t have to live my life the way he did. I could let go. I began to become myself. But the aching never stopped. The gap in my heart I tried to let my father fill cried louder. Then God came. I stopped asking for an answer and started asking for Him. I forgot religion and doctrine and church, forgot finding a friend who would understand, forgot imagining a family that could ease the pain. I just accepted the God who came to me in my pain. And then I knew what I believed, and I didn’t take it from someone else.
I knelt on the floor of a hotel lobby, and I remember crying in joy. I told God my pain, and He let me give all the hurt to Him. And I saw Him as a father. I didn’t have to use Christian words. I was honest, and He liked that. I remember feeling the way He looked at me. It changed me forever.
I am grateful for the pain. Like a mother trembles as she breaks her own body to give life, a heart has to shatter for a soul to burst forth, gasping for air. My willingness to trust has become a choice. Love and faith and hope are no longer ideas but braces holding the pieces of my brokenness in a new beauty. I watch my family sitting. She is healing. He is learning. My brother is hurting. I am hoping. God is redeeming.[Adam Schaechterle is a junior at Northwestern University and an aspiring writer.]
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