Vulnerability and Risk in Learning to Live Again

I wish that life had a manual or a looking glass as to what lies ahead, but to really live requires taking a leap of faith. It is impossible to predict the future. People change, relationships come when least expected or crash and burn, health changes, death and birth are equalizers, and the very world we live in changes in the blink of an eye. I thought I knew how my life was going to play out. For the record, my fifties are not supposed to be looking like this. I am ill-equipped to trust my dreams or even the version of the Linda I have morphed into because it still seems so foreign to me that my life is so different.

I married young and had three children in rapid succession. I had a vision of what I thought marriage was supposed to be like and what motherhood was supposed to look like. I failed miserably even though I wanted to be that perfect Christian homemaker. When Phil entered my life, I wasn’t interested in dating let alone sharing my children with anyone. He seemed like he was too much of everything–too young, too military, too liberal, too out of my league in terms of what I thought I needed and wanted. Yet, after shooting him down 19 times, I finally said yes. I leapt and I kept leaping. We eloped after four months of dating and it worked. He was the only father my children knew and while there were certainly periodic times when we struggled (I keep those times largely private because at the end of the day, he loved me well and I loved him well), I couldn’t imagine a life without him in it. We had 23 years–I wish it had been more, but in the blink of an eye, and in the most violent unanticipated manner, the man that lived larger than life was forever gone.

Instead of returning to CO to finish his military career teaching this year, I am in a state that I never thought I would live in. Instead of quietly teaching and being the little lady behind the scenes, I have been forced to take a good hard look at what I want. That is a novel idea. Where do I want to live? What do I want to do? Is it possible to let someone else in? I am approaching the midway point of my fifties and in some ways, I feel like I am a teenager in that I want to stomp my foot and have someone else make the decisions for me because I am afraid of getting it wrong. I am afraid to take that leap of faith and to game on happiness because if I lose, my heart will implode again, yet do I want to remain on the side lines and watch everyone else living?

I am not dead, but it was easier to stay so busy that there wasn’t time to feel anything other than fatigue. I could consume my days with work, school, running, and volunteering. I did that for well over 4 years. It was a safe place to shelter. While it was a lonely place, I told myself that I had love once and that most people would give anything to find it once. I told myself that I was content with waiting for death by staying busy alone. I had a vision that I would return to Europe and then retire to Colorado. I shut down any male that tried to come into my fortress because to let a male in meant vulnerability, risk, and trust.

This leap of faith requires trusting myself. Therein lies the problem. I stopped trusting when Phil was assassinated by someone he liked and trusted and should have been able to trust while in a position that was supposed to be safe. I stopped trusting when my community and world changed that day. I was ill prepared to lose it all overnight. Nobody around me understood the depth of loss. My husband was dead. I had to move and leave the job I loved more than any job I have ever had before or since. My family imploded because nobody could fix the hurts in one another, friendships ended because people didn’t know what to say, or I was the visible reminder, or other women thought that I would hit on their spouses. I was angry at the Air Force–the Air Force Academy specifically for a really long time because I always thought that the uniform and being an Air Force Academy professor made Phil immune to the atrocities of evil men and women.

How then do I trust my own emotions let alone another person’s emotions? How do I move beyond the emotional scars that I bear knowing that others bear scars of their own? I think that widows and widowers tend to put too much validity into relationships far too soon because they do miss the companionship and what they had established after a lifetime together. I think that is why I said never, ever, and when hell freezes over. I just wasn’t interested in taking the leap of faith that might end in a fiery tumultuous crash. Yet, here I am. Hell did not freeze over and I am knee deep in trying to figure out the way ahead. I have no skills with dating relationships any more and I am more apt to destroy the relationship I am in a preemptive strike because if I hurt first, then maybe it won’t hurt so much later? I am afraid.

I keep thinking that none of this vulnerability or risk can work out. Maybe I am not lovable and surely how can I think that at my age it is possible to consider maybe, just maybe there is a fighting chance at a chapter two. The risk is more than any other time of my life because I am at a point where I don’t want to keep starting over and I don’t want to second guess another person,yet relationships are risks. If only there was a crystal ball. If only I could see how the way ahead could work. If only I could trust that I can thrive and perhaps have that second chapter again, then maybe I wouldn’t want to shut down or to run away. My life has changed and every dream I had ended, yet in the standing on the edge and getting ready to cannonball into the roiling waters below, there is that quiet confidence that somehow this will all work out. Even if I gamble and lose, there is a quiet confidence growing that I can survive or thrive in spite of what lies ahead.

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