Scotland

Scotland is beautiful, but not in a way that strikes me at first. It feels too homey, too familiar. But I accept, finally, that this place is home to me, deep in my roots, and so it does not need to feel strange to be good.

And then I enjoy it immensely. It is beautiful. It is green. There are sheep and cows and horses and stone fences. There are hills and mountains. There are buildings of an age that as an American I can barely fathom.

The shopkeepers are cold and standoffish — in the US there’s an expectation of false friendliness that does not exist here. But really, the Scots are not an unfriendly people. On the contrary, they may seem that way when you’re a stranger, but once they know you, they are warm and kind and welcoming.


It is strange to watch Theresa around James. Strange because I know exactly how she feels. It’s so hard when you hope for something and lose it. It’s so hard when you care for someone and they don’t feel it back. It feels so stupid, so high school, all this unrequited emotion.

Strange also because she wears it differently. I would try to reframe it or to hide it, but Theresa doesn’t – or if she’s trying she’s failing badly. (To be fair I fail as well, just in a different way.) I would tend to be overly cheerful, to withdraw, or even perhaps to lash out a bit. But Theresa is not me, Theresa is Theresa. She’s blunt. She pushes. She keeps it front and center of the conversation and the mood.


I am like a shadow through most of the trip. Even I see it. Sometimes comfortably so, and sometimes not.

When we are all together Theresa carries the conversation and I spend a good bit of the time feeling both thankful for it and bad about it. My quietness, my tendency to listen, has become the latest thing in myself with which I find great fault. Like sweetness: it’s a good quality that is simply not-good-enough.

It is only when we get home, and I’m in my element and comfort zone, free to talk, free to express, that it comes to my attention that in a good-natured way Theresa has preferred me to be silent. Theresa needs the audience and does not like to share the limelight. Maybe it’s not just me, then. Maybe it would have been different with someone else, someone more receptive. Of course it would be different, everything is different.

But with someone else, I would not be in Scotland, so I have no complaints.


When we say goodbye to him, Theresa opens her arms to James, forcing the goodbye hug. I’m standing there, so he hugs me too. I expect a little hug, a half-hug, wrapped arms and little pressure, a quick squeeze and release. We don’t know each other. But he hugs me like I am a long-lost friend, or as if he expects to wrest some truth from the embrace. Tighter than expected, tighter than I would have imagined. It means nothing, just a surprising kindness. I am surprised but not at all confused by it. I happen to know, in any case, that he’s completely obsessed at present with a Russian girl young enough to be his daughter (much to his daughters’ chagrin).

Then he gives me a quick kiss on the cheek, necessitating that Theresa demand one as well. More awkwardness ensues. Where I would be seeking peace, she seems almost to revel in the discomfort.


Theresa cries that night — raw emotions and too much adrenalin and too little sleep have caught up with her — and my heart hurts for her. Reflective me, I cry along with her. For all I protect myself against the hurt of hoping, even I know (with a painful sharpness) that sometimes it is impossible to keep from hoping, that some things are just too good, too worthwhile, not to hope for. No amount of self-protection will protect us from such things.

And oh, how it hurts!


In the morning, as we drive the hour into Edinburgh, I remember James’ hug and I think, vaguely — knowing the nature of James’ faith — of James having a word for me from God. And then I shake that thought off, because I have the Holy Spirit just as he does, and God can speak to me directly if He wishes. (Still, I wonder — would I hear Him? Would I recognize His voice amid my own wantings and wishings? Would I have ears to hear?)

I set this all aside as the Edinburgh adventure begins.


We see Edinburgh and the castle, we are pleased and amazed and full of wonder. It is a beautiful, glorious, overcast day in Scotland, and there are no words for the joy I feel.


I say little, but Bob occasionally asks me the very thing that is in my head. I like Bob. He’s kind and patient and thoughtful. I like both of them. I like how in love they are.

When they snip at each other I wish they wouldn’t. I wish Sarah would be more patient and kinder to him. I wish he would be more sensitive to her moods.

I wonder how much of it is just because of our constant presence putting pressure on them.


Theresa can’t leave James alone. He’s gone but he is still the topic of conversation. And I understand, because it’s hard not to talk about the thing that is so much on one’s mind. I try to be sensitive to it — but if she is going to moon about, it is going to be very hard for me to be strong. I could do the same so easily, and I do not need more reasons to think useless far-away thoughts.

“Is this what we’re going to do, now?” I ask softly but pointedly after a while of it, “Are we going to talk about men named James?” Because she knows enough to know better, and because I know that if our positions were reversed, she would be very blunt and tell me to snap out of it, let it be, face reality.

But the hint goes past her.

It is my nature to hide the things I feel behind a mask, but Theresa can’t do that. Somewhere between our extremes is the right reaction, the ability to acknowledge and express what one feels without beating everyone to death with it.


It strikes me that there is a level of hoping-against-hope that becomes desperation. But then, there is also a place at which refusing to hope is also a form of desperation.


Do I seem critical? I’m just noticing the differences. I love Theresa. She is kind and good-hearted and funny. She is the person I could ask some months ago, off-handedly, how she managed to go to another country to see a man. “You’ve crossed borders just to see him,” I once asked, “how on earth can you play that cool?”

“You don’t,” she told me. “What you do is, you stop at a grocery store on the way back to his place from the airport, and you attack him in the yogurt aisle. Or at least that’s what I do.” And we laughed. And I wonder how long it will be before I will be able to walk down that aisle again without thinking of it.


When James calls that night, he talks to Sarah, then Bob suggests he talk to Theresa (Oh, Bob!), and they do … I only hear her side of it, lots of laughter and banter and teasing that somehow still only underscores how hurt she is. And yet I am so fascinated at how amid so much hurt and awkwardness she can still banter and flirt and laugh with him.

Then he surprises us all. He asks to talk to me. He tells me that God wants him to tell me that things in your life are going to start to fall into place. Your dreams, he says, are going to come true.

And of course, that there was a word from God for me to begin with is a dream in itself. Didn’t I think about this very thing, only this morning?

Still, my thoughts naturally turn to the sleeping dreams and all the hopes I have had against my own better sense.

My next thought is for the other kind of dreams: that I don’t have any dreams and aspirations, I don’t allow such things. And if they are going to come true then I need to start having them… and I need to choose them wisely.

I tell Theresa about the message, and she says “James is usually right about things, so that’s exciting!” But she doesn’t understand how confusing the message is to me.

She assumes that I dream. Like all my single girlfriends, she assumes I dream the same dreams that she does.

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~ by lorakceel on March 21, 2010.

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