Sam Teabar walked over the dunes from the blue house to sit on Gaff’s cooler. Gaff felt Sam’s unutterable sadness.
They sat. Sam put his head in his hands and said in a small voice. “You couldn’t help her, you know. I know you tried, but you were just too late.” He shook his head and raised his head to wipe the tears.
Gaff put a hand on his visitor’s shoulder, but said nothing. Both men looked out at the ocean and watched the gulls and the pelicans diving for food. They listened to the waves crashing on the sand, pushing the sand into the shore and then pulling it out again. This was the way of things, the natural pulse of the planet.
Gaff nodded in understanding. “Julia said about as much. I guess Harriet didn’t come with you this year.”
Sam shook his head in response. “She’s in a residential clinic for a couple of months. If she doesn’t stay on the wagon when she gets out, I’m filing for divorce. I love her too much to watch her kill herself this way.”
All Gaff could think to say, “I’m so sorry.”
Sam picked up a shell and threw it toward the water. The birds dove for it, thinking it might be food. They soon returned to their fishing. “I do love her, you know.”
“I can see that.”
“She thinks I want her to quit drinking because I want to hurt her. But I love her too much to watch this form of slow suicide. I stuck around while my first wife died of cancer, but she didn’t do that on purpose. I can’t take more pain like that.”
“The birds just now… they got confused about what you were throwing. Thought it was food. If you told them it was just a shell, they wouldn’t understand. They had to find out for themselves. Life’s like that sometimes.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Works both ways. You can try to do something nice for someone– something helpful– and they will see it in the light of their own way of seeing the world. That might not be the same as your way, your intention.”
“That’s why Harriet thinks I’m being mean to her when I tell her to quit drinking?”
“For some people, everything boils down to a competition for the good things of life. One of those good things is love and its other form-respect.”
“And good times. You forgot good times. Harriet thinks I’m trying to limit her good times.”
“She has her own way of seeing things and her definition of ‘good times’ is pretty narrow. For me, good times are the hours I spend with Julia and the grands.”
Sam nodded, quiet in his sadness.
“If Harriet could only see how much you love her, she would see the source of good feelings you’re offering.”
“She thinks I want to control her, to make her do what I want.”
“I read in a book just recently that devotion to a person is best when it’s in response to the devotion they have for you.”
The tip of the rod began to wiggle its signal-a fish on the hook. Both men moved so Gaff could tend his lines.
“That does make sense… Is it payment for that devotion?”
“Not payment, but you love the person who loves you. Harriet just doesn’t see how devoted you’ve been to her all these years.”
Sam shook his head. “What is this book you’re talking about?”
“In A Course in Miracles that passage is about the way we honor Jesus, but it also works when you consider relationships with people in our lives.”
“I’m not following.”
“The book says that we should honor Jesus and be devoted to Him not because He’s special, but because He is devoted to us.”
“Still don’t get it. He’s the son of God so He is special. The discussion is moot.”
Gaff smiled. “We were all created by God, weren’t we?”
“Then, we’re all sons of God.”
Sam frowned, “OK? I guess that’s one way of seeing it.”
“That makes us all brothers of Jesus… and special. The book says that Jesus wasn’t here to teach us how to suffer and die. That wasn’t His purpose. He was here to teach how to love-to love unconditionally. To love in all situations.”
“That I can follow. It’s not exactly what my minister says, but it does make sense.”
“He tells us that our devotion to Him isn’t to be based on His specialness, but on the love He has for us and constantly demonstrates to us.”
“I don’t see how that relates to Harriet’s drinking problem.”
“She sees your insistence on keeping her from drinking as based on your being her husband. From her point of view, in that special role, you try to control her because you are her husband.”
“I only want the best for her because I love her.”
“She has to love herself enough to believe that you can love her that much.” Gaff could see Sam’s sadness.
“I do love her.”
“I know you do, but she may not be able to see it. Let’s talk about the early church. People met in homes to discuss what they heard about Jesus. Others joined them because they saw how loving members of the group were. Saw the happiness and decided they wanted some of that.”
“Not because He was the King of the Jews?”
“Nope. Because He taught people to be loving and that results in feeling peaceful. And a lot of other people wanted to feel that peace. Those early followers didn’t go out to pull people in through force. The minnows were attracted by the promise of a better life.”
“Those people had to believe they deserved the love rather than punishment by an angry God. Only then could they truly join in the meetings to learn the Way of Love.”
“So Harriet doesn’t believe that I could truly love her enough to want the best for her?”
“That’s about the way I see it… one part of the picture.”
“The other part is that she doesn’t love herself enough to believe she deserves good things? Like my love?” He shook his head in confusion.
Gaff nodded. “Harriet doesn’t understand that she could enjoy more of this world if she was sober or she would stay sober. Sometimes getting drunk is a way of covering over pain and sometimes that pain results from feeling inadequate.”
“Inadequate and not lovable?”
Gaff nodded. “After you drink so much, your body chemistry changes so you don’t feel right without the booze.”
“What you said before sticks in my mind. She needs to love herself enough to be able to accept love from me.”
“Yep. If she doesn’t love herself and trust that others will love her, then she will grab all the good feelings she can in other ways. She’s falling back into the habits she formed as a young woman, the way she got what she thought was love.”
“I need to see what kind of counseling they do in that clinic. Maybe I could go for sessions with her.”
Gaff nodded his appreciation. “I once told a young man that he needed to be the kind of person that’s attractive to the woman of his dreams. He needs to be her Dream. It can’t be a façade or a game. It has to be real because the other person will figure it out, sooner or later. Maybe a lot of divorces result from that kind of play-acting.”
“We’re more successful in getting love if we are loving. The way it was put in that book is ‘It is my devotion that entitles me to yours.'”
“It’s silly to equate myself with Jesus.”
“Wasn’t He providing a model for us?”
Sam stared out toward the horizon, nothing more to say. He was nodding, though.
* Lorena Peter, Ph.D., writes entertaining mysteries, romances and wisdom books. All have strong spiritual underpinnings and paranormal elements. She blends a medical intuition and healing practice (and travel) with her writing. For more information go to www.lorenapeter.com. There you will see photographs of locations discussed in Gaff as well as a chapter for your perusal. You may contact her on Facebook. For her understanding of the Course, she thanks Carmen Cameron and the class in Louisville, KY.