Odin rang last night. It breaks my heart to see both the strength and the weakness in the man he is now. But it was a wonderful conversation.
There are many things we don't know about other people's lives and there are many assumptions that we make. In this conversation, I heard, for what I believe was the first time, that he had been a Sunday school teacher in his late teens. He, as so many, had a few bad experiences with the church and subsequently became an atheist, but now considers himself an agnostic. I didn't know any of that either.
He also talked about the religious and theological training he received in the army, both when he first enlisted and again at a more in-depth level when he was doing his Captains exams. This all fits so well with his love of history and its effects on the world. I have some of that interest but not the passion he has.
One of the assumptions I made when he told me he became an atheist was that it was because of his time in Vietnam, perhaps not when he was there because, as they say, there are no atheists in fox-holes, but in seeing and living the things he did whilst there as surely this would be enough to make anyone question the existence of God. Even though I was thinking about this mis-match, I didn't quite know how to ask. I hate to bring up memories like that for him, but I guess he is much more hardened that I am. Sometimes empathy can give the understanding and therefore the hurt without the lessons and therefore the protection and self-preservation that the other person learned through the actual experience.
As it happened, the atheism arrived only because of the realisation of the hypocrisy of the church group he was with and of other things he had seen when he was younger that suddenly made sense to him. It reminded me to take a minute to be thankful again for the wonderfully positive experiences I have had with church and how some people do more harm than good in the name of worship.
Vietnam actually turned him back to Christianity in a way and he spent some time reflecting on not only what had happened there, but the certain times that he found himself praying and then onto thoughts of the reasons for and repercussions of those prayers. That's enough to send anyone around in circles for some time, but when he emerged from that spiral, the explanation that gave him peace was no explanation at all; just knowing that we do not know who or what God is.
Something else he reflected on as we talked was how since retiring and moving to his current home, he has met up with many other vets, including one mate he actually served with in Nam. He told me on his last phone call a few weeks ago that this mate had recently passed away and I believe that this passing has caused him much pain. It also seems to have brought to the forefront all of the other funerals he has attended since living there. I can understand that and both he and I know there is nothing anyone else can do to ease that pain. It is my hope though, that those demons within him will not be fed and made fat by the regrets of more recent years. I go through stages when I don't want, or have the energy, to do anything about that. At the moment it is something I do want to focus on but that is how I seem to live my life sometimes. I don't want to measure my days by the number of dreams that I don't take action on and I know the only way to prevent that is to act yet still I don't.
We also talked about business and I know this reminds him of the amazing person he was on several levels. The gratitude of this is a two way street, in that he receives fulfilment for the reminders of his strengths and I have pride in him and appreciate that he is finally offering advice, in his way. In fact, it may just be that finally I am accepting his advice or even just understanding how he expresses it. Either way, it's good and I am grateful.
With the talk of religion, I asked him what he thought I believed. He was a little thrown by this question and stumbled over the answer thinking that it seemed obvious but because I had asked, with a hint of challenge in my voice, that there must be more to it. His answer was expected, and, like many others, he though I was a Christian. From my perspective there is still a wall that he doesn't get past when given the choice of talking about himself or talking about others, and even though my question sparked some curiosity and thereby opened a little peep-hole in that wall, he heard a bit of my answer and then closed that peep-hole once he made his assessment and categorised all that I had to say on the matter. OK, that's a little harsh. He wasn't judgemental and he accepted and understood what I was saying but maybe he just didn't want to enter into a discussion on belief systems. It still makes my heart long for nights with him drinking red wine and talking about these things. I know we would both enjoy them but neither of us will do anything about it. It's just life getting in the way again and stopping us from actually living.
Later in the conversation, I mentioned my birthday. I won't go so far as to say he was devastated to learn he had forgotten this year but he was shocked and was so disappointed in himself that he didn't know what to say. I assured him it was alright and moved the conversation on. He'd made such an effort over the last few years in an area that he has accepted as something he just doesn't do, so to forget this year was to undo a lot of his good work. It's something I accepted long ago, even though I wished it was different. The difference is that I chose not to do anything about it while he chose to make an effort and this year he failed himself.
Well, I said much more than I had planned to, in fact, more than I realised I had to say. I felt really good after the call though, not as raw as after other conversations. And I know there is no point in setting up stupid unspoken rules about what I deem to constitute effort on his part that only once delivered on will I allow myself to respond to in kind. Reality is harsh and I am not afraid to look at my failings and stand by them regardless because, for good or for bad, they make up the person that I am. There are just two elements that I need to strengthen at the minute: planning and action. I know it, you know it, now I need to 'Just do it!'