Friday, September 16, 2016

Melissa and The Road Not Taken

I wish Melissa hadn't died before we could discuss the true meaning of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, but now I’ll leave it up to Robert.

It was often stressful to have a relationship with Melissa. This has been the case for a while. In the last few years, Stacie and I have been fighting mental illness in our home. This has caused us to draw a boundary with those who may contribute to undue stress for either of us. 

Despite all this, Melissa inspired me. She was my Ivy League sister. And though I struggled to read even in high school, I applied to Penn (twice!) in part because she believed I could. She told me to go for it. And even though she thought that the program I was applying to at an Ivy League university was pretty weak-sauce in terms of academia [insert chuckle here], she cheered me on either way. In college I thought I would be more attractive to girls if I wore the Harvard hat she gave me. Maybe academic superiority is a myth, but she made the myth believable and I admittedly bought into her mythology. 

Melissa chose to leave the LDS Church a while ago and her silent presence in my head has contributed to the questions that I have in a positive way even though the "Stalwart but Stubborn" Mormons may not understand this. Currently I’m in a place spiritually where I’m more content but with many questions and desiring to find people who aren’t afraid to ask. Melissa was one of those people. And though her questioning took her outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she inspired me in my search for truth, despite the risk of uncertainty. There are a lot of things I don’t know for sure right now. But what I want to believe is that Melissa's spirit is happy. Like Dumbledore told Harry Potter after he had been killed by Voldemort and was in the quasi-heavenly King’s Crossing: “Do not pity the dead Harry. Pity the living. And above all those who live without love.” I really want to believe this.  

It’s hard not to regret having spent more time or given more love to a loved one who goes unexpectedly and before “their time". And I honestly regret not having spent more time investing in a relationship with the better angels of her nature. I love studying the greats like she did and I will never sit down to study them again without the hope that she might be there sitting with me, suggesting a richer [insert better word than richer] choice of vocabulary and encouraging further discovery.  

In this life, Melissa and I just happened to find ourselves in the same blended family. I would like to believe we find ourselves in specific orbits for a reason. Why were we placed in each others’ orbits in this life? A few reasons come to mind. 

We both had been divorced and our conversations about marriage after my divorce were a bit stark and hopeless, though they somehow brought us closer together. For a little while I lost my faith in marriage (and in females in general), but I regained my faith in marriage (and females) and this picture of her at my wedding to Stacie made me believe that she saw a glimmer of hope for the possibility of love after a traumatic and emotionally complex divorce.

Melissa watching Stacie and I dance our "first dance" at our reception

And even though the stake president who married Stacie and I said during our non-temple ceremony that we were "worthy to be sealed in the temple", every time we were asked “what temple were you married in?” I felt like Melissa understood how we felt and I was glad that she was at our non-temple wedding ceremony (which was truly beautiful). 

Another reason. Almost exactly two years ago, I was all alone after Stacie had been hospitalized for a traumatic episode of delusion and psychosis. I was still in shock and afraid that after I had regained my faith in marriage and love, what I hoped for had been taken from me. I felt alone and vulnerable. Melissa just happened to show up at my apartment in Pleasant Grove that first night. She just came for a quick hello, and we ended up talking for four hours until, as we tried to say goodbye next to her car, we talked for another hour and we were both freezing in the September night air.

We spoke of mental illness and religion, of faith and of belief. We spoke of luck VS providence. We spoke of determinism VS agency. She argued for determinism and I for agency. She argued using logic and philosophy. I argued using social psychology and love. In the end, we respectfully disagreed. But we were both able to put down our cultural weapons and glimpse into each others’ world for just a moment. In my moment of stark vulnerability, she gave me a glimpse of a world without Providence. A world where religion and faith might just be a grand delusion and where science should be pursued and philosophy worshipped. And in a moment where she felt valued and heard, I showed her a world where, regardless of God’s existence, people choose to be good. And where, despite the hopeless tragedies of our lives, loaves and fishes actually do miraculously multiply beyond reason and logic. She saw me and I saw her. We both stood in a bit of awe as we shared a sacred moment of respect for each other, though our chosen paths were different. 

Melissa’s argument has surreptitiously [at last a word with which Melissa would feel comfortable] haunted me ever since. I still don’t have an answer for the fact that our brains can synthesize a “heavenly" vision that is in fact, not real, as Stacie experienced firsthand.

I want to believe in a benevolent heaven, beyond this existence. A spirit world where clarity abounds and agency is respected forever and ever.

And I hope my argument of love, goodness and agency will haunt Melissa in that spirit world where she can still choose her eternal destiny. 

If that world does exist and I could have the wish of my heart today, it would be that the spirit of Robert Frost himself would at some point sit down with Melissa (like George MacDonald did with C.S. Lewis) and tell her that The Road Not Taken was not a treatise on determinism as she once told me, but that she is now in a heaven that still allows her to choose. And that even if the decision to go down one road was impulsive, a benevolent heaven can use that imperfect choice to turn you into something better than you were before, if you desire it.

I hoped that one day I would have had the chance to have this conversation with Melissa when we both were in a better chapter of life, but that day will not come in this life. And still I am glad we were placed in the same orbit for a little while. 

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