Memories are wax sculptures in our minds. As we handle them, they get warm, and reform, or perhaps deform, to fit more comfortably in our grip. The sharp edges smooth out. Bits that make us look foolish or selfish shrink, and sometimes fall off. Parts that we are proud of are enlarged, and made smooth.
When I met her, I had no idea that she was the answer to my prayer. More plea than prayer, really, a literal mountain top surrender to God's will. Begging for help. I was revisiting Nepal, where I had apprenticed in being alone, where language and geography had tag-teamed me into believing that my previous life in America was nothing more than a half-forgotten dream. I was once again experiencing the isolation that lives in the places where all you can see is the sky, green fields, and gray stone. Where there is nowhere to go but down.
In Nepal the doorways trained me to obey one command: keep your head down while passing through. The penalty for disobeying? A direct assault on the organ responsible for the poor decision. My rebellious brain suffered one punishing blow after another, for I come from a race of stiff necked people. Eventually the tedium of washing blood out of my hair and the desire to spend a day without a splitting headache gave rise to obedience. I bowed my head as I walked through doors. At first resentfully, with much grumbling, then with resignation and sadness. Finally, like a well trained dog, without even thinking about it. Weeks after returning to America I found myself nodding deeply as I passed through door frames that would allow even the most elevated of hats to pass undisturbed on my head.
In Korea there was a different kind of training, with a different command: keep your heart to yourself. The girl who chose alcohol instead of me. The girl who suddenly stopped returning my calls. The girl who lied to me. The girl who agreed with me that we didn't belong together. Each one a blow urging me to stop looking for love, to get used to the idea of being alone. To keep my heart down.
I returned to Nepal for a month. Alone. At the top of a 9,000 foot hill in the shadow of the Himalayas I sat down on a rock and talked with God. I cried out, "I am so tired of being alone, but if you want me to be alone for the rest of my life, then so be it... But I have no idea how I am going to do it."
The only answer was silence, though by the time I returned to the Land of the Morning Calm, I was cloaked in a calm of my own. Vacations are often refreshing, so I did not recognize this calm as an answer to prayer. Hindsight reveals that it was part of the answer, the Breath before the Word.
The Answer showed up in my classroom on February 1st, 2000. One of four students in a class that should have been cut from the schedule. The highest level of English conversation available at our institute, it was a class for talking. The news, science, social issues, food, our hobbies and habits. Some grammar, but mostly talk. Lousy attendance. Usually two students, sometimes four, but always The Answer was one of them, ready to talk, listen, learn.
During the third week of class her father invited me to have dinner at their home. As he was driving me home afterwards, she and I sat in the back seat and held hands. I didn't know what she was thinking, and couldn't have told you what I was thinking either. A conversation without words flowing just under the conversation with her father about something that I pretended to be interested in.
The last class, a Friday. I was early and she was waiting, so we talked in the hall for an hour before class. No other students, so we talked for another hour, then we went out and talked for two or three hours more. As we talked over one neglected beer, my hand wanted to continue the conversation it had started in the car with hers the previous week, so it did. Neither of us said anything about it as our hands conversed, at first casually, then more intimately. Once again, we ended the evening without acknowledging the silent conversation.
On the way home I took a detour to the mountain top by way of a pedestrian bridge over the rail yard in Bujeon. The joy that had been percolating in me just bubbled up and for a moment I Gene Kellyed my way across the bridge, laughing and telling the sky, "I've found her! I've found her!" My moment of clarity, when The Answer to my prayer was made abundantly clear to me.
Two weeks later, after dinner in a top floor restaurant, flowers, chocolates, and perfume, I suddenly realized that I was going to propose to a woman I had met only six weeks previously. No more than a hundred hours of conversation, only two weeks of actual dating, but I had never in my life been more sure of anything. "Will you marry me?"
Her answer, forever emblazoned on my heart, "I beg your pardon?" An opportunity to laugh in this sacred moment, I took it. Her second answer we are still living out for the world to see, for she said, "Yes!" and we have never looked back.
To you, the reader, this may seem like the magic moment, when it all came together. In actuality, the magic is bound up in the days that follow. In the joy and pain, the boredom and excitement, the triumphs and defeats. The magic is not in the moment of clarity, but in remembering the moment of clarity and believing in it when you can't see your hand in front of your face for the fog.