Hope Between the Lines

I could swear my heart actually skipped a beat with Charming this weekend. This time, he showed me his world. Like every encounter to date, I was pleasantly surprised with each shared aspect of his life, from his home and meal selections to his anecdotes and interests. If it’s possible, I am smarter after a few days with Charming.

My students and I are studying the art of rhetoric – the power of persuasion in argument development. The basis of any claim should consist of reasons and evidence. Aristotle’s Rhetorical Triangle posits that communication is based on three appeals: Ethos (Credibility), Logos (Rational), and Pathos (Emotional). Essentially, these play their roles in every moment of persuasion, be it getting permission to stay out after curfew or changing an existing law violating Constitutional rights.

In your thirties, giving yourself permission to fall in love is a lot like writing a persuasive essay. Although it’s tempting to get caught up in Pathos, the naturally progressing cynicism that accompanies each birthday won’t be silenced. Choosing a partner is less about skipping beats and more about stability, intersection of interests, shared future goals, and practicality. And my track record suggests that I lack the credibility to make a choice at all.

Step one: Pick a side. Do you agree or disagree? If a student is on the fence, I tell him to make a list of reasons for or against, and to choose the position for which he has more solid support. That’s where I’ve been with Charming. If he continues to be the man he’s shown himself to be over the past month and a half, I could potentially fall in love with him. But will I let myself?

Past unions have yielded heart wrenching pain and disappointment. Into the Against column it goes. Entering into a relationship introduces the possibility of experiencing that again. If the time ever came and I trusted someone with my heart, he would also be entrusted the power to devastate me. Furthermore, there are no guarantees about the future, and the byproduct of divorce is awareness that what you had committed to, had hoped and dreamed for, eventually broke. The fear of that possibility is crippling enough to add to the column. What other logic can become a player in this debate?

In one of our adventures this weekend, Charming and I found a little garden grotto tucked into a vast lawn, secluded behind by an iron fence. Outside the fence, we were surrounded by stone walls. Inside the fence, water drained through rocks covered in ivy and vegetation. It was dark where we stood, but sunlight illuminated those rocks and greenery. The beauty of the moment was just beyond reach, but I photographed it anyway, to capture the paradox.

We spent a lot of time walking outdoors, sidestepping softballs in favor of the kind of thought-provoking, intelligent dialogue that leaves your mind a bit winded. Charming volunteered that he had made a list of thirty-one things to do before turning thirty-one. It is, in essence, a bucket list with a due date. I remember making one such list in my flowered pre-teen journal. In a way, these lists encourage you to commit to dream. He so inspired me with checked off stories that I spent last night curled up with bucket-list blogs and knocked my own out in three and half hours: Thirty Things to Do in My Thirties.

And this is where the For column begins to build support. I’m looking ahead. I’m assessing my life and recognizing what is of most value to me. I’m committing to striving to make each of those dreams a reality in my future. On equal footing with past heartaches is future joy. On equal footing with the potential for failure is the potential for success. We need more evidence.

This evidence comes in the form of the first two items on my list.

  1. Marry the man of my dreams, not settling for anything less than that.
  2. Become a mother to at least one child of my own.

Conservative, logical reasoning concludes that in order to accomplish these, I will first have to fall in love. At some point, I will need to open my life up to a man and trust that he will honor my offering. Add a touch of Pathos to both sides of the argument with simultaneous foreboding and excitement. More specifically, I assume within the context of the goal statements themselves that I will fall in love. It’s between the lines, but it’s there.

When Charming and I ducked into the stone walls and gazed at the garden grotto, we were given a vision of a possible future. We were both on the outside looking in at the beauty beyond reach, in the dark but glimpsing the light. My students could tell you that the archetype of light symbolizes hope. In life after divorce, hope is a juxtaposition of our dreams and our fears. We cannot cling to hope if we’re afraid of it.

An iron fence separates my present from my future, a fence that bears the persuasive essay prompt: You should fall in love with Charming. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why or why not? My students are instructed to respond to the whole prompt. So far, I’ve been preparing arguments for or against falling in love, but I’ve ignored a key piece of the task.

Today, after discussing my 30 list, my workout mentor Chuck asked, “Why do you want him in your life?” After a moment of silent reflection, I found myself spilling out a surprisingly passionate argument for this very prompt. In short, Charming is an intelligent, God-fearing man with a heart for others, who inspires me to dream for myself, holds accomplishments to come as more worthwhile than past disappointments, who bears the scars of past wounds, who is justified for staying on this side of the iron fence.

But that wasn’t all that leaked out. “Chuck,” I slowed. “I want to help him with every item on his bucket list.  If I were the woman the walls came down for, I would hope that his future could hold so much joy, achievement, and love that the sum of it would overshadow every hurt that came before.” So much so that maybe we could come to be grateful for the tarnished road that found us at that crossroads, face to face before a gated garden grotto.

What’s beyond the gate is on my 30 list, in between the lines with falling in love. The list is about looking forward, not backward. Heartbreaks and failures are realities of the past. Love and success are possibilities of the future. I could fall in love with Charming, but I didn’t need a prewriting graphic organizer to come to that conclusion. Will I fall in love with Charming?

I’m still logging evidence, but ethos dictates I can’t trust myself to make the right choice. Pathos demands I consider the peace I feel when he takes my hand. Logos requires me to consider all the reasons for and against. But dreams are rarely rational, and falling in love is not a persuasive essay. Hope is between the lines, beyond the fence. And so, I imagine I won’t have any syntax control over the decision to fall in love. After all, they call it falling in love, not persuaded to love.

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