They had moved their lives and their family halfway around the world together. They were a team. They had been married for 15 years. Most people thought they had a great marriage and he did too. And then he found out his wife had been lying to him. There was a boyfriend. Heather didn’t mean for him to find out but it came out in something she said. She didn’t notice that she had accidentally given something away. And Nigel didn’t say anything for the first while. He used that time to gather information.
And gather it he did. Once he started looking he noticed that the clues were all over the place. Unfortunately, as jealous people prove–you can develop quite a list of clues that turn out to be false if you’re looking for them. So even 90% of his clues weren’t actually clues at all, but he did find a half-dozen actual things.
So Nigel would think about those six real things plus the 5o or so he imagined and he could tell himself story after painful story–which he did. Over and over, and he was more and more hurt, and that made him angrier and angrier. And while his anger was masked it still came out pretty clearly if you weren’t Nigel. Heather certainly noticed. He was eating away at her. He was criticising her body. He wanted her to feel insecure. If she was going to be naked with someone else he wanted her to waste it being worried.
He thought about moving back to Britain but he couldn’t do that to the kids. As angry as he was he wasn’t crazy–this was about his relationship with her, not hers and the kids. That was a separate issue and he knew full well he wanted her guidance and influence in the kids lives and that they loved her. But this hurt and hurt people hurt people. So they both suffered.
He never did define what he was waiting for, but eventually those silent resentments built up and Nigel exploded in a totally uncharacteristic way. He stormed around, threw things, called a rental company and was loading a truck all in the same day. It was extremely dramatic. And when he was gone he was totally gone.
The kids were obviously completely broken up about the breakup and it made perfect sense that at their age and the way they would be able to understand things–it would almost inevitably lead to them blaming their mother, which in turn meant them choosing to live with their father. In another city.
So there he is. Away from someone that up until a short time ago he loved. She was also his main support even though he’d barely noticed that part. Not that she had noticed that he was doing likewise for her either. Now it’s two years later, the kids have mostly forgiven their mom and they’re better for it. And he’s realized he had been somewhat inattentive to his wife prior to her affair which ended anyway. Now she’s single and he’s still alone too–too scared to get hurt like that again. And he’s still trying to find a way to forgive her so he can do what he calls moving on. That’s how he described it to the ancient Chinese guy who taught his Tai Chi class.
“I am sorry. I do not understand.” The accent was Chinese but this guy went to a British-style English upper class school in Hong Kong. The serenity about him was undeniable. “What do you mean by overcoming? And moving on?”
“You know, that moment where how you feel about something–about someone–changes…? Then you can forgive the person because you see what happened differently so you can move on.”
The Tai Chi teacher seemed confused and it was obvious. “I see.”
“I just have to wait until I can see this–thing–in this certain way and then I can get back to living my life.”
The old man laughed. “1980. John Lennon. Double Fantasy. Beautiful Boy. The song is four minutes twelve seconds. ‘Life is just what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
“That’s my problem, I can’t make any plans until I put this behind me.”
“Then you have plans to put that behind you, and until you succeed at your plan you refuse to move forward.”
“Not refuse. Can’t.”
“Mr. Nigel. You are a very good student. You learn Tai Chi well but you are very mechanical. Your motions are individual. You must learn to flow.”
“I’m not sure I….”
The old man just looked at him for a good long while. “I’ve have been alive a very long time Mr. Nigel. My own life does not include the moment you have told me about. And I know if I never needed such a moment, and most of the people I know never needed one, then neither do you.”
“But then what do I do?”
“If there is nothing left to do with your past then you are free to make a plan and begin taking the steps of your future.”
Nigel slumped. He felt weak. The old man put his hand on Nigel’s back. “But how do I get over what happened and feel better?”
“You leave it in the past. You don’t bring old opponents into today’s battles. You fill your mind with other things. I remember when I met you you told me about an old car you wanted to restore?”
“I haven’t felt good enough to do it.”
“You have not felt good because you’ve been thinking about the worst events of your life. May I suggest you may have been happier working on the car. Our life is our own responsibility Mr. Nigel. No one gives us a good life. We each must fight our own opponents and win our own battles. But between the battles is the time for living.”
And Nigel got it. He really did. He’d misunderstood. He was waiting for a lightning bolt of insight. A stroke of wisdom that allowed him to understand. Understand what happened. But the stroke of insight wasn’t about the events from years ago. Of course that would always be what it was. The insight was that he misunderstood literally how to live. He was trying to figure out how to have it always be okay and instead he realized he was just supposed to respond wisely to it not being okay.
And from that day forward Nigel responded to feeling badly by doing more of the things he enjoyed. He was not only a lot happier, but it resulted in more women finding him attractive and him eventually finding a new partner that easily kept his mind off his problems–and on top of that, on weekends they got to drive around Nigel’s sunflower yellow 1948 Ford Coupe.
Now go build your life’s a hot rod. 😉
Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.