Bridges Intact…

There is a bridge not far from my house. It is one of those bridges they have down here that part in the middle and both sides raise to allow a sail boat or other large boat go from one part of the inner-coastal water to another. It is interesting to watch the huge pieces of steel roadway raise slowly and part in the middle until it is all clear and then begin to lower until they once again meet in the middle to allow traffic to cross. The sides of these bridges are not connected. They are designed to have a minute separation, in order to allow large obstacles to pass through, yet not destroy the bridge’s capability to connect one side of the land to the other. Although they appear seamless, the connectedness is really due to the structure which supports them and the integrity of the material of which the sides are made.

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The other night, I was returning a couple of movies to the Red Box at a nearby 7-11. I waited for a guy standing in front of the machine to make his selections. He took awhile, and since it stresses me out a little when someone is waiting impatiently to the side of the machine for me, I decided to wait in my pick-up while he finished. As it became apparent he was finishing, I got out of my truck to make my own selections. At about the same time, a car pulled up right next to the box, and an attractive 40-something woman got out of the back seat, and approached the box before me. She turned her head slightly, and noticed me waiting.

“Oh, I’m sorry… were you waiting?” She said brightly.

“Go right ahead.” I replied. (Did I mention she was attractive?)

“If it helps, I know exactly what I want, so it shouldn’t take long.” She was friendly. VERY friendly, and we kept on talking for a couple of moments about the movie she was getting. I had already seen it, (Descendants, btw…) and I recommended it strongly. But she kept on talking. It was kind of nice, actually. I had noticed a man sitting in the front seat, and when the conversation continued… at her urging, I might add… he rolled the windows of the car down. Internally, I wondered what was behind the gesture. What was his motive? Did he want to hear the conversation? She asked me if I lived in the area, and when I said, “yes”, she responded that they did as well. Now… maybe she was just really friendly, and I am just overly sensitive, but the conversation and the man’s actions just felt… weird… like he was jealous or something. Suddenly, he turned in his seat towards the back seat, and I noticed the cutest little girl of about 3 sitting in her car seat. He said something to her and she responded.

Aloud I said, “What a CUTIE PIE!” ( Does anyone really say that word anymore?)

The mother (at least I assumed she was the mother. The girl certainly resembled her) thanked me. I then approached the open passenger side window and spoke to the man, “You have your hands full there, Dad. She is SO cute! You better carry a baseball bat for all the boys…. and swing for their knees!” Both parents laughed, and whatever tension I felt, subsided.

While it is true that my imagination could have been running away with me… I wonder… I have learned to trust my intuition, and I felt really awkward in the conversation with the woman and the man’s action and countenance in response to it.

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 Last Sunday, I attended another church which my family has recently been attending. I went primarily because their are single people my age, and the church I currently attend has single people who are significantly younger than I. While I am not an age snob, I realize that if I am ever going to find a serious romantic relationship that works, I need to be around women my own age. I was early for the service, and my family hadn’t arrived yet, so I hung out in the yard outside the church. As I sat in an iron swinging love-seat, I saw a thirty-something couple talking to another thirty-something woman. The woman who seemed to be with the guy had auburn hair and was very attractive. The other woman was blond, and also very attractive. I always find the interaction between women to be quite interesting. Auburn-hair was quiet, and seemed to be outside the conversation, and was instead watching the interaction between Blond and Husband/Boyfriend. Blond spoke in a very animated fashion. She would touch Husband/Boyfriend’s arm every so often. She laughed a little too energetically when he said something funny. To my eyes, she seemed to be flirting. Auburn-hair looked.her.up.and.down… She would only laugh slightly at Husband/Boyfriend’s words. She could see how Blond was reacting, and was not comfortable with it. All the while, Husband/Boyfriend seemed to be clueless to these signs by Blond, or was enjoying how engaged she was with him. Eventually, the pastor came over to the group, and began to talk with the three. This conversation was fairly short, and Auburn-hair and Husband/Boyfriend eventually left. I found myself wondering about the pre-story and post-story. 

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I have been privileged to live in an intact family for my childhood and until I left for college. My father was killed in an accident when I was in college, so I was unable to see my parents’ marriage age as they did. Both my brother and sister have strong marriages. So I am the lone divorce in the family. I must say, I am looking for how marriage works. It would be easy to say, “Just stay together…” , but it isn’t always that simplistic. I am trying to learn from my past, as it comes to hoping, and searching for a long term relationship, if God blesses me that way.  I believe in marriage. I really do, although to people already embroiled in the steady, monotonous tasks of daily life,  romance and staying in love may seem to require too much energy. It is easy to allow the monotony to siphon away the value of just being together. Many times, it is the things two people DON’T say that can build the wall that can slowly grow between them.

I remember a conversation between four of the members of my seminary cohort while I was in Portland. There were three guys, two of us divorced, and one young woman. We heard of her struggle to find an identity separate from wife, mother, daughter, pastor’s wife, etc. I asked if she thought her seminary studies were part of her attempt to explore this identity. She responded that maybe it was, and she was tenaciously holding on to her educational program, because she was learning so much about not only God and the church, but also about herself. I mentioned that she was incredibly intelligent and talented. With eyes looking straight through me, she said, “That’s the first time anyone has ever told me that…”

I am positive her youth pastor husband knew these things, but I suspect he thought she already knew it, so didn’t think he needed to mention it. She didn’t know it. She needed to hear it. He needed to say it….

Disconnection…

which threatens to widen.

After this interaction, my friend Darrell, began to tell us something he had just read by Richard Rohr.  Darrell took a napkin and drew a picture which resembles the motion of the draw bridge near me. Rohr suggests that when a man and woman marry, they continue in parallel lines for awhile, as it relates to educational, vocational, and financial growth. Both usually have similar options in these areas, so the perceived “value” of each person within the culture remains in a similar trajectory. When a child is born, however,  the woman’s trajectory begins to go downward, while the man’s continues to climb.  Opportunities for personal growth occur more frequently for the man. Even when a woman continues to pursue her career, many of the cultural cues to her are that she bears greater responsibility for the children. Many women also feel this strong pull even without any shame-filled messages from culture.

Now… a quick word for the increased activity of father’s in their young children’s lives. I notice more men out with their kids. It seems that younger couples are doing a better job of sharing responsibilities which children bring.  I would be interested to see these marriages in 15-20 years, and see if their relationship as a couple is enhanced by this shared commitment.

Rohr’s theory is that eventually, as the children begin to leave home, the trajectories begin to reverse. The woman begins to go upward, as she has more time to develop her skills and talents; while the man’s begins downward as his career path peeks, and then begins to descend. The key point in the marriage, is when the trajectories get close, and the question becomes, “Will we reconnect, or get lost in an attempt to redefine the rest of their lives. Will they address the issue collectively, or independently? His theory is that if they do this together, the marriage will last and deepen. If they do it independently, the marriage is headed for trouble.

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However, there is a time and place for healthy separation. Each person needs to remember their personal responsibility to work through their own feelings. We can’t expect another person to know that we need encouragement. It is easy for blame to creep into everyday hassles. I have lived that. I know that DOESN’T work. Now I want to learn what does.

Separate yet connected…

Like the bridge…

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I wrote in previous posts on this blog, (Symmetry and Redemption) that I would be redeemed to my heritage, and my heritage would be redeemed to me when I moved to Florida near my family of origin. I also suspected there would be depths of redemption of which I could not know. This is one of them, I think. My brother’s and sister’s marriages are very different. They have each lived VERY different lives. Collectively, they have marriages which have lasted almost three-quarters of a century. I need to learn from them. I need the redemption of hope.

I’m sure that if I were to ask Bill and Margaret, and Dan and Connie, they would say that the ultimate, saving foundation of their respective marriages is a living faith in God.

Active, mutual forgiveness and grace…

Daily renewal of love…

Laying aside perceived rights, yet identifying conflicting priorities…

Open intimacy and desire…

Treating each other with respect…

These are gifts from God which keep love close, and warm.

I just need to keep my eyes, and ears open….

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A Little Tentative Self-Honesty….

I’ve been having a difficult time writing. Not able to find topics I think others would have interest in, especially in a short, blog format. My thoughts have been deep, but need a logical structure.

So, I’ve come to the point where I think I need to write about the last 4 years, while they are still somewhat fresh. They have been very clarifying years for me. Defining years, but the lessons I have learned need refinement, at least for me. I need some structure within which I can go back to the future, so to speak. If I don’t learn from my past, I might repeat some of the same mistake, like not taking responsibility for my own life and the decisions required for each new day.

Honestly, it became easy to blame Greta for much of my own wandering…. And with good reason sometimes. But I don’t want to begin a new life in that manner. If I am blessed with the possibility of another relationship in the future, I need to approach with maturity, possessing myself and knowing my own responsibilities for me and my direction in life. I have begun to see that two can make decisions together. I never saw how that worked in the past. I usually went along, thinking giving her what I thought she wanted would make her happy…. But it didn’t. I think I’m becoming more confident in my own judgment, and that is a start. But I have more work to do. I don’t want to make an idol out of someone I love. And then resent them for their own weaknesses. I want to possess myself fully, weaknesses and strenghts, and that will allow me to give grace to the Other. I didn’t do that in the past.

I have thought about the possibility of living the rest of my life unmarried. However, something inside me longs to share life, and at the deepest levels of my being. I know the stresses of having lived with someone wrong for me, eventually believing that somehow we were wrong for each other. That is where my mind has begun to dig and learn. What is the nature of marriage, and how can people know themselves, and be whole… pursuing God as the Original relationship… Being Adam before there was Eve. Then be open to the presence of “a helper suitable” for them. I very much feel God’s edict of, “It’s not good that man should be alone.” I don’t want to build my life on another human being, and that is part of my continued self-work, but it sure would be nice to know someone was thinking of me…. that they wanted to.

Freedom isn’t free…. a good bumper sticker, but for me, living an adventure is hollow without someone with which to share it. Like a painting with only one color in only one shade. Flat…. Boring.

I am very thankful for my kids, but I understand that I will always be an outsider in their lives, as my mother is an outsider in my life. That’s ok, we leave our parents to cleave to our life. That’s the way it is supposed to be. I can’t explain where the pull to a “One suitable” comes from, I just know it comes from deep within. I also know that the feeling is common for most men. I’m not sure if it is a testosterone thing or what, but it also is part of what makes me, Me.

However, I have thought and taught my kids to become who you are, follow your passions, and look around to see who is going in the same direction. Then you have at least one thing in common, or maybe more than that. I am just now having to learn to do that myself. Further, I don’t mind sharing directions. Couples can have seperate careers, but they practically must work out the kinks. I’m up for that, but it can’t be with someone concerned more with power than actual sharing. People who love one another are concerned that the other can develop their own skill sets and abilities and dreams. They aren’t threatened by it, on the contrary, they take joy in the other person’s growth. I think there is certainly value in the process of working out the kinks…. it calls for giving and receiving grace which goes against self interest and our own spiritual disease process. Marriage is a spiritual union…. a tool for honing each of us into more loving people. I believe that, and want to fully experience it. I still believe in marriage…. just not the one I was in for 23 and a half years.

Honestly, that is not a slap towards my former wife.  Our relationship was…. hard. I’m sure those of you reading this might say, “Right! All marriages are hard, but….”  and then you might go into a lecture about how you stick it out… work at it… MAKE it work. All I can do it point to 23 years. Almost half my life. We tried, but…
I have come to believe that the problems were actually in the beginning, and fundamental to who we are…. our personalities… our view and expectations of life… maybe even our genetic make-up… they seemed to be organic differences that didn’t seem to work together very well. Like oil and water.
Again, many of you reading this have no idea what I’m talking about…. and yet…. many of you do, and it scares you, especially if you are still married. I have walked through the past 4 years hoping to eventually help other people NOT experience what I have lived.
My mind acts like a dog I used to have. Sammy was an Irish Setter, and she loved to run and explore. When I lived in Colorado, I would take Sammy with me when I went into the mountains to fish or hike. As I was occupied with the activity, Sammy would roam. If I walked 2 miles, she would run 6. I was constantly having to reel her back in… to call her back to where I was before she got lost. My mind does the same. When I am busy in an activity, my mind is running, searching, asking questions, trying to make sense of my experience, always looking for connections between all I am experiencing.
And that is how I have lived the break-up of my marriage. Emotionally present, but also intellectually detached. Watching myself,  my former wife, and my kids, as if in the third person.
So I think I will be writing about what I have learned in the days to come.

A Father’s Advice…

At Greta’s suggestion, a friend sent me the following email:

I am interviewing fathers of daughters of varying ages for this article which is about strengthening relationships between fathers and daughters. I will be interviewing your daughter as well Larry. Greta and Jennifer both insisted that you would be excellent sources . . . Answer as many of these as candidly and openly as possible. If you want to remain anonymous please tell me and I will choose an alternate name for you and there will be no last names used . . .

If you do not want others to view your answers please just copy and paste in another message and send to me under separate cover . . . my email is also fearlessphoenix_kc@yahoo.com

1) Are you or were you close to your daughter? Please explain

2) What do you wish you could change about your relationship with your daughter or wished you could’ve changed if you she’s longer at home?

3) If you could tell your daughter anything in the world what would you tell her?

4) Is there an area of your life where you felt misunderstood by your daughter?

5) What activities do/did make you feel close to your daughter?

6) What is the most vivid memory of your daughter (good or bad?)

7) What is the most valuable life lesson you learned from your daughter (good or bad?)

8) How do you perceive your daughter’s faith or non-faith?

9) What is one question you always wanted to ask your daughter but never felt able to?

10) IS there anything you regret about your relationship with your daughter?

Thank you for your time and consideration . . .

 
My response…
1. Hannah and I are very close now. About 2 years ago, we shared a 30 minute ride every morning when I took her to school. On our daily commute, we listened to her favorite radio station and their morning show. We would kibbitz about the gags, conversation, and music. We laughed and shared unrushed time together. Eventually, we began to talk about… oh, man….. her life, my life, life in general, our family… whatever. We began to cultivate a friendship of sorts. As we have lived together, with just the two of us, our schedules many times miss each other completely, but we still catch up through long conversations or just watch movies together. Our conversations span the gamut from theology to theater. We both have ADHD and understand the strengths and weaknesses inherent in the condition. We are more alike than Baird or Greta, and daily life is just a little easier because of that.

2. I wish our financial condition was better, but we both make the best of what we have. I also wish our family life had been easier. She understands the reasons for Greta’s and my divorce, and why it is best for her mom and dad, but I suppose every divorced parent regrets we couldn’t have given our children the fairy tale ending. However, the four of us have found health through the divorce and are learning ways of relating to each other that are much healthier for all of us.

3. I would tell her how much God loves her just as she is. I would tell her to take her time in relationships with men that will happen later in life. I would remind her to treat herself with respect and learn what type of person she seems to get along best with. I would tell her to learn as much about herself, her strengths, and passions while she is young… that is how God has made her… and then to stay connected as much as possible to her strengths and to partner with people who are strong where she is weak….
But…. I do tell her those things…..

4. I’m not sure where I might feel misunderstood by her. If I did, I’d probably bore her with my explanation.

5. The car rides made me feel close to her. Talks about music and theater and movies, also.

6. When the two of us moved out for the first time, she wrote me a letter telling me how valuable she thought I was. I will NEVER forget that letter. It is in my bible.

7. Hannah does an incredible job of not allowing people’s perceptions get in the way of her trying something she wants to try. She also has done an incredible job of loving both her mother and me when the two of us were seperating.

8. She has a growing faith. As with most people… teens especially… it ebbs and flows. When you grow up in the church, you reach an age where you question why there seems to be a disparity between what is taught and how people live their lives. It usually takes time to realize that you have the same tendencies you scoriated adults about while you were growing up. Eventually, you embrace God as your God, not the church’s God, not your parent’s God, but yours. She is doing that.

9. Why don’t you pick up your clothes when you take them off? Really! AND… What was the best memory you have of our home?

10. EVERY parent has regrets. No parent is perfect. We ALL grow up saying, “I will never….” and end up either doing that thing or something else that drives our kids crazy. I wish I’d been a better provider, but… it is what it is.

There you go Kristi. Before Hannah was born, we were told she would be a 10lb boy. As soon as I saw the baby born, I turned to Greta’s face and said, “There he is!” A kindly nurse corrected, “There SHE is, Dad…” In my head I said, “She?” My hands went cold. “Boys, I know! Girls? I don’t have a clue!” I really had a hard time relating to a daughter while she was younger. I wasn’t afraid to parent, I was just… maybe clueless would be the word. How do girls think? How should girls act? Do you push dolls or are trucks ok? Greta helped…… some…… we’re divorcing, you know, so maybe I didn’t pick up the lessons very well.

If I could tell father’s anything, it would be to listen. I used to say that just about the time you develop the skill to ignore your children’s endless talking is the time you really need to listen. And ask questions. Letting a daughter know you care demands that you ask questions about them and then listen when they answer. Ok, so that’s probably true with sons as well. But with daughters it is imperative. Hug them. Joke with their friends. Be willing to look like an idiot…. they think we are many times anyway, and we ARE many times. Lighten up! Fewer battles, but make the battles you fight the important ones. Help them figure things out themselves. Don’t do everything for them, but protect them ruthlessly. Treat them with respect so they will demand the boys they bring home to treat them the same. Then you won’t NEED the gun.

Thanks for the opportunity, Kristi.

lw

The Percentages Aren’t Good…

When a marriage ends, one of the most natural tendencies is to look for another one. Despite the problems associated with divorce:

Financial difficulty

Trust issues

Feelings of rejection

Legal issues

Child care and custody complexities

Blah

Blah

Blah

…there still is a heartfelt desire to be known and loved by another. Even something as mundane as having another person to talk to about the day can feel like a vacume during and after seperation and divorce. You don’t realize how much identity you derive from being a union of two people, no matter how dysfunctional the prior relationship might have been. So the natural desire is to gravitate back towards that identity. Sexual desire also builds intensity into the desire for a new relationship. Honestly, many stories I have heard from persons involved in failing marriages report that sex is one of the parts of the relationship that suffocates fairly early in the death process. So a person coming out of the melodrama desperately hopes for the Hollywood ending.

However, Hollywood speaks in two languages: manufactured fantasy and junior high melodrama. The first is lived in front of the camera and filled with contrived stories fitting a particular structure to make it interesting and make money. The second plays itself out in private reality and seems to be filled with a form of serial monogamy… which isn’t really monogamy at all. Although the above is a generalization, it seems to be a common perception of most folks not living their lives in front of a camera and living east of Bakersfield.

Although our desire for another relationship is natural…that doesn’t mean it is best nor that rushing right into another love will work out. At the Divorce Care group I attended last night, the material presented left a fairly depressing picture of the success of new marriages. The dvd listed percentages for successive marriages:

70-something percent of 2nd marriages end in divorce

80-something percent of 3rd marriages fail

90-something percent of 4th marriages also….

Wow… and judging the mullet worn by one of the guys in the dvd, those are probably not current stats. That is scary. Personally, I never want to feel this way again. The dvd then gave some suggestions about how we can determine we are ready to date. The time frame suggested was 1 year for every 4 years in the prior marriage….so, for me that would be about 5 years.

Deep breath…

They did mention, however, that doing the necessary work on yourself to become healthier could shorten that time frame. That work as I see it is:

  • To take suffient time to grieve the loss of your dreams. This means more than the loss of your former spouse. I have mentioned in another post, that I have been surprised at how the loss of the reality of “home” has hurt. I wasn’t expecting that, because I took the concept for granted. It was part of my reality for most of my life. Holiday dinners with me at the table are no longer a reality. Its like my place in the picture has been cut out and another person’s picture has been put in its place seated with my kids at each side. While I don’t care about new relationships Greta has or will have, and the hurt is gone, I never thought about the way the new reality would play itself out. That is how grief works. It comes and goes in waves when you least expect it. One way you know you are ready to date again, according to the dvd, is when you aren’t living in the past anymore. That is hard to put a date on.
  • Another facet of leaving behind the failed marriage, is to be honest about my own failures in the past and current weaknesses. Who am I, right now. Failures need forgiveness from God and myself. But I also have to be honest about doing the work necessary to manage  life effectively. I will take myself into a new relationship, if one comes, and I must be sure I manage my life when it comes. Looking for rescue, or someone to “complete” me is disrespectful to my own capabilities and ignores the good which can come from the pain I have suffered. It is very easy to allow the comfort and excitement of feeling accepted and cared for by someone who is beautiful and vivacious and funny, and smart, and….uh…..sorry. It’s easy for a new relationship to distract us from the work we need to do on ourselves and life structures to be healthier in the long run.
  • I must learn how to carve out boundaries in my life. Actually, I need to understand that I need boundaries, what that means in daily life, and the skill it takes to treat myself with respect. Love is built upon mutual honor and respect. If I am unsure that I am loved by God unconditionally and that He has created me with innate value, then my expectations of someone else will never be met. I am beginning to believe that there are some things I should only tell God, because he always loves me, and He can work with me in the healing process.

In Donald Miller’s newest book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, he tells of a relationship which grew serious and then broke. He explains a bit of the emotional process… the emotional numbness initially… and then the switch that seemed to open the pain. I am so tired of that process. The waiting… I know its coming… and then the fight to stop wollowing in it. Miller noticed that he felt like he had control in the pain, as if it were a blanket which brought a strange comfort. Getting back into life meant once again battling with uncertainty. I GET that. I tire of the process of getting back up. But I will always get back up.

For good or for ill, I am a fullback… I lead with my head…. and keep coming back for more… well… hopefully not more of the same….

Beautiful Love…

I used to work in an apartment complex for independent living, low-income, senior adults. I loved the folks there. They were usually pretty direct in the manner they communicated… no reason to be diplomatic… it takes too much time. They also had  patience with themselves and their personal physical condition. They would say, “I didn’t do much yesterday. When I got up, I could tell it wasn’t going to be a good day.” They knew their body and saw no reason to push it past it’s capability.  They had nobody to impress. Ultimately, I was blown away by their mental toughness, and tenderness of heart. I could tell just how much time it would take them to get up, shower, make breakfast, and get dressed for the day. I always said that you have to be tough to get old. Sometimes the weariness of the effort would affect their attitude, and they could be petty. But, so what… I tried to just let that be. So many times I would listen, respond if a response was needed, or give another perspective about how they might look at the situation. That was part of my job.

Another part was to act as a liason’ between the residents, and services in the social service sector of the local, county, and state government. This part of my job could be challenging in that I always felt like I was casting them into a big pond by referring them to other agencies. But, that was what I had to do, because they needed to maintain their independence in as many ways possible. I could help them fill out paperwork if necessary, but I was responsible for about 175 apartments, so my time could fill up quickly.

I remember one couple in particular, of which I was quite fond.  I’ll call them Bill and Wanda. Bill was a very quiet man, in the early stages of alzheimer’s. He had a very dry sense of humor, which I loved. An engineer by lifelong trade, he had provided well for his family until an automobile accident in which they both had been involved had taken much of their nest egg due to caring for their injuries. You could still see his intelligence, yet also see brief glimpses of the oncoming confusion. I remember Bill coming into my office one morning to discuss  upcoming changes in Medicare. I tried to give him information regarding what I knew as well as a website he could also access. He spoke honestly, and courageously about the past, present challenges, and future of his condition. He was trying to get their life settled for Wanda, so she would be provided for when he would no longer be capable of doing so. My heart went out to him. He was funny, and gave a joke as well as took a joke. I enjoyed talking to him.

While Bill was quiet and low-key, Wanda was much more boisterous. A good sense of humor, but sometimes just one click too loud… so some people were annoyed with her. If you spent time talking with her, however, you could tell the goodness of her heart. When in public, it would sometimes appear as if Bill were “hen-pecked.” But that was not the case, it was just a case of two very different personalities. Watching Bill and Wanda interact with each other on a daily basis, I was amazed at how much they loved each other. You could just tell it. They dealt with each other very tenderly. Not in a mushy, corny manner that made others uncomfortable, but just very intimate… thoughtful… caring. 

There was a window in our office which openned to a wide lounging area in which residents would sit. Folks came to the window to do minor business of one sort or another…. to get change for laundry…. give rent payments…. whatever. I specifically remember Bill and Wanda standing at the window conversing with me. I don’t remember the subject. What I do remember is Wanda looking at Bill as he was speaking, and reaching up with her finger and lightly adjusting the few tendrils of hair on his head so they were in place. It was a very tender action. Being a quiet person, Bill looked just slightly embarrassed, as he continued talking to me and seemed to blush just a bit. I so loved that picture…. tender… unashamed… affection in a marriage that had lasted close to 60 years. It was absolutely beautiful, and I was so happy for them!

Sometimes, God brings pictures in rich focus as to how the original design is supposed to be. The picture inspires hope, that it still could be….