So back in High School I began dating a young lady named Leanne (pronounced Lee-Ann). Now she was a great girlfriend. She was loyal, funny and generally always in a good disposition. Her family liked me and trusted me with their daughter.
I was a young guy with a lot of my life before me. I was just about to enter college at Fordham–a big deal for a guy whose parents were not high school graduates, never mind college.
Leanne and I wanted different things. I wanted to be an educated person and have a career in radio. I remember one night I was over her house and her dad gave me the “how do you intend to take care of my daughter in the future” speech.
I paused and quickly responded. “Well…I just got into Fordham. I intend to graduate and then I hope that I’ll just be able to get some kind of job at a good radio station about five years from now.”
Leanne, quickly chimed in: “FIVE years! Wow! That’s a long time. I hope to be married by then.”
I quickly said to myself, “Well then, you won’t be married to me.”
I went home that night and was a bit downcast. My mom, who always knows when something isn’t right with me asked what was wrong.
Me: “I need to break up with Leanne. I don’t know how to do it and I don’t want to hurt her feelings.”
Mom: “Well, I hate to say this but…the longer you wait the harder it’s going to be.”
I agreed. But couldn’t pull the trigger. I took her to my senior prom and had a good time. Leanne was a year older than me, already in a junior college, which she called “High school with ash trays.”
I kept putting off the inevitable, stringing her along in an unfair way. She’d call and I wouldn’t call back. She’d call again and I’d pretend not to be home. She didn’t get the message.
My mom, in all her Irish wisdom told me flatly. “You NEED to break up with her. It’s not doing anyone any good to keep stringing her along like this.”
But I didn’t listen.
The waning days of high school were upon me. I received a call one day from Anna Zah, one of my friends from school. Let me state it clearly, Anna was a friend and not a romantic notion was ever between us.
Anna: “Hey I was sick yesterday, ya got the math assignment?”
Me: “Yeah, it’s a bit complicated to explain and I’m running out the door for a doctor’s appointment. Can I tell you about it later, say 1:00?”
Anna: “Sure I’ll call you then.”
Me; “OK if I’m not back by then just leave a message and I’ll call you back when I get in.”
So I head out but before I do I tell my mom. Hey, if the phone rings around 1PM, it’ll probably be Anna from school. Just tell her I’ll call her back, OK.”
The phone indeed did ring at that hour and mom dutifully answered on the first ring. A female voice asked for me.
“Hi, is Mike there?”
Mom: “Oh no, he’s out right now (glances at clock). Oh who is this? Anna?”
Voice: (angry) ANNA! WHO’S ANNA!? This is Leanne!!
Mom: “Oh! Hi. Well, sorry, Mike’s not home. I’ll have him call you when he gets in.”
Leanne: “DON’T BOTHER!”
When I got home my mom was ashen faced and didn’t know how to tell me what had just transpired. She told me the whole story and I began to laugh.
I asked her where she wanted to go for dinner for doing the dirty work that I didn’t want to do.
Poor Anna was known as “the other woman” without ever having been one and I was thought to be “a liar and a cheat.”
And I let her think that about me.
That friends, is shameful on my part. Leanne deserved better than that. I owed her an explanation and I owed her a proper break up.
I never saw Leanne again. A mutual friend who knew the whole story tried to explain it to her but she wasn’t buying it. She was convinced that I was a cheater. And that was that.
So nearly 23 years later, my life has become what it is. I am a lay campus minister in a parish the Catholic Church. I am a husband and a well-loved man by his wife. A cute dog licks my face and runs to the door upon my arrival. I’m respected by students and colleagues and I love the life I lead. It is more than enough and it is more than Leanne could have offered me and I to her. I was not about to settle for the life that Leanne wanted, because it would not have been close to the life that I have led.
However, Leanne does deserve the truth. And then truth is that I have harbored the guilt of owing her a proper break up for these long years. While I don’t pine for what might have been with her, I do pine for her forgiveness. She was a good friend and deserved more and I failed to uphold her dignity and took a coward’s way out.
Today, I hope Leanne is happy with her life. I hope some guy made her his wife and that they have been more than enough for each other. The scriptures of the past two weeks include great dramatic stories. Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb knowing that there would be a stench. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a filthy animal…a King on an ass. The true king who makes an ass of all the other kinds of Kings.
The truth of my life is that sometimes I stink and sometimes I have been an ass. 43 years ago I was a big one. And I’m sorry.
You’d think I’d learn, Leanne. But the truth is that sometimes I’m still a coward, unable to stand for what’s right and just in the world. Sometimes I fail to be good to my wife and respect her needs. Sometimes I don’t listen to my parents or call them as much as I should.
Sometimes I forget to give people their dignity. And we are all entitled to that.
So I don’t know where you are today, Leanne. And for anyone else that I may have robbed of their dignity, please accept a humble apology on this 44th day of our Lenten giveaway and know that there are lots of things in my life that I am truly sorry for…and that I hope God can forgive me for. I am a much different man than I was in those early years (especially if pictures are any indication). A better man stand here today, I hope.
If my faith indeed can move mountains, then I hope forgiveness is Lent’s greatest gift and that sorrow can indeed turn to joy.