Sometimes in order to really enjoy some event, experience, or person one must first endure something unpleasant. This is not a prerequisite in order to experience happiness, but it is often a reality. Few women can attest to a painless pregnancy, if any. Nine months of enduring chemical, physical, and emotional changes in a psychological roller-coaster can be many things, but it is hardly something one might call pleasurable. Yet the joy of holding that little bundle of helplessness, after giving birth, most often results in wonder and elation. To this end, I propose that there is a greater danger in missing real joy and happiness because of an inherent fear within our human experience to make a commitment, because of the risk of the possibility of failure, hardship, and unpleasantness. What I mean to say is that sometimes suffering comes with the risk and is worth that very suffering, for the joy that often follows is exponentially expressed as the result of the endured hardship.
I can only imagine what an astronaut must go through mentally to prepare for a flight into outer space. Certainly, I have seen documentary footage of the rigorous training astronauts are subjected to, as well as dramatizations of historical flights in space during the Apollo missions and the shuttle program. But it is not the training that compels me to wonder. It is the reality of the moment. That instant realization when all practical knowledge and understanding translates into actual experience as the rockets ignite and the ground rumbles and vanishes rapidly below—when your horizon changes and everything you have ever known suddenly is pulled back from you in a sudden unpleasant rush of energy—and you are catapulted into a new experience that you are committed to and cannot turn back from, no matter how scary it may appear immediately in front of you.
On August 11, 2012, several incredibly scary and joyous things occurred in my life as the result of a singularly and seemingly impossible event, one that most “in the know” would agree could NEVER have happened had they not witnessed it firsthand. One of my dearest and best friends from childhood, Charles—a man whom has been like a brother to me, a fellow who had lived a Spartan existence as a bachelor as long as anyone could recall—at the well-seasoned age of fifty-four, stepped from the shadows of single-hood and took the risk of commitment to marry the girl of his dreams! Even as I write these words, I am still wondering if what I saw was indeed what I saw. Everything on his horizon suddenly shifted dynamically, cataclysmically, and undeniably; so much so, that I believe it had even tipped him upside down, so that for the first time in his adult life Charlie was standing right side up.
That weekend of the Bantum-Acosta wedding was scheduled for Las Vegas, Nevada; a four-and-a-half hour drive through the high desert wastes of Southern California for Linda, our kids and me, as well as our son, Brian and his small family. A nine hour drive or more was on the menu for my adult daughter, Sarah, and her small family, and Charlie’s older brother, Mike, and his family who all live in the greater bay area of Northern California. Charles and Petra (his bride-to-be) graciously provided hotel rooms for their extended families (and us) and invited guests, which included a pre-wedding dinner the night before, and reception dinner following the ceremony. I could not even fathom the cost of such an endeavor or event; but Charles and Petra did.
Meanwhile, my wife had some risks of her own to face as well. Linda would be the first to tell you that her upbringing was not a pleasant walk through the woods. In Las Vegas live two of her relatives, who had also experienced turbulent travels through their respective childhoods: Her nephew, Tim, and her niece, Paulette. Two people she loved dearly and last saw as teenagers decades ago before they wandered out into the adult world to find their paths in life. Would they want to see her? What would such a reunion cost her emotionally? She asked me to contact Paulette about a week before our trip who, in turn, called her brother, Tim. The family reunion was a go and set in motion. All we had to do was get to Vegas, Baby! Let’s do launch!
Prior to our Friday start, some of the unpleasant aspects of our weekend began and increased with frequency as we left the launch pad and headed off to Las Vegas in our Honda Pilot. We experienced the usual un-pleasantries of this flight—planning, budgeting, packing, driving, navigating, stopping, stretching, re-fueling, driving, and more driving—before finally arriving. Then there was the typical confusion as all parties converged on the hotel lobby while trying to sort out itineraries, room numbers, and impromptu gatherings later that evening. And then it got good! Really good! And then it was great! There were still mishaps and unexpected twists and turns; the most notable being unbearable weather (humidity), a freak summer lightning storm, an outbreak of prickly-heat rash on my son Brian’s upper torso late Saturday night, and a long stream of slow moving cars (and tears from my wife, Linda) leaving Las Vegas on our way home Sunday afternoon.
I can honestly say, “What a blast!” Linda hit a big jackpot on a quarter slot machine Friday afternoon that practically paid for our incidental expenses and lunch reunion on Sunday with our niece and nephew. Later that evening, our immediate family shopped until we dropped at the M&M store on the Strip. Then Mike, Linda, Mike’s mom (Hiroko), and I played pinochle until three in the morning early Saturday. After that, I played a few quarter slots in the hotel casino and hit several small jackpots and left the floor at 4:30 A.M. with a hundred bucks more than I started with.
Saturday proper was a formal affair. Everyone was focused on getting to the church (chapel) on time. There were children and babies everywhere! Charles was dressed to the nines and Petra was stunning as she entered the chapel in her bridal gown. And I swear to God that I saw and heard Charlie Bantum promise before God and a packed chapel that he loved that woman named Petra and committed himself to loving her for the rest of his life. Absolutely miraculous! O the joy and absolute rapture in that moment! And Petra gave her love and life to Charles in the same exhilarating rush of breathlessness and abandon that makes all unpleasantness fall away like the second stage of a rocket from the fuselage of the spacecraft. Nothing will ever look the same again through the eyes of love.
And there were incidental bonuses that I could never have anticipated. Our long time friends from Moreno Valley, Nick and Monica, arrived at the chapel minutes before the ceremony. We sat with them later at the reception and had a great time catching up with the happenings in both families. At the reception, I sat next to a man named Mario, the husband of Petra’s former college roommate. We had some great conversations about faith, family, and fatherhood. Which brings me to an even greater bonus and confirmation to me that God answers my prayers often. Charles and Petra are expecting a little girl sometime in January. New life! My how the horizon will change for Charles as a daddy of a little girl. Everything Charles has come to understand about life is about to be turned on its head.
Jackpot! It’s Vegas, Baby! Charles and Petra are big winners. Everything is new and exciting: a new life, relationship, and family with a child on the way.
A new life with a wife and child. God is waiting in the wings to bless Charles and his new family; to experience joy in relationship with them. It is absolutely scary, unpredictable, and completely worth the launch with all its risks and unpleasant aspects. I pray Charles and Petra (and baby-to-be) will seek God’s guidance and blessings for the rest of their lives, and experience unbelievable joy and happiness to the end of their days on this Earth.
And on Sunday afternoon, in answer to other prayers and at long last, Linda was reunited with members of her own family. It was a great and wonderful experience as well. But that is another story, perhaps, for another time.
To Charles and Petra: Until the Lord smiles upon you in Heaven, may His peace rest upon you here on Earth.
(copyright 2012, Gregory Allen Doyle)