As I stood on the platform with the choir for the first service, I kept my eyes open…scanning the congregation so see if she may have slipped in without my noticing. That had happened once before many years ago. I was still coaching and we really didn’t know each other that well. She had come to a wrestling match and sat in the stands…watching, cheering, waiting. But I didn’t see her until it was all over; until it was almost too late. I’d learned my lesson and always tried to keep a watchful eye for her since whenever I thought there might be even the slightest possibility she would be there.
The first service passed and still, she wasn’t there. I walked from one entry door to the other, like a child on Christmas Even…waiting, watching, hoping. With a watchful eye on the time so I wouldn’t be late to line up for choir for the second service and the other on the entry ways, the minutes ticked away. Three minutes until we were to walk in, so I moved into my position in line…disappointed that perhaps she wouldn’t make it. Standing in conversation with a friend, suddenly I felt someone grab me from behind.
As I turned, it was a friend that I knew she was planning to attend with. My heart grew and began to beat at a more rapid pace. As we exchanged hugs, I peeked over his shoulder…hoping, expecting, wanting to see her. But the hallway was empty. Again, my heart began to sink. Maybe he was here to tell me that it wasn’t going to work…that it was just too hard for her to be there.
Suddenly, he began to look around as well.
“I know there are a couple of beautiful ladies around here somewhere”.
He began to walk toward the far entry and I followed, forgetting for a moment that the choir would begin to walk in for second service in only a minute. I looked to the right and left. Perhaps they were in the ladies room, I thought. And then I saw them…more specifically, I saw her.
I’m not sure if my heart started racing…or if it just stopped beating altogether for the next few moments. I really don’t know how long I stood there…probably seconds, but it seemed much longer. She was exactly as I remembered her. Her long blonde hair still styled as it was the last time I saw her. Adorned in a white jacked with a fur collar, it reminded me of the first time I met her…in a school parking lot at a semi-clandestine meeting. Her make-up perfect, her smile radiant…her demeanor, as hesitant as my own.
My feet began to move again as I slowly walked toward her. My arms opened, welcoming her into a hug…holding her perhaps a moment longer that I should have, but not long enough for the feelings welling up in me. While my inner being screamed at me to give her a tender kiss, I pulled away and told her how good it was to see her and how good she looked. I could see one of the choir lines begin to move and I hastily apologized for having to leave and get in for the service…telling her that I would see her in a little bit.
As we sang our songs and led the congregation in worship, my eyes kept returning to that spot near the left aisle…three seats in, eight rows back. Watching her as she sang and worshiped the Lord. Tears pooling in my eyes as I realized that we weren’t a “couple” any longer and the great treasure that I had lost. It seemed that we were on the platform longer than usual…most likely because I wanted to sit in the empty chair…left aisle, eight rows back, fourth seat in.
Finally, we sang our last number and exited the platform. Gathering my stuff, I entered the back of the sanctuary and found my way to the empty chair beside her. As I sat next to her for the next forty minutes, it seemed like nothing had changed. We were together…side by side, sitting in church. I found it difficult not to reach for her hand…or slide my arm around her holding her close. But I didn’t. Now wasn’t the time. I’m not sure there will ever be the “right” time again.
We spent the remainder of the day together, enjoying lunch (which she insisted on paying for as I slipped her some more money). We visited as though there wasn’t a 30 month gulf between the last time we sat side by side, talking about family, work, God. The time flew by much too quickly and we soon found that it was time for me to leave.
Ours is an unusual relationship. Divorced, yet in love. Separated, yet in touch regularly. Certain that a relationship right now is not what would be good for either of us…or for both of us. I’ve never loved anyone in the same way as I love Paula. I don’t know when we will find ourselves side by side again…if ever, but that one day together will be a day I remember forever.