Rubicons, as Far as the Eye Can See

This post describes, my recovery from the loss of my wife to a degenerative neurological condition called Huntington’s Disease. She was healed of this condition when she went to live with our Heavenly Father at 2:30AM, the 10th of January 2021. You can read the announcement here.

Or if you would like to read our story from the beginning, you can start with: How We Got Here…

Last Sunday, I shared that Frannie and I were getting packed up for a move up to Mineral Wells, Texas. This Sunday, we feel really blessed because the move went without a hitch – aside from the one I had to get mounted on our car. The movers arrived right on time and packed us up carefully and efficiently. They finished up around 3PM, so after Frannie and I packed a few things that we didn’t want to send with the movers (important papers, contents of the refrigerator, etc.), we got on the road ourselves about 6PM, towing a little 4×8 U-Haul trailer.

The drive was about six hours, so we arrived in our new home slightly after midnight. We were tired, but otherwise safe and sound. The next morning, we unloaded the trailer and while I went to return it, the movers arrived and started off-loading the truck. At one point I was concerned that we would run out of space in our new house before we ran out of boxes in the truck! But in the end everything worked out well and even the finances offered a nice surprise, as the cost of the move ended up being considerably under the company’s original estimate. In addition, U-Haul didn’t charge me extra, even though I kept the trailer an extra day.

In addition to unpacking, to be fully at home we need to come up with three appliances (washer, dryer, and refrigerator) and a couple pieces of living room furniture to replace items that we had to get rid of about a year ago to make room for Janet’s hospital bed.

In any case, the utilities are now in my name, and the cable is hooked up – though all we have is internet. I got a Roku unit about a year ago and really like it. If all I want to do is sit and watch documentaries about Blue Whales, they have a channel where I can do that. If I want to listen to music, I can do that too. It’s a neat service that doesn’t require me to buy cable TV with a bunch of channels that I don’t want – or find offensive.

Something else I have noticed since leaving our old apartment, is that rather than growing dimmer, my memories of Janet are, for now at least, growing stronger and more vivid. I well remember the rough texture of the gray wool coat that she wore the first time we met. The sound of certainty in her voice the morning after we first had “unprotected” sex: “That did it! I’m pregnant!” And she was! Her courage, sitting in front of a room full of 2nd year medical students and letting them watch her undergo a neurological examination. So many good memories!

So we are getting settled. And yes, God is definitely taking care of us…

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The title is a reference to the phrase “Crossing the Rubicon,” as it is used to describe a decision that implies a point of no return. The phrase itself was derived from the historical event where the Thirteenth Roman Legion under the command of Julius Caesar, in direct defiance of orders, crossed the Rubicon River which formed a portion of the northern border of Italy. As a result of this action, Julius Caesar became, well, Julius Caesar.

The interesting thing for me was that this crossing took place on January 10th, 49 BC, or to put it another way, exactly 2070 years to the day before Janet made her own “river crossing” (of the River Jordan). As I looked into this bit of historical synchronicity, I found some interesting sidelights that apply directly to being either a caregiver or someone who is being cared for.

To begin, you would think that the Rubicon would be one of Europe’s mightiest rivers – after all, an event this important should take place on a powerful, majestic river. But not so. Except for a short portion right at its mouth where it empties into the Adriatic Sea, the Rubicon is little more than a creek that Julius’ men could have crossed without getting much more than their caligae wet.

And so it is in our lives. We tend to think that big, momentous turning points should have big, momentous signs and markers. But the opposite is more often true. I know that in my own life, most of the major turning points are only clearly discernible in the rear view mirror – like a random thought drifting through my head that perhaps running an ad in a singles paper (sort of like Tinder, but hardcopy) might be a way to meet a nice lady to date. Or a snap decision in high school to take a creative writing class because it was supposed to be an “easy A” only to have it ignite a love of writing that has lasted 50+ years. Or sending in a postcard from an engineering magazine, to learn about a new programming language that would become my profession.

The lesson is that you never know how a small, even insignificant, change is going to impact your life. I certainly had no notion at the time of anything big afoot. And if you think about it, that means that we can (and often are) passing dozens of life’s turning points everyday without even realizing it. Which is sort of what I meant in the title. Every step we take is in essence wading through another personal Rubicon – and as with the real one that Julius tramped through, there is no getting halfway across and turning around.

The significance of water…

Passing through and over water is a very powerful image that has been used since time immemorial to symbolize rebirth and new beginnings. Which is really the point of baptism, whether Christian or the ancient Jewish rite that came before it. But wait, there’s more.

There were other images about water: Moses and the children of Israel passing through the Red Sea, Jonah passing through the sea in the belly of a “great fish”, Noah riding out a flood in a massive boat that he built. And these are just a few of the references in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

When you add to those examples, the use of similar rites by everyone from the ancient Sumarians to indigenous tribal groups in North and South America, and you begin to get the feeling that there is something “hardwired” in us as human beings that needs these sorts of observances.

The other thing to notice about crossing the Rubicon is that it wasn’t actually very hard to do. Perhaps that’s another important lesson. In addition to expecting big landmarks, and big portents of the future, we also expect big struggles. While there are numerous obvious exceptions, many times in the actual doing, they aren’t very difficult. To be sure, I have struggled about whether to take a step or not, but that is different from taking the step itself. In those cases, the big struggle wasn’t always against fear, but rather apathy. It is so easy to fall into justifications like, “What’s the point? Nothing will ever change.” Or the ever-popular, “What can just one person do?”

But I think that one of the big defining factors of Rubicon moments is the rules: either the rules we keep in those moments – or those we break. Here I’m considering the word “rules” to stretch far beyond formal laws and social mores to include things like personal commitments. It is the rules that put the teeth into decisions because regardless of whether you choose to keep or disregard a given rule, there will be repercussions. For example, while Julius Caesar’s decision to cross the Rubicon led to his becoming the absolute ruler of Rome, it also led to his death just five years later on the 15th of March, 44 BC.

In the same way, if I had done something different at any of my big Rubicon moments, my life would have been very different. But that fact highlights a problem: if looking back I see that I made the wrong choice, am I just stuck with the consequences? Thankfully, we are not, due to what I like to call anti-Rubicon opportunities – also called redemption. For instance, I have mentioned before that Janet was my third wife. I made two very bad decisions and crossed two “rivers” that I should not have. The damage done by divorce can be redeemed, but it is not something I could do on my own – it needed divine intervention. Although, there are still visible cracks, like Japanese Kintsugi, God can make my life’s cracks and broken spots beautiful, such as when you consider that my five (surviving) kids are all just brothers and sisters. The prefix “half” doesn’t exist in their vocabularies.

So if you have crossed some rivers that you should not have, take heart. The damage is redeemable.

In Christ, Amen ☩

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A prayer for when you made a really bad choice…

“Blessed are You, Lord God, King of the Universe. It is right that I should at all times and in all circumstances bless You for the perfection of Your plans and creation. But today I want to bless You especially for Your unlimited ability to redeem that which is indentured, repair that which is broken and find that which is lost. I feel so often like my life is an unmitigated mess, but bit by bit, piece by piece, You manage to miraculously reassemble the shards of my life into something beautiful. Thank you! Amen.”

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