Entering into the Mismatch
THE WEATHER WAS CRISP AND CLEAR ON THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS 1966 when my friend Pete and I took the train from our suburban homes into downtown Chicago. We wandered around the Loop for a while, reveling in the bustle of the city, but then came time for me to bring him on a pilgrimage that I took as often as I could. Fighting the wind, we trudged across the Michigan Avenue bridge and stopped in front of the Wrigley Building. There we stood, our hands shoved into our pockets for warmth, as we gazed across the street at the gothic majesty of Tribune Tower. I cant remember whether I muttered the word aloud or if it merely echoed in my mind: "Someday." Pete was quiet. High school freshmen are entitled to their dreams.
We lingered for a few minutes and watched as people flowed in and out of the newspaper office. Were they the reporters whose bylines I studied every morning? Or the editors who dispatched them around the world? Or the printers who manned the gargantuan presses? I let my imagination run wilduntil Petes patience wore thin.
We turned and walked up the Magnificent Mile, browsing through the overpriced and pretentious shops, until we decided to embark on the twenty-minute walk back to the train station. As we passed in front of the Civic Opera House, though, I heard a familiar voice beckon from the crowd. "Hey, Lee, whatre you doing here?" called Clay, another high school student who lived in my neighborhood. I didnt answer right away. I was too captivated by the girl at his side, holding his hand and wearing his gold engraved ID bracelet. Her brown hair cascaded to her shoulders; her smile was at once coy and confident. "Uh, well, um . . . just hanging around," I managed to say to Clay, though my eyes were riveted on his date. By the time he introduced us to Leslie, I wasnt thinking much about Clay or Pete or the fact that my hands were getting numb from the cold and I was standing ankle-deep in soot-encrusted snow. I made sure, however, to pay close attention when Clay pronounced Leslies name; I knew Id need the proper spelling to look it up in the phone book. After all, everythings fair in love and war.
From Fairytale to Nightmare
As for Leslie, I found out later that she wasnt thinking about Clay as the two of them rode the train home that afternoon. When she arrived at her house in suburban Palatine, she strolled into the kitchen and found her mother, a Scottish war bride, busily preparing dinner.
"Mom," she announced, "today I met the boy Im going to marry!"
The response wasnt what she expected. Her mother barely looked up from the pot she was stirring. In a voice mixed with condescension and skepticism, she replied dismissively: "Thats nice, dear."
But there was no doubt in Leslies mind. Nor in mine. When I called her the next night from a pay-phone outside a gas station near my house (with four brothers and sisters, that was the only way I could get some privacy), we talked as if we had known each other for years. People like to debate whether theres such a thing as love at first sight; for us, the issue had been settled once and for all. Leslie and I dated almost continuously throughout high school, and when I went off to study journalism at the University of Missouri, she moved there so we could be close to each other. We got married when I was twenty and she was nineteen. After I graduated we moved to Chicago, where my lifelong dream of becoming a reporter at the Chicago Tribune was realized. Leslie, meanwhile, began her career at a savings and loan association across the street from my newspaper office.
We lived a fairy-tale life. We enjoyed the exhilaration and challenge of climbing the corporate ladder while residing in an exciting, upscale neighborhood. Leslie became pregnant with our first child, a girl we named Alison, and then later gave birth to a son, Kyle. Buoyed by our deep love for each other, our marriage was strong and secureuntil someone came between us, threatening to shipwreck our relationship and land us in divorce court. It wasnt an affair. It wasnt the resurfacing of an old flame. Instead, the someone who nearly capsized our marriage was none other than God himself. At least, thats who I blamed at the time. Ironically, it was faith in Jesus Christwhich most couples credit for contributing to the strength of their marriagethat very nearly destroyed our relationship and split us apart forever. All because of a spiritual mismatch.
A Marriage Without God
I can describe Gods role in our courtship and early marriage in one sentence: He just wasnt on our radar screen. In other words, he was irrelevant.
Personally, I considered myself an atheist. I had rejected the idea of God after being taught in high school that Darwins theory pleasure. As for Christians, I tended to dismiss them as naive and uncritical thinkers who needed a crutch of an imaginary deity to get them through life.
Leslie, on the other hand, would probably have considered herself an agnostic. While I tended to react with antagonism toward people of faith, she was more in spiritual neutral. She had little church influence growing up, although she has fond child-hood memories of her mother gently singing traditional hymns to her while she tucked her in at night. For Leslie, God was merely an abstract idea that she had never taken the time to explore.
Without God in my life, I lacked a moral compass. My character slowly became corroded by my success-at-any-cost mentality. My anger would flash because of my free-floating frustration at not being able to find the fulfillment I craved. My drinking binges got out of control a little too often, and I worked much too hard at my job, in effect making my career into my god.