By Bill Harley
In our first book—Now That I’m Here, What Should I Be Doing?—we explore a profound parable in which a lover has been unsuccessfully seeking his beloved for long years. He comes to a point where he can no longer bear the separation from his beloved and goes on a quest to relieve his suffering. During his quest, he is obstructed and chased by “watchmen”—people who seem intent on harming him and driving him off course. To escape the watchmen, he climbs a wall and throws himself into the darkness on the other side. There he unexpectedly finds the beloved for whom he has been searching. In our book we explore how all of us are seeking different kinds of beloveds, encountering “watchmen” forces that seem to obstruct our search, and scaling “walls” that we go over with great difficulty in order to reach a new phase of growth and awareness.
In reflecting on my life before I encountered this parable, I can see the same spiritual dynamics playing out then as throughout my life. An example is the story of how I found my wife, Jean.
I went to college in the 1960s and had dated several women in the formal way we did back then, but was finding it difficult to connect deeply with anyone. In the fall of 1965 I attended a dance at the sorority of a platonic friend of mine, Peg.
I was chatting with Peg when I glanced at the dance floor and then said to Peg, “Who is THAT!” Peg said, “Oh, that’s Jean DeVilliers. She just transferred here from the University of Colorado. Would you like to meet her?”
I said, “Yes, I would!”
Peg said, “Maybe you should ask her to dance.”
Accepting Peg’s advice, I excused myself and started walking toward Jean, who was dancing. There seemed to be an aura surrounding her. I walked up behind the fellow she was dancing with, tapped him on the shoulder to cut-in, and he reluctantly stepped aside. I quickly introduced myself to Jean, we made it halfway around the dance floor in polite conversation, and then someone else cut-in on me. I waited a decent interval and then cut back in on him. After moving halfway around the dance floor again, someone else cut-in. It seemed that other guys were noticing Jean’s aura too.
I knew I could get Jean’s phone number from Peg, so before leaving the dance I cut-in three more times so that Jean would remember me when I called. When I did phone her the following week, she didn’t remember me. We had a five minute discussion, I asked her to go out with me, and she turned me down—courteously, but firmly. After the call, I reasoned that all the guys who had been cutting-in on each other at the dance were probably calling her, too.
I was not discouraged. My heart was telling me that she might be the one. I decided to call her again every week until she agreed to go out with me.
The next week I called her and we talked for about ten minutes but she wouldn’t go out with me. The following week, we talked for fifteen minutes, I learned that she was “going steady” with some guy from the University of Colorado. The next week we talked for twenty minutes. I learned that she had transferred back to Minnesota from Colorado partly to get some distance between her and the guy she was going steady with. She still wouldn’t go out with me. The next week we talked for thirty minutes. We were starting to get friendly. I was bold enough to say that if the relationship with the guy in Colorado was solid, it couldn’t be hurt by going out with someone else; and if it wasn’t solid, she should be going out with other people. She still wouldn’t go out with me.
Even though I was getting somewhat discouraged, I was also encouraged. Sure, she wouldn’t go out with me, but each time we talked we were getting to know each other better, and our conversations were going deeper. She still didn’t remember me from the dance, but she was remembering me from the phone conversations. We were really becoming friends. I felt like I was climbing a mountain and the summit was in view.
Then came the final phone call in the series. On that day, I called her about 4:30 PM and we talked for two hours. We both jabbered our heads off disclosing all sorts of things about ourselves, laughing, nearly crying once, learning how alike we were in some ways and different in others, and feeling increasingly like long-lost, authentic friends. I was living at home at the time, and my parents kept yelling up the stairs that dinner was ready. I ignored them repeatedly. The connection Jean and I were experiencing over the phone was too precious to interrupt. I felt sure she was feeling the same way I was, so finally I said, “Now, will you please go out with me?” To my surprise, she said, “I am so sorry, but I can’t”. The phone call ended.
I sat for a while in stunned disbelief. Everything I had seen and heard from her made we want to be with her. She was wonderful! It seemed like she was the one. But she didn’t seem to feel the same way about me. Frankly, I was crushed. A voice, which had been lurking in my head, said: This girl is way out of your league—wake-up and smell the coffee! I realized I had totally misread the situation by imputing to her the same feelings I was having. This was just the sort of deep connection I had been seeking, and yet it was not to be. I stopped calling her and worked on reconciling myself to continuing solitude in terms of a significant other. I knew I had to detach from the idea of being with her—maybe this was not the best relationship for me despite the attraction I felt—and I suffered and struggled with this for about a month.
Then one day I ran into my friend Tom and his girlfriend Carol, a friend of Jean’s. We chatted for a few minutes, and then Carol said, “Bill, weren’t you trying to go out with Jean DeVilliers?”
I said, “Yes, I sure was, but she would not go out with me.”
Carol said, “Maybe you should ask her out again.”
I said, “Oh no, Carol, she really doesn’t want to go out with me.” Carol smiled and replied, “Well you never know. I think you should call her again.”
“Carol, you don’t understand,” I said. “I called her again and again. We’ve talked for hours on the phone—and each time we talked I asked her out. She won’t budge. She has no interest in going out with me.”
Carol’s eyes narrowed. She set her jaw, grabbed my forearm, pushed her face right up to my face, and said loudly and sternly, “BILL—CALL HER AGAIN!!!!!”
I was dumbstruck. I had never seen such fierceness in Carol before. I heard myself meekly say, “OK. I will.”
With that, Carol walked away; Tom winked at me, and followed Carol.
That evening after I had collected my senses, I called Jean. She was very friendly, seemed happy to hear from me, and after only five minutes I asked her to go out with me. She said, “I would love to. How about next weekend?”
Well, the rest is history. We got married three years later and just celebrated our 48th wedding anniversary this year.
I later found out that Jean had turned me down for the last time because she had been scaling the wall of trying to break up with the fellow she was going steady with on the strength of our emerging telephone relationship. She went over that wall during our long call, but she didn’t want to say “yes” to me without first being honest with the other fellow; however, once she had accomplished that, I had stopped calling. Since it wasn’t socially accepted in those days for a woman to ask out a man, Jean had recruited her friend Carol to shock me back to life because now she was ready to go out with me. In the meantime, I had been struggling to scale the wall of detaching from my near obsession with being with Jean; and recognizing that I could not control another person’s heart. Once both of us had scaled our walls of growth, we were able to gain our beloveds.
For both of us, lovers seeking beloveds were involved; numerous watchmen were involved—some repelling and some attracting; and walls were involved that needed scaling. Where in all of our lives are these dynamics present? They are meant to get our attention because they are tailored uniquely to each of us; and they illustrate the pattern of spiritual, social, intellectual and emotional growth we are supposed to be navigating in our earthly existence.
To learn more about these dynamics, see our book, Now That I’m Here, What Should I Be Doing?
To learn more about how to create powerful solutions in marriage and family life, see our book, Transformed: How To Make The Decisions That Change Your Life.