Been thinking a lot lately about new chapters in our lives (some that are thrust upon us, and some that we thrust upon ourselves — a key theme for me in Jonah; more about that some other time). One big chapter in my life that’s been on my mind most recently started a long time ago in a country far, far away.
I was 21. Just spent two years in Quebec serving a mission for my church, so I was green to civilian life in general. On top of that, I found myself a newcomer in an old land, a small town just north of London, where my dad had just taken a job working for an American university that had a campus there.
Within a couple of weeks of touching down, I attended a dance for the youth of the church. It was a combined dance for several nearby congregations, and I was surprised at how well it was attended. I’ve never being much on the dance floor, and having spent the last two years pretty much out of touch with the opposite sex, I spent most of the evening on the sidelines. But the sidelines were full of fascinating people, particularly if you were (as I am) a fan of English accents (they’re everywhere there – who knew?), so I was fine hanging out there.
But then I saw her across the dance floor. A dark-haired, fair-skinned beauty in a long, green dress. I was smitten. But I was also terribly shy. Smitten and terribly shy are not a good combination. So all I could do was watch from afar. I didn’t even get her name.
Until a few days later.
A very friendly guy from my local congregation showed up at my door. We’d met briefly at the dance. His name was Malcolm and he just wanted to welcome me to the area. As we spoke, he shared with me his exciting news. He was going to ask out a girl he had seen at the dance. Perhaps I knew her? She was wearing a long green dress. Her name was Suzanne Tyler.
You know those scenes in movies where the image and sound get all distorted just before the character collapses? That was pretty much me. Except the collapsing part. I was happy to finally know her name, but other than that, this day sucked.
Over the next few months, I heard from Malcolm about his efforts to win over this girl’s heart. By his own admission, his efforts weren’t going well. But Malcolm was the eternal optimist, and as much as I was still smitten with this girl, I had to admire his never-say-die spirit.
Then came the musical.
Our group of local congregations was putting on a musical called “My Turn On Earth.” I sucked up the courage to audition, and later found out I was cast in the ensemble, which was a perfectly fine place for me. I just wanted to be in the show because I knew the girl in the long, green dress was going to be in it.
To make matters better, we were paired up in a song, “Eternity Is You.” This was a sign from heaven so apparent that even I could not miss it. I got to know her a little bit more during rehearsals. She was completely charming. Soft spoken. A nurse working in London. It was quite the train journey for her to make it to and from the rehearsals. I have never been so grateful to England for its excellent mass transportation system as I was then.
I also found out from her that she wasn’t seeing anyone.
So I did the unspeakable: I asked her out. Without clearing it with Malcolm at all. Because I was pretty sure by now that he wasn’t ever going to throw in the towel until she married somebody else. But the problem was I was beginning to think there was a good chance that I was supposed to be that someone else.
Our first date was seeing Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd in London. Murder, cannibalism and the best pies in London. It was all magical sweetness because I was with the girl in the long, green dress, even though she was wearing a completely different outfit. I found out more about her. She had joined the church a few years before and was the only member of her family. She had great parents, and her brother was in the army. She had a cat named Boots. And she named her car Hugs and Kisses. (Inspired, I later named mine, which was a beater, Bites and Scratches.)
I started hanging out less with Malcolm and more with Suzanne (saw a lot of fun shows on those clandestine dates in London). But I still hadn’t dealt with the Malcolm issue, and it was gnawing at me.
One day, I found myself driving with Malcolm somewhere. I could tell something was on his mind. He started asking questions. Leading questions, like had I seen any good shows in London lately. Malcolm, the beautiful soul that he is, was giving his not so terribly brave American friend an opportunity to come clean. The cad who had gone by the rule that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission was given the chance to experience the rule that confession is good for the soul.
Malcolm was a generous soul who not only gave me his blessing, he was my best man several months later when the girl in the long, green dress became the girl in the long, white dress.
28 years ago today.
Love you, Suzanne. (And you, too, Malc.)