A woman whom I shall call Anne was long in a discreetly unhappy marriage.
Several times a year, she, I and several other women friends would have dinner and often, after a few glasses of chianti, she would, in strict confidence, mention difficulties with her husband, James.
Hers, like a number of unions, looked successful. Anne and James had reared two remarkable daughters together, excelled in big, busy jobs, and cared devotedly for both sets of parents. They regularly welcomed us to their inviting home, where raucous evenings might end in dancing on the deck. But within the private life every couple has, where love is nourished or neglected, things didn't go so well.
James avoided spectacular marriage-busting behaviours like maintaining a second family elsewhere or dumping their life savings at the blackjack table, but had gradually devolved into a state of indifferent callousness. After years of hearing about Anne's increasing distress, I began to question the wisdom of sticking around.
"Why not leave?" I'd ask in that this-is-not-really-a-question tone. There were always reasons to stay, reasons anyone in that situation thinks about: children still at home, financial implications, the pain of a split for elderly parents.
Sometimes I'd question the validity of these excuses; Anne resented my pushiness and called me "opinionated". I retreated, same as the other friends, to a position of sympathy and support, feeling heartsick for her misery. Anne, stoic and contained, seemed in it for the duration.
One golden summer evening, Anne and James were invited to a friend’s home for dinner; appetizers were served in the garden. Anne lay back on a chaise, hand trailing in the grass.
She felt the unmistakable sting of a bee on her thumb. Blinking back tears, she fished an ice cube from her drink to apply to the spot– and that’s the last thing Anne remembers. The host, unable to elicit a response, wisely called 911. The EMTs who treated her severe shock reaction said she'd had a close call indeed.
Anne had no history of allergies and had been stung before without a reaction.
By winter, Anne had moved out. When I asked why she finally acted, she said, "The bee. I realized, I can't live another 20 years like this."
That crisis evoked her will. Anne now lives an entirely new life. One daughter is completing graduate school in forestry, the other works in another city. (Anne is happy that she waited until the girls were old enough to live on their own.)
The many details are being sorted out with James. Not all days are easy, but she's lighter, more relaxed. She has begun to see a man whom she first met over forty years ago, as a student, and with whom she's become reacquainted since the split.
Starkly, efficiently, the near-death experience shakes our sense of time. After potentially last moments, courage and clarity arise. As I said to Anne, "You went to dinner expecting a usual evening and your life changed forever."
Whether the difficulty is a marriage, job or other situation, there is a moment when everything shifts- but is has to be the right timing for you. Sometimes it takes a bee that finds your hand in the grass. Other times, it's just another day, but it's the day.