By Sue Pearson
Happy and terrified. The happy part because I had finally found the courage to leave a long and troubled marriage to create a new path for myself. The terrifying part was imagining another love partnership in my future.
I didn’t trust my ability to choose someone worthy of my trust. I had been wrong in the last marriage. My husband had been so deceitful.
Now in my new life, I vowed never to put myself in that position again. So, the answer to my future had to be…never love again. That would be safer. Plus, I had enough love with friends, family, and my precious animals. I didn’t need the intimacy of a man and woman relationship…too scary.
After a few months of exhilarating freedom alone in my new home, I began to confront the conundrum I had created with my decision not to love again. Growing within me was a deepening knowledge that God is love. And if God created me, then I was made of love. How then could I turn my back on love? I was afraid, that’s why. Could I ever overcome this fear? At many times during my life, I have gone to bed with a question only to wake up the next morning with the answer. I have always listened to the answer, and I have always been grateful for this connection to a higher power. I felt the truth of an answer when it seemed to come unexpectedly, as such a surprise I couldn’t possibly have thought of it myself.
I had moved to my new mini ranch in July. Now, at the end of October, I sat on the edge of my bed with my conundrum. How could the answer to my future be never to love again if love was the most important aspect of the universe? I waded out just a little in this murky water – OK, God, if I ever were to love again, what would love look like? As I rested my head on my pillow, ready to sleep that night, I thought if I got any answer at all, it likely would be a list of qualities to look for in a love partner, things like kindness, generosity, compassion and so on. Maybe a list would be helpful. I just didn’t know.
I awoke the next morning with a name shouting in my brain. It was so loud within my mind it jolted me upright in the bed. What? Really? Then that name again and again. I knew this name because I had thought about him over time. Bill Lanterman! I had expected a list in answer to my question about what love would look like. How could the answer be Bill Lanterman? I promised myself and God I would explore this big surprise.
What I knew, without doubt, was that Bill Lanterman had been my best friend in the world from third grade to my sophomore year in high school. We were together in school, always in the same class, every day. After school, and as young children, we played in the woods near our homes pretending to be warriors clearing the territory of dangerous predators.
One day in the woods, Bill surprised me with a plan for us to take a blood oath like the one we had seen between the Lone Ranger and his best friend Tonto on the popular 1950’s kid’s show. Bill had brought along one of his father’s razors. We both took this promise seriously as we pressed our cut thumbs together and spoke our oath out loud – “We promise to be friends forever.” Webster’s defines the word “oath” as “a solemn appeal to God to witness to the truth of a statement or the sacredness of a promise.” And that’s how it felt at the time – like a truly sacred pledge.
Bill helped teach me about bravery. One day out in the woods as usual, Bill and another boy, decided to surprise me. They jumped off the top of a cliff. I thought they were going to die. Instead they landed on an unseen ledge not far from the top and started laughing. Bill encouraged me from below, “Come on, Sue. This isn’t what you think. You can do it!” I trusted Bill and guess I wanted them to see I was just as brave as they were, so even though I was scared, I jumped.
They knew something I didn’t know. There was a cave under that cliff that couldn’t be seen from the top. When I landed on the ledge beside them, they spun me around. There was the cave! What a treasure to share this secret. Jumping off a cliff was a lesson in courage and trust I carried with me all my life.
As children, we spent many hours outside together. At our homes, after coming in for dinner, we called each other on the telephone and talked for hours. We were inseparable. Our parents yelled at us to get off the phone, but we had so much to talk about I began taking babysitting jobs so I could call Bill after I put the children to bed. There was never a romance between us but rather deep friendship built on trust and acceptance. Our talks were simple, usually conversations about school, but more importantly we allowed each other to talk about ourselves as people and how each of us felt about the world, our fears, and hopes and dreams. Neither of us would necessarily have an answer about our questions but neither did either one of us ever judge the feelings we expressed.
Once in high school, Bill asked me out on a double date with another couple. In the back seat of the car, on the way to a movie, Bill put his arm around me. It surprised me and made me afraid Bill wanted to move this friendship in a new but as yet unexplored direction. During the movie, he put his arm around me again. I know I stiffened against this gesture and Bill got the message. I did not want romance – wouldn’t that change the wonderful friendship we had together for so many years? At that stage of our lives Bill and I didn’t know much about romance and we were not going to learn more about it then with each other. At the end of our sophomore year in high school, Bill’s parents moved the family to Boulder, Colorado. I was sad to see him go, but there were no computers or email or smartphones back then. We each let one another go. He was the gold standard of friendship. I thought I could find another best friend of that quality. Perhaps a romance that led to marriage would provide a partner with that same closeness.
Some 47 years later, with two marriages behind me, I was being challenged to reconsider what love really meant. Perhaps it was not about romance. Romance had morphed into troubled marriages. Maybe true love was about something else?
A Divine power had told me that, quite literally, love looked like Bill Lanterman, the best friend I had ever had in all those years. I never found that level of trust and acceptance with anyone else. Could I find Bill now? The world had changed a lot in those decades we had been apart. I was aware that Facebook on the Internet had enabled people to find friends from the past. But what door was I opening if I found Bill? What if he didn’t even remember me? Maybe I had fantasized our friendship into something more than it had really been? What if he turned out to be a drug addict or a compulsive gambler? Where had life taken him?
I gathered my courage and logged onto Facebook. My pulse was racing and my anxiety level was rising. I put his name into the search box and clicked on it. To my surprise, at least a dozen Bill Lantermans turned up. I didn’t recognize any of them. What if he’s not on Facebook? What if I contact one of these Bill Lantermans, and it turns out he’s not my Bill Lanterman but an axe murderer? OMG! What have I gotten myself into? One of the twelve mentioned in his brief profile that he had gone to high school in Boulder, Colorado. I barely remembered that Bill’s family had moved to Boulder. Could this be my Bill? From his picture, I knew he was handsome but my memory of him at age 16 did not match this current photo. Boulder was my only clue. Was I brave enough to contact this man who might be a complete stranger? I had never looked up old friends before, never even went to one of my high school reunions. I sat there in front of my computer for what seemed like an hour. Should I send a message? Should I leave this search alone? In the end, I decided to trust that whatever door this opened would lead to greater wisdom.
“I am looking for an old friend and wonder if you ever lived in another state and went to a different high school?”
That’s the Facebook message I sent to the man who wrote that he went to Boulder High School. What a long shot? What have I done?
I was so nervous the rest of the day, checking now and then for a return message. It was there in the morning when I awoke.
Bill had written back on Facebook, “Yes, I did live in another state, and went to another high school. Sue Pearson!! You mean my best friend who just happened to be a girl?”
I was ecstatic. I had indeed found my Bill, and he remembered the past just as I did – best friends! We traded Facebook posts, used email for longer notes and decided to phone each other. By now, I had learned that Bill was married, had two grown sons, and lived in Nova Scotia. I wasn’t even sure where Nova Scotia was but learned it was an east coast Province of Canada. So very far away from where I lived in California, but Bill and I could write and phone. We soon learned that the friendship was still there and, repeating history, we talked and talked and talked. We reminisced about so many things we had done together as children: learning to dance, pairs roller skating, portraying the king and queen in a 4th-grade French play, joining Bill’s baseball team as the only girl player, getting into mischief with snowballs and nearby railroad cars, watching the movie Psycho together and being scared of showers for the rest of our lives, riding the roller coaster at Glen Echo amusement park. And then there was the game called Spin the Bottle. That was a big moment for both of us in this experience, and now, so many years later, we laughed about it and cherished it all the more. We had gathered at a friend’s house for a party. We were young enough that our parents had to drive us there. About a dozen of us partied in the basement recreation room. We had refreshments, played music and danced to Johnny Mathis and then we got a little daring. Spin the Bottle was a kissing game. Most of us had never kissed or been kissed before so, this game was a little scary and very exciting. With all the girls forming a circle we watched as a boy, Kurt, who was a foreign exchange student from Germany, took the empty Coca-Cola bottle and put it on the floor in the center. He sent the bottle into a spin and when it stopped it pointed to the girl who was to be kissed. Well, the more sophisticated Kurt swaggered over to the girl, put his arms around her, leaned her backwards and planted a very long kiss on her lips. The rest of us were shocked. This was a real kiss, the romantic kind we had only ever seen in the movies. Bill remembered feeling so nervous when the boys were on the circle and the girls had their turn to spin the bottle. I was nervous too. When it was my turn to be in the middle of the circle, I prayed I would not have to kiss the German boy. I’m sure I held my breath while the bottle spun and when it stopped it pointed right at Bill. I remember feeling such relief. No problem giving my best friend a little kiss. Bill was still worrying about a romantic kiss on the lips so when I leaned in with just the lightest and briefest kiss on his lips, and both of our eyes wide open, I think he was relieved too. Fifty some years later, he told me he never forgot that moment because it was his first kiss.
How sweet it is in these present moments to remember the milestones in our relationship.
As we spoke by phone and reminisced in emails, we started to share our experiences as adults, just as we had as children. I felt that I wanted to fully disclose all of my most personal details. I told him about going back to college to get a degree after I had dropped out in my early twenties. He had done the very same thing but continued on with school earning a PhD from Cornell University. He had two grown sons who both lived in Vancouver. In California, I had a grown daughter, a son, and three stepsons from a second marriage. I told him about my long years as a broadcast journalist moving into many different jobs within one television market, Sacramento, CA. I shared with him my health crisis during production of a documentary on strokes. I had a brain aneurysm repaired in an emergency procedure, which placed platinum coils into the bulging blood vessel behind my right eye. I had an other-worldly experience as I lay on the operating room table, fully conscious. I felt a peace come over me that transcended words but left a distinct message that I would be OK if I lived through this crisis or OK if I died. I felt very comforted by this. I could also hear the voices of my friends in another room down the hall expressing their concern for me. I was hesitant to tell Bill about my other huge mystical experience of being present as my deceased mother helped my father transition to heaven. Some people are just not open to there being more to life than what our earthly senses tell us. I hinted to Bill that I had experienced a transformational moment when my beloved father was dying. He said he wanted me to tell him about it. Just as when we were children, he had not been judgmental about anything I had told him so far. I decided to open up about my deepest spiritual moment. Bill listened with great interest as I told him of seeing my mother in divine light lift my father up from his hospital bed and take him in her arms. I told him all I learned in those moments about God, love, forgiveness, eternal life, faith, and trust. He was awed by the story and thanked me for sharing it with him.
Bill then brought up the ideas of spirituality he had explored. He talked about eastern mystics, Christian mystics and various authors that had inspired him. He also shared that he had become quite interested in A Course in Miracles, which he felt embraced his deepest spiritual longings in a way that was free of the religious dogma that we had both explored, but also oriented to forgiveness in a way that had never been explained to him before. I became very interested by his excitement and attraction to this new path. I had hesitated to speak to him about my spiritual experiences because I was afraid that, in this new relationship, I might put him off. How wrong I was. We were still on the same wavelength.
Bill suggested I might like the book that had become so important to his own spiritual growth. I had heard of A Course in Miracles (ACIM) but had never read it. Now I was curious since it had been so meaningful to Bill. I found the book at a local bookstore and dove into it that same night. As I read the text, I found myself facing the same truths I had discovered in my mystical experiences. Every word in the book resonated as truth. What a huge comfort to feel at home in this book, scribed by a human being but said to be the words of Jesus Christ. I let Bill know how excited I was to be introduced to this book. Some of it seemed a bit over my head so, I thought it might be a good idea to join a study group in my area. I found one hosted by Mary, a lovely, welcoming woman in El Dorado Hills just a 20-minute drive away. Most of the 6 to 10 people who attended this weekly daytime gathering had been in this particular group for 15 years. They were all experienced ACIM students. I was immediately struck by how patient they were with my inexperience. Within a few months, I felt deeply connected to these people. Meeting every week became a top priority in my life. There is something so powerful in the coming together of like-minded people.
I have not questioned whether my question: What would love look like? And the answer: Bill Lanterman, was divinely guided. But I was amazed at what ACIM had to say about questions and answers.
“In the holy instant you can bring the question to the answer, and receive the answer that was made for you.” (CE-T-27.V.7:7)
“Bill Lanterman” was indeed the answer that was made for me. But now, in this reconnected friendship, I was not sure where the journey would lead. Perhaps this was an opportunity to understand more about true love, experience it from afar and look for someone else with the same potential for deep connection. I had a level of trust with Bill that I doubted I could develop with someone else. I was willing to consider, though, that this was the lesson in our coming back together across the miles. At one point, Bill let me know he had been unhappy in his marriage. He didn’t think either he or his wife were capable of the degree of change he felt would be necessary to heal the relationship. I told him I thought it was possible to transform within a relationship and I encouraged him to seek marriage counseling. This was a window into the quality of love I felt for Bill. On the one hand, I would have been thrilled to have him be with me but on the other, if he could be happy in his marriage, I wanted that for him. Now it sunk in that the friendship I experienced with Bill those many years ago and today was indeed unconditional love. The moment we shared speaking our blood oath together had been a holy instant. How rare to love someone and yet be ready to let them go. Bill’s happiness was his right. I wasn’t sure how or if he could claim it.
Some years later, trusting in the connection we had as children, now renewed in our later years, we made the mutual decision to be together. Bill’s wife was very unhappy about the ending of their marriage. I am sure coming apart is difficult for most couples. Later, Bill saw his marriage relationship in a metaphor from A Course in Miracles. It spoke to him and brought clarity.
“A desert is a desert is a desert. You can do anything you want in it, but you cannot change it from what it is. It still lacks water, which is why it is a desert. The thing to do with a desert is to leave.” (CE-T-I.43.12:2-5)
So Bill and I came together for the second time in our lives. After several years of long distance contact with one another, we were finally face to face. I melted into his arms and we danced to Etta James’ “At Last” on a patio at sunset overlooking majestic mountains. When the song ended, Bill looked at me and said, “You are not going to believe this, but as I look at your face I see my own.” At that very moment, I looked at his face and saw me. Oneness – that’s what this relationship was showing us. We were together as one and shared our second holy instant.
Three years later, we got married in the coastal town of Tofino overlooking Long Beach on Vancouver Island. The wedding was magical for us. We dressed up, looking quite handsome and sophisticated. We reveled in the beauty of the ocean front setting and spoke of what our love meant to each of us. We told the marriage commissioner and our two witnesses our love story and everyone cried from the sweetness of the present moment and how long it had taken us to get there.
For a while, we divided our time between Canada and the US but then decided to consolidate and simplify, living year-round at our home in California. Just this morning, Bill found me at the computer. He had tears in his eyes as he handed me a book.
“Look at this.” He smiled through his tears. He was in the process of cleaning out our garage and sorting through so many of his belongings. He had reached into a box and found a book he hadn’t opened in fifty years and pulled out our high school yearbook from 1963.
“Turn to the second page,” he said with a catch in his voice.
My mouth dropped open when I saw the inscription. It was from me when I was 16 years old and saying goodbye to my best friend, Bill, who was moving to Colorado. It read:
“To my sweetest honey!,
First, I want to thank you for supplying my lunch for the last year. Don’t forget those card games and wild discussions we used to have. By the way, when do I get my engagement ring? I’ve been waiting for years. Oh yes, and don’t forget the beach with Dick, me, Sherry and Kathy…
Save a place for me in Colorado. I’m going to miss you so much.
Your True Love
It turns out we saved a place in our hearts that transcended time and space. I had wondered whether Bill would claim his happiness, which is everyone’s right. But he did. And I did too. Is it all that we hoped it would be? Yes, and so much more.
It never fails to fill me with humility and grace that when I glance at my Bill all these years later, I see love because I understand Bill Lanterman is what love looks like.
“From your holy relationship, truth proclaims the truth and love looks on itself.” (T-19.IV.B.9:4)