Articles from the October 1997 Unification News


Forbidden Love

by Peter Hayling-Birmingham, UK

Galya-the very sound of her name filled him with a turmoil of emotions. He was a schoolboy again, allowing himself to be tortured by her face and her young, vivacious innocence. Feeling guilt-ridden and impure, he remembered the trail the students were making through the woods above the seminary. St. John’s Ecumenical Seminary nestled in the New York’s Hudson valley near Poughkeepsie. The warm family atmosphere here attracted students of both sexes from all over the world. There was much freedom, but three rules were strictly enforced: no smoking, no alcohol or drugs, and no dating. Paul Heighway had come over from England last autumn, and now it was a crisp, clear winter’s day. Paul felt drawn to the motherly comfort of the lonely land.

The singing winter air hit him as he left the sandstone walls, his breath clouding behind him. He made his way across the crannied mud of the soccer pitch, now thankfully set solid, and crunched down to the frozen pond on light, powdered snow. In this pure air he felt as if he were leaving a trail of pollution behind him.

Paul was 38, lean, athletic, darkly handsome, with the slight stoop inherited from his father. As he walked, he wrestled with the forbidden love which had tempted and tormented him these past few months. Years ago he thought he had put such "romantic" hormone-led attractions behind him. He had finally walked away from an empty marriage, into which he had been swept before he knew who he was or where he was going. He had found faith, a direction for his life, and had been working hard to cleanse himself of the eternal consequences of lost innocence.

He crunched on, skirting around the pond towards the moss-covered rocks which led up to the woods. Brazen birds busily foraged amongst the rocks. Brittle twigs snapped as he made his way up.

Those years of marriage had left their scars, but he thought he understood now; such passionate, overpowering love was forbidden fruit, until he learned another kind of love. This love had passed him by in the angst-ridden trials of adolescence-the benevolent friendship, even brother-sister love, between a man and a woman. The parental love of God had, after all, touched him and opened his eyes to this new and "right" way to look at women, freed from all the anxieties of the mating game. He had faith that, when the time was right, God would bless him with the joy of marriage. Meanwhile, he had a lot of growing up to do in a spiritual sense.

Then along came Galya with her achingly lovely, vulnerable face, her tumbling dark brown hair and her cute Bulgarian accent. In his loneliness he was flattered that this beautiful girl seemed to really enjoy his company.

He saw her sitting in the canteen with fellow students, that first day. The old patterns learned as a schoolboy came back to reassert themselves. At that time, in his shyness, he would "fall in love" with a girl who appealed to him, and adore her image from a distance, never daring to get to know the real girl.

Paul kept stealing glances at her, feeling the butterflies in his stomach when he thought she noticed. Her hair was tied back in a pony-tail, exposing her high cheeks and delicate ears. As she chattered, her dark, vulnerable eyes darted about. Her boyish figure was hidden under a baggy jumper, and her jeans suggested slim, long legs. She was about 22, he guessed.

The next day, in New Testament Studies, she came and sat next to him. They introduced themselves, and now he had a name to savor: Galya Petrova Ivanova, from Bulgaria.

"You’re English," she stated with a girlish wriggle. "Perhaps you can help me with my accent and grammar. I learned my English in American school and being here will only make it worse."

Paul’s heart was thumping, despite the efforts of his conscience to make him see her as a kid sister.

"I’d be glad to help," Paul managed, not really believing it would happen. "And maybe you can teach me some Bulgarian."

He reviewed, with a mixture of guilt and pleasure, the memories of those first conversations when they had grown to enjoy each other’s company. One late September afternoon he had been sitting alone in the canteen, reading, over a precious cup of real tea. His mother, with her usual generous foresight, had sent him a large box of his favorite brew.

"Hi, Paul. What are you reading?" Galya asked, cheerily.

"The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. I’m reviewing it for the Theories of Personality class," he explained. "Sit down, Galya. May I get you a drink?" he asked, hiding his shy nervousness. Being sociable did not come naturally to Paul, but amid the backslapping camaraderie of the Americans, his English reserve was already cracking.

He went over to make the strong black coffee she had asked for. Then the conversation flowed freely as they sat.

"I’ve always wanted to meet an English gentleman," she teased.

Paul confessed his ignorance of Bulgaria, and she began to explain about the recent changes there, and about her life. Their voices echoed in the large canteen, where a few other students sat in groups, studying or chatting.

"My dad works in the Ministry of Information," she continued. "He’s an old-fashioned Communist Party member, not happy about the moves towards democracy. At one time he was posted to Iraq, and that’s where I learned my English, at the American school there. My mom always spoke out against Communism, even in public. She didn’t care what anybody thought. You can imagine my dad was really upset when I met the missionaries in Sofia." Her eyes started to blink back the tears as she recalled her father’s efforts to prevent her attending the church’s meetings.

"You can’t imagine how thirsty the young people are for spiritual understanding-any kind. Some go for astrology, or the Bahais, Hare Krishnas, Jehovah’s Witnesses, evangelicals. It’s a real free market now."

The sounds of the pots and pans clattering in the kitchen punctuated her words.

"I began to work with the missionaries full-time, helping with translation, doing the office work, acting as an interpreter."

Paul was fascinated, not just by what she said, but by the unspoiled innocence with which she spoke.

"When I got the chance to come to the seminary, I-what’s the expression?-jumped at the chance. I want to do missionary work of some kind, maybe back home."

Paul’s knowledge of Bulgaria was restricted to the impressions gained from spy stories and newspaper articles. As she talked, he learned of a country which, beyond the drab inefficiencies and restrictions of the Communist legacy, held many treasures. She described with passion the monasteries, the folk music and dance, the Roman amphitheater at Plovdiv, and the old capital of Veliko Turnova, built into the side of a hill. She was obviously in love with her country, and he loved her with a strange mixture of protectiveness and desire which frightened him.

Other times together flashed across Paul’s mind as he climbed, breathing hard in the cold air. One evening they were sitting in the recreation room drinking cola, to the sounds of a boisterous table tennis game.

"How about teaching me some Bulgarian?" Paul had asked.

She began with the Cyrillic alphabet and a few simple words and expressions. Paul drew closer as she wrote in his exercise book. Her hair, rather wild and down to her shoulders, brushed his face as he leaned over, making his heart leap. Part of him longed to "accidentally" brush her long slim hand with his.

After a while, they began sharing about their lives again. She dug out some old photographs from her bag.

"I don’t know whether I should show you this one," she said, screwing up her face.

"That’s you?" Paul laughed. "What happened?" He was looking at a shot of a young girl in a swimming costume, broad-shouldered, full-faced, with well-developed limbs.

"Yes, I used to be in the State swimming team. I had many privileges, including travel to other countries, which was otherwise impossible. We trained hard and were fed well. When the changes came in 1989, there was no money to continue the team. I soon lost weight when the training stopped."

He recalled games of volleyball which they both enjoyed, and how surprised he was by her athleticism and determination. One dinner time, as they ate, she was talking about the culture of her country and mentioned that she had written some poetry. Paul insisted that she show it to him. Later that evening, he was studying in the library when she came in for a book.

"I haven’t forgotten about that poetry," Paul whispered.

"Yes, I’ve got one of the poems in my bag," she replied shyly.

"Good. I feel like a break. Do you fancy a coffee?"

So they trouped off to the canteen and sat down over their drinks.

"I haven’t shown it to anyone before," she said, nervously doodling with her spoon.

Paul could just about read the words now and get some sense of the sound and rhythm of the lines. She tried to translate for him.

"It’s very difficult. Some expressions just don’t translate into English.

"Why don’t you just write a literal translation for me," Paul suggested. "I could have a go at making it into poetry in English."

His translation came back to him now, as he scrambled through the trees.

In the beauty of nature,
In the blue sky,
In the joyful trembling of stars,
We feel the warmness of one heart.
How can we return to that lonely heart,
Whose warmness our souls fails to touch?
How can we sense the longing
Of those distant stars,
Whose light we see,
But whose shining our minds fail to grasp?

Give me your hand, reluctant man,
And take off the curtains from your eyes.
Go forward and be closer to the joyful light;
Let your heart be filled with light.
Rejoice in the warmness of the rays;
The song from your heart will be heard
In the eternal morning.

Paul treasured the intimate glimpse into Galya’s heart, into the mystical awakening of her faith. But his battle was to distinguish this from another intimacy, awakened prematurely, now clouding his love for her.

The sound of a chain-saw and crashing timber brought him abruptly into the present. Down below he saw Bob Stringer working on the trail.

"Hi! Wanna help?" he shouted up at Paul. Paul followed, child-like, taking in the awe-inspiring winter beauty, his agonizing for the moment forgotten. They harnessed themselves to the fallen saplings and dragged them back to the frozen pond. Sliding in silent communication across the glistening, groaning ice, they brought them safely to the road. With glowing body and mind at peace, Paul went up to his room.

He lay on the bed to cool off, and the conflict came flooding back. He knew he should talk to someone older and wiser about his wrong feelings for Galya. To bring it out into the open, to know that someone else knew, would surely bring him to his senses. Yet part of him did not want it to end. By now it had become an obsession. Often, when she was busy or with other students, he would hang around on some pretext, waiting for the chance to be alone with her. He would feel the blood rising as he sat next to her, imaging her hand in his. When she watched him play soccer, he played to impress her. Surely she knew the effect she was having on him, yet she seemed so innocent. Surely others noticed how they were together so much. Despite his playing the wise elder brother, they must suspect his motives.

Paul had prayed with tears of repentance; he had punished his body with icy cold showers. The process of the Fall of Man became so real to him now. Wise, lonely, jealous Lucifer must have lived the same secret lie with innocent young Eve. Responsible for protecting her during her immaturity, he took advantage of her naive, sympathetic interest in him. He fed on her love, and dared to defile her.

It was not enough; all the prayers, self-mortification and intellectual understanding could not rid him of the conflict. He decided he must tell the Dean. He trusted her, that she would help him to break the spell of this forbidden love.

It was Paul’s turn to help set up for dinner. He mentally rehearsed what he would say to the Dean, as he put out the condiments on the tables. Then, feeling the need to pray, he went off to the chapel.

As he entered the tall, simply furnished place of worship, his footsteps echoing on the tiled floor, he saw Galya sitting near the back, head bowed. He walked past her and knelt in front of the stone cross and the great stained glass window showing St. John receiving his revelation. Paul offered up his struggle and his decision in prayer. Afterwards he already felt a great relief.

As he walked back along the aisle in the dim light, Galya looked up. He could see the tears glistening on her cheeks. He felt the turmoil of mixed emotions welling up: his desire to comfort her, his fear of being carried away by passion. She laid her hand gently on his arm to stop him.

"I must talk to you, Paul. Have you got time now?"

Paul sensed that this was the final test of his resolve, but answered warmly, "Of course."

He sat down on the wooden seat as she moved over.

"I feel I can trust an elder brother," she managed at last. More silence and then: "I...I feel very attracted to Dan Wilenski. He’s in my study group and I just can’t get him out of my mind. I’ve even dreamt about him-that he’s meant to be my husband."

Paul had never experienced such a stream of emotions in so short a time. He felt stunned, relieved, jealous, full of remorse and guilt that he had failed her, somehow. He fought away these feelings, resisting the urge to hold her hand.

"It’s good that you’ve had the sense to tell someone," Paul said quietly, in his best fatherly voice. "The worst thing you can do when you’re struggling this way is to keep it to yourself," he went on, wincing internally at his own hypocrisy.

"It may well be that Dan is the one meant for you, but have you learned to love him first as a brother, as God’s child? You would risk throwing away all the hopes you had when you came here, if you got carried away with this love."

Paul heard himself saying the words as from a distance, and heard the mocking accusations in his mind.

She was crying now silently, sniffing back the tears. She took the handkerchief he offered.

"It’s not that anything has happened between us," she managed between sniffs. "In fact, we’ve never spoken alone together. But the dream I had of our wedding day was so real."

" may seem that you’re meant for each other, but it’s best not to let this distract you. If it’s for your eternal happiness, surely it’s worth waiting till after your studies. God will indicate his blessing on your marriage to whoever is right for you, in a way you can’t mistake, when the time is right. Just trust Him."

Just then a group of students came in to pray together.

"I’d better go," Paul whispered, "but please feel free to talk any time."

She looked at him with such an innocent, sad face, and expressed her gratitude to him. She looked more lovely to him that ever. With a deep ache inside, but somehow feeling good that he had won a victory, he walked towards the Dean’s office to make his appointment with her. 

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