About Love

Everybody and their mothers have written about Love and maybe all of it is true, certainly much of it is recognizable to me. We write/talk about Love as we know or understand it, and even when we don’t have a single clue. It is a subject both ephemeral and concrete and one of which we seem never to tire. (I have a theory about why that is, but it’s for another chapter.)

In the here and now, what I find most central to Love and relationships (they are not always mutual) is simply being known in very specific ways. When you’re with your besties or a long term lover, what gives it life are the shared contexts, the easy familiarity. That you know each other’s foibles but don’t hold them against each other unless it’s agreed upon by both. That they can tease you and it’s ok because you know that they hold no malice and always have your highest good in their hearts. It doesn’t sting and you can laugh along, maybe even augmenting the remembered offense/embarrassment. They mirror you in a way that allows you to see yourself with the love they have for you. There is trust that comes only through time and experience. Your friends are those whose food you can taste and gently say “Yeah- no, man, this is not it” and they either go back to rework the recipe or shrug and tell you “ok, but you don’t know what you’re missing!” They’re the people with whom honesty (not cruelty in disguise!) is helpful and not hurtful.

One of my criteria for considering someone a friend is that we can belly laugh with each other, because again, there’s a level of intimacy that allows for the ugly crying or the snorting laugh that I certainly don’t have with everyone I might like or enjoy. A long term lover/partner has that extra level of physical intimacy, not only for sex, but in knowing your body as well as your minor habits that are learned only in close daily proximity (and maybe shared bathrooms!) These are different relationships, but all are important and work together to create a dialectic and language of love.

It may be a painful process that gets you there, because the processes of risk, vulnerability, exposure, and shedding previous beliefs-even about yourself- are the fires in which love may be forged. Childhood criticisms and hurts are often in the skins that we grow, and allowing ourselves to be loved and eventually see, recognize, and accept what the beloved knows to be true and real about us is just plain hard. Many reject it, even become angry at the beloved for seeing the vulnerable hurt child they’ve worked so hard to protect, hide, or even destroy for years. And you know why? Because at the bottom of that pain is the belief that it’s true and that anyone who truly sees you cannot love you, and if they do, there is something very wrong with them. At best, the beloved is seen as weak and despised, and the sweetness of possibility is salted down and infused with bitter herbs into an unpalatable mess.

(I don’t know who the artist is, but this one of my favorites and brilliantly real and funny.)

All your people know you in various ways, and that’s a great joy in life. But the few people with whom we choose intimacy and with whom we might consciously struggle to understand and accept more of each other are a special group and of necessity, few. It requires a balance of love and honesty that cuts through all illusions, and it requires complete awareness and surgical skill to know what instrument to use at any given time: scalpel, serrated or butter knife, blunt instrument. And it cannot be done with ego, a savior’s complex, parental complexes, or anything other than a selfless love for that person. We need people who will tell us when our noses need wiping and that our clothes can only highlight certain features and you have to choose whether or not “looking fat”negates your beauty: to remind us of our beauty and why we are loved and lovable.

Such relationships are not always pretty on the outside. People have the idea that true love/soul mates are straight out of Disney or the romcom ending: that once they have recognized and accepted the other, there’s never another argument or their annoying habits will now be cute or just go away. That’s not how this works, my loves, because between our screwed up social expectations and training, the complexities of life in general, and sharing space and growth with another already-made human- if you’re really about intimacy, spiritual development/growth, and long term love, I can assure you that it will be messy and maybe gut wrenching as well as deeply beautiful, because if you were already seriously “enlightened”you would no longer need or have any desire- and where’s the fun in that?

From The Book of Joy: Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, compiled by Douglas Abrams

The beautiful friendship between Rev. Tutu and the Dali Lama was one of soul recognition and delight, but those great masters weren’t living together and sharing their daily lives. There was no need at that stage of development. That is not where most of us live. We’re in the struggle- with ourselves, our work, families, and intimate partners. We’re wiping children’s butts and picking up the dog poo, trying to stay on schedule, and watching the clock at work, and maybe all at the same time if you work from home. We are in the trenches of the mundane, often alternating between gratefulness and resentment towards those closest to us, wishing for more time while wondering why everything takes so long. We are humans with all the contradictions and complications that come with the territory, and we live in societies that seldom value or reward the qualities that lead to deeply loving relationships.

So that’s all I came here to say. Just some musings, maybe a couple of clues. Y’all have to work out the rest in and amongst yourselves. It’s in the living of it all.

But you knew that, right?

From Wayne Edenshaw Haida’s Pacific Northwest Coast people

In And Maybe Of The Spirit

I’d finished a bone density test at the local clinic, and was scheduled to have a mammogram next. The nice lab technician led me to an inner waiting room, where a much older woman sat in the requisite gown. She looked tired and rather unhappy, so I just nodded and as is my habit, took the seat furthest away, especially since she wasn’t wearing her mask, despite signs requiring everyone to do so. I’ve become used to this sort of behavior here and remain vigilant and as distant as possible at all times, carrying sanitizer in every pocketbook, lest I change bags and leave without one.

But contrary to the way she looked, the old lady spoke to me in a pleasant tone and asked if I was “five years clear, too.” Confused, I said, “I’m sorry, excuse me, what did you say?”

She spoke more clearly and asked “Are you also five years cancer free? Are you here for that?” Astonished, but hoping to keep a straight face as my heart lurched in compassion I answered, “No m’am, I’ve never had cancer.” She in turn seemed surprised but said, “Oh that’s good- you’re lucky.”And I agreed. Noting the pain and complete lack of happiness in her voice I quickly added, “But you’re five years out and free? That’s great!”

She agreed, perking up a smidgen, but said, “Yes, I’m here for my yearly. I was fine until I got here, and now I’m nervous.” I nodded sympathetically and agreed that waiting was nerve wracking. Hoping to distract her, I asked if she had any grandkids or children, and she had several of each, listing the boys and girls, then asking about mine. We chatted for a bit and I told her I’d moved here a few months ago, after my husband died last year. After expressing her condolences, she told me that her husband had died at 38, of pancreatic cancer. Given my shock and sadness, I knew that if we weren’t in a pandemic, I would have moved closer and maybe even held her hand. She went on to say that he’d died eight days after diagnosis, and we agreed that it was one of the worst forms of that dreaded disease, though I secretly thought that a quick death would be preferable to the nightmare of prolonged sickness and the diminishing quality of life I’ve seen with so many patients. And in my mind, a list of questions I couldn’t ask were whirling: environmental, workplace, family history, etc.

Curbing my training and bringing my focus back to her, I was amused to hear her saying that she’d “tried marriage a few times, but they didn’t take.” I said “He was the one, huh?” And she nodded, repeating his age, we both agreeing that it was too young.

We chatted for a few minutes longer when a woman came over, asking if she was ready to go, teasing us and saying “Y’all are having a party out here, but you can’t have any alcohol!” I wasn’t sure if this was a relative till I saw her ID badge, and I quipped “Well, it’s Christmas- y’all need to rethink that policy, ASAP!” and we all chuckled a bit.

The nurse turned back to my new acquaintance and said “I have your results, Mrs. ——“ and I could see her body and face tense up as she nodded “Yes?”

“It’s good news! You’re all clear, and next year you’ll just have a regular scan, no more of these! We couldn’t give you any bad news at Christmas, now could we.” My comrade’s confusion turned to joy as she said “This is the best Christmas present you could have given me” and I stood up, cheered and clapped like she was my own aunty, and said “That is wonderful news; I’m so happy for you!”

And I was, and am, because yes, that lady needed to be free of that awful burden, and in those few minutes, my heart had been touched by her story. I knew I was fortunate to have been with the man I loved for thirty seven years, and hopefully, in two weeks when I get my results, I won‘t be starting down the terrible road she’s no longer traveling, and that swallowed up my Mom and my sister, and other people dear to me. I cheered because that’s something no one should suffer for five minutes, let alone five years, grateful as most are to have the time, even with the suffering involved.

But mostly, I was happy because we all need those small “miracles,” those moments when we win, and when trouble takes a walk: when a nice person catches a break. We need that, and I honestly appreciated being part of her moment.

I am not a prayerful or religious person. My husband did all the praying and I did all the worrying- that’s how the labor was divided in our household, and it worked. I figured out the practical plans A-Z and he seemed to have had a hotline to the divine. With his death, any beliefs I once held were murdered- smited by hurt and anger at the unfairness of his sudden and unexpected death. It’s been his interventions and words and the loving actions of family and friends that pulled me back from complete bitterness and hatred in these past months. Only his love has made me take back my complete repudiation of any and every possible deity, including even my previously always beloved, trusted Ancestors.

So when I tell you now that I will be doing something akin to praying for that elderly woman whose name I don’t know, you can call it a “Festivus Miracle“ or whatever you like, but if there’s one thing this life has taught me, it’s that you should celebrate every single win, big or small. And when you get to witness a win for a stranger, embrace it as your own and magnify the joy, because sometimes it seems like there’s not enough joy to go around, and we have to share whatever bits are here, with loved ones or with strangers. We’re reminded that we are all related, and that their joy is also our joy: that we’re all the underdog sometimes and we know within us what that feels like. That it’s unhealthy and unhelpful to wrap ourselves in the fear of relating to, or being “infected” by another person’s troubles or sorrows, and that if you actually have good boundaries, they allow you to safely cross them now and again. To understand that it’s unnecessary to try to build an impenetrable wall that can only ever fail, ultimately and completely.

So Happy Holidays, good people. There’s an entire month of them, so take your pick. Go out and spread joy, or at least enjoy it for the sake of others and your own well being. Remember: Scrooge was a frightened schmuck trying to control the variables, and Tiny Tim- the most vulnerable of all- was heroic in his joy and love and compassion. L’chaim/Salute/Shanti-Om/Bendiciones ❤️