In his Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke spoke about love as being “endlessly considerate and light and good and clear… [consisting] of two solitudes that protect, border, and greet each other.” It’s a beautiful description, right? And the perfect inspiration for the final post in this February conversation we’ve been having about different forms of love. I’d like to begin today by telling you a story. It will seem unrelated at first, but have patience with me, and I promise that I’ll tie it all together.
Despite the fact that this is the season of love, I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about grief lately. My co-worker, and good friend, recently lost his dad quite suddenly, and I know how much the shock and sadness of it all is weighing on him. As many of you know, my parents died a number of years ago after long illnesses, so while I can relate in many ways to what he is feeling, there are certain things about his experience that are very different from mine. When we lose someone who has been sick for quite a while, we are granted some time to prepare, even though when the end comes, the magnitude of it is still overwhelming. This type of loss has its own particularly tragic story. We watch the person we love slip away from us day after day, until they move beyond our reach, all while taking our own hesitant steps backward, protecting our hearts from what is to come without even realizing we are doing so. There is no question that this mutual retreat is horribly sad, but we cannot deny that there is peace in knowing that we were able to say goodbye. We find a certain level of solace in the moments that transpire just before the end. When someone is taken from us suddenly, however, we do not have the chance to compose our final words, or to provide the care and comfort that make us feel useful, or to witness that final letting go. Is one experience better than the other? I don’t think it matters. Either way, the loss pummels us like a towering giant of a wave, and when we wake up on the shore, we are alone, without the person that we loved so very much.
Valentine’s Day is on Monday, and so I confess that I may have spent a minute or two reading love poems over the course of the past week. Research is, after all, a required activity for someone who blogs. I came across a poem by David Whyte called The Truelove that I’d never seen before. It made me think about the movie, The Perfect Storm, which may sound a bit odd to you, but I promise that I’m going somewhere with this. There is a certain scene that happens midway through the film when Captain Billy Tyne brings his crew up on deck and has them look across the ocean so they know what lies ahead of them. We see it too. It is my favorite moment because the look on their faces perfectly captures everything they would have been feeling: fear, awe, the sense of inevitability, the subsequent resignation. There is no way out; the only thing they can do is push on and face what is about to happen. On a smaller scale, we’ve all experienced similar instances. How many of you have stepped outside to take down the patio umbrella, ahead of a thunderstorm, and stolen a glance at the sky just to see it coming? I know that I have. What is it that we feel when we look up? Power and raw energy, for sure, but there is definitely more. For just a split second, we feel alive, really and truly alive. We are ready for the storm to unleash its power because we are certain that we can withstand it. The first flash of lightening may send us tearing back into the house and straight towards the basement, but for that instant we believe we are invincible.
There is a moment that happens for a great many of us when a quiet little thought begins to take shape in our minds: we decide that we want to become a parent. It’s really just a whisper at first, and we treat it like a great secret, hiding it safely away and taking it out only occasionally to look at it from different angles. Some days we are terrified by the notion, reviewing our resumés and asking ourselves the question, “what makes you think you are qualified?” On other days, we turn that question into a statement that emphatically assures us that our qualifications are good, and we are most certainly the right person for the job. As time goes on, and we continue thinking about this tiny little secret of ours, we notice that something else has begun to grow along side it. We are falling in love with the idea of bringing a child into the world. It is a very different love, both foreign and familiar, reckless and safe, real, yet in many ways, still so incredibly unreal. But it is love, all the same. Of that we are certain. I personally believe that from the moment we each commit to the idea having a child, we begin to love that child, unconditionally, and without boundaries. In this sense, the idea races ahead of the reality and this love becomes very much like what the boy in Marjorie Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit feels for his beloved bunny. If we love the idea of our child enough, they will become real. This is one of the many reasons why struggles with fertility and miscarriages, even those that happen early on, are so very painful.