On Life and Love
I think life is a new, strange, different, deeper thing...since the last time I wrote anything for you. I've lived a lot, these last few months; in some ways, it feels like I've lived more since the end of last year than since the beginning of my life. My dad lost his job, found another, left that one, and finally found the one God seems to want him at, now...the house has been up for sale, and the attachment to it ripped out of my heart and let go of, and then not up for sale, and it’s home again...I've grappled with the idea of college, and of leaving this old home and this new love, until I could take the first step and get all the paperwork done... And I lost my great-grandmother. You know, the one who was born in Oklahoma Territory before it was a state, grew up on a farm in Missouri, lived through the Depression in Cleveland with her young husband and their new family, and was still living on her own at 92-years-old. And now she’s gone.
In some ways I begin to feel, now, what they mean when they say that you almost come closer, in ways, to someone you've lost to death. Sometimes she feels even nearer me now than ever. And sometimes the loss of her is like a hole inside of me, inside of my life...a huge piece of my love, of giving and receiving, gone out of me forever...and come home to me with a closeness that takes the ground from beneath my feet.
And I don’t know what to do. And there is nothing I can do, save to stand still in breathless, aching awe of life, and of death…and of this hole that love makes.
Strange, that your heart is not your own. When you are born—a tiny, fragile, helpless baby—you are your mother’s. Wholly dependent on her, you live in giving yourself over to her. And you don’t know it yet, but she is living in giving herself to you—all of herself, always. And in giving herself, she is giving you back to yourself. And still you don’t know. But slowly learn to take it, and hold it—and slowly you are becoming who you are.
And things change. Things always change. And it is a hard thing to learn. But—and this can, sometimes, be even harder to learn—some things always stay the same. Some things will never change. And one of these things that does not change is our giving and being given, our loving and being loved.
To love is to give. And not just to give some outward thing, however good and beautiful. It is to give oneself. And, as one is received, to receive. And, as we live, this exchange, this giving and taking of love, is unending. We are forever giving ourselves, and forever being given back the self of another—and, in them, the I we gave. So that we are, forever, at once empty and filled.
The pain comes in the in between. When we give, and—for a moment, or for a long while, or (every once in a wretched while) for always—we are left alone. We lost something of ourselves, and something of the other. We’re unsure which hurts the worse. And in that moment the pain is emptiness, loneliness, loss; the pain is betrayal, treachery, injustice; the pain is doubt and confusion, and a hole in your heart.
Whether we know it or not, I think we all measure ourselves by our love. By our being loved. And whenever that fails us, in however small and passing a way, it leaves its mark on us, leaves that echo over us—of what was, and what might have been. Of what has fallen away.
And in this way—in our giving and receiving, and in our loss—we are knitting together the ages. Knitting together our life with the lives of the people we have known, and the people we have yet to know. And, in some strange far-off way, even with the people we have not known, and never will. Because this is one of those things that does not change. Because to give and to receive is human, to love and to be loved is human. More human than anything else we will ever do. Because it is more divine. It is more what we were made for than anything else in the universe.
Sometimes we know it; most times, I think, we don’t…but in our giving and our loving, and in our having, we are living—and in our living we are being fulfilled.
Yesterday we went back to my great-grandmother’s house, to dig up some of her flowers and bring them home to plant here in our own yard. It was probably the last time I will ever see that place—her place. Besides the dug-up things, for planting, I clipped some branches from her blossoming apple tree. The grass in the yard was long; she wouldn’t have liked that. But there weren’t any sticks lying around; that would have made her glad. I don’t think she could be quite at rest while there were sticks in her grass, even from heaven.
And then I went inside. The house was dim, and chilly…and too clean, too empty to be lived in. It was no longer lived it.
But it wasn’t wholly abandoned, left to its aloneness. It was, in some way, full still. Full of something. Full of its own loneliness. Filled with the echoes.
Echoes of her. Echoes of her voice, speaking, laughing…alive. Echoes of her hands, moving, knitting, cleaning…busy. Echoes of her soul, reaching out, working, hoping, resting, remembering, waiting…loving and being loved. And echoes of her breath, and echoes of her heartbeat.
Everywhere I looked, everything I touched, every time I breathed…she was there. Nearer than ever. And oh, so far away.
So long I had known her. So long I had been there, for her, with her—and she with me. So long I had loved her, and been loved. So long—all of my life—we had been walking the same earth, living th same life, sharing the same joys and bearing the same sorrows. So long…
And when I realized that, for my mom, the time had been more than twice as long, I cried.
Oh, God, be patient with me. Remind me, again. Remind me not to be afraid. Remind me You wept. Remind me You stilled the storm with a word. Remind me You have conquered the world. Remind me that love never fails.