Sunday, September 10, 2006

Love's Way: Which Way is THAT?

Love. What is it? Do you know? I've used the word; you've used the word. You can't sing to the radio without using the word many many times. We say we love the ocean or the mountains. We say we love sushi. We say we love our pets, our parents, our children, our friends. But what does that mean?

There's that "love" that strikes like lightning in the early weeks and perhaps months of getting to know someone who arouses, attracts, captivates. There's that "love" that ceases, disappears when the object of your ardor stops meeting your "needs" or gains weight or starts smoking or falls for someone else. It's in the name of love yes? when the estranged spouses stay together for the children.

Are these love?

"Would you still love her if she were a leper, disfigured and crippled, whom you had to carry around all day in a basket on your head?" Years ago, Dr. K, my then-therapist, asked me this about a relationship that I was struggling with at the time. She had related a story of a woman in India whose love for her husband took this very form.

Who would do this?

Who would do this is a woman who loves her husband, not with a fleeting, flimsy, conditional love, but with a love that...I want to say enters, but I don't think it enters. So let me try again. Who would do this is a woman who loves her husband with a love that prevails. A love recognized versus grown or received or given. Who would do this is a woman who will be penetrated by such a force, a woman who has once at least but probably more than once transcended the mundane even as she lives in and among it. Who would do--be--this is a woman who recognizes her husband (whom, yes, she loves) as a "piece of God to cherish." Dr. K. used that phrase, too. It stuck, has stayed with me, and has turned out to be one of the keys that unlocks the passageway to the transcendence that I know this Indian wife knew.

Love as word, as concept, is dangerous. Perhaps more than most other words, it practically begs for (mis?)interpretation, adulteration, connotation, denotation--everything, it would seem, but the "thing" itself, that "thing" that the word, as I intend it here, is to represent.

"Only when you are lost can love find itself in you without losing its way."

I have long adored this line of Helene Cixous from her essay "Coming to Writing." Yes, her topic was writing. But she is speaking about being taken over, traversed, of a realm that reaches of course well beyond the world of writing.

"And so when you have lost everything, no more roads, no direction, no fixed signs, no ground, no thoughts able to resist other thoughts, when you are lost, beside yourself, and you continue getting lost, when you become the panicky movement of getting lost, then, that's when, where you are unwoven weft, flesh that lets strangeness come through, defenseless being without resistance...

"And this tissue...this body without any borders...--you didn't know that they were the gardens of love. Not demand. You are not jealousy, not calculation and envy, because you are lost... You lack nothing. You are beyond lack... And if Love comes along, it can find in you the unlimited space...that is necessary and favorable to it. Only when you are lost can love find itself in you without losing its way."

"Beside yourself." To put oneself aside gives Love its way. I am not speaking of martyrdom, deferential self sacrifice, subservience. I am speaking of allowing something bigger than the daily self with all its matters, muddles, demands, ideas, designs to traverse us. I am speaking of being a vessel of sorts--or better, perhaps: a channel, through which something infinitely more vast, infinitely more substantial, infinitely more abiding, infinitely more satisfying may flow. I am speaking, as is Cixous, of being a channel for Infinity Itself, of being available to Love.

So thanks to you as a function of you? In the presence of you? I 'stand' aside myself, beside myself, and I find myself traversed by Love. I find myself traversed by Love by way of you. We are lovers, and I am pleased with that. It fits: as Love traverses me by way of you, it arouses, naturally, this force, this passion, this expression in me. Months pass and you come to me to say, "No. I don't want to be lovers. I think that we are...something else. Friends: maybe friends." Weeks pass, and you come to me. You say there is someone else with whom you envision a wonderful, long future. You say you have fallen head over heels for each other.

What happens to the river of Love through me: does it fade? Does it disappear? Does it sour, turn to anger? Does it seek revenge? Does it hate the new love in your life? Does it shine a spotlight on all the reasons I should eradicate you from my days?

No. Fives times, no. Of course not. Why? Because it is not me. It is Love through me. The I, the daily I that stepped aside for this traversing to occur in the first place: IT you bet! might employ or indulge in any or a number of these responses. Its world is the world of retort, of retaliation. Its world is human, 'normal' --entitled, even, to retort, to retaliation. And should the daily I retaliate, should it eradicate the loved one from its days, should it succeed in obliterating all signs of the Love, the Love itself would neither be stained nor diminished.

To be "in Love" then is to be inhabited by Love. It is a grace I allow myself. It is a bounty I open to, open for. It is not you that opens me. You are not the source, not even the object of my love; you are my inspiration to open. And once open, and lost, I am traversed: Love has had its way with me.

It’s been three-plus decades of no contact with Donna Malgeri. No word by phone or note over the time of our one marriage, one divorce apiece, and countless changes which I hear about, her mother to mine. They were best friends too, who’ve kept in touch. So when asked in a recent writing session to recall a person, it surprised me to find Donna right there beside me like an old dog which I’d been neglecting to pay any mind.

We were inseparable over the critical grade school years. At Junior High, we chose our respective cliques. It was the thing to do: spread out, abandon those blood-sister, cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die promises and loyalties. Abandon those overnights roughing it in her brother Vinnie’s canvas tent, running into their house to pee in the night. Or holding it, over facing whatever night creatures lurked in the tall, ominous whooshing pines of the Malgeris’ back quarter.

It was clearest we were best friends by the way we could fight. I think now of one that happened down at Frog Pond, an off-limits, fetid, swampy, velvety backwater of the Saugus River. The odor there was fertile, distinct, sensual, and it permeated the way sex fills a room with its weighty, sweet and sour scent. Muck and moss and rotting things combined with the lilies, tadpoles and fish who thrived there.

We ran home from that pond to cry and plead to our mothers for justice. We found them lounging side by side on webbed chaises chatting over their iced Lipton tea and lemon, dangling sandals off their toes in the summer’s pressing heat. They found our squabbles cute. Bickering girls. I’d proudly, angrily--huffing, voice quavering--show my red ribbons of scratches where the skin under Donna’s fingernails used to be. She’d push, urgent to show her wounds, proving, insisting that I had started it and that she had suffered far worse than I in her defense.

I know now, as reflected in that passion, that Donna was one of the only real loves of my childhood. I could say Donna was my first lover, by all but the most standard of definitions. Surely that’s why my little round-faced, crop-haired, Italian neighbor-friend came so readily to mind at the slightest prompt to return, recall.

By way of Donna, by way of sunsets and motmots, of snowscapes and moonscapes--the myriad languages and dialects of Majesty--of death, birth, devastation and mirth have I been opened to Love.


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