I want to write about love. The urge sits in my chest like the ground presses into the earth. Heavy, strong and pulling down as though it was meant to be. I get saturated with words that catch pieces of love, grabbing them from the air, here a little there a little as if greedy for something more concrete and shaped. But the picture of love emerges only as the pieces come together, only as experience arrives at my door. Love makes sense the more the pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.
But how can we talk about love without talking about pain?
The other night I played all the love songs on my computer’s playlist. It was magical, the bubbling in the pit of my stomach and as I swayed to the music, my eyes shut and heart disappearing into a timelessness, I noticed the lyrics. They were all melancholic. They bled as if dying of love. It tugged at me and made me lonelier in my imagined world. What is wrong with these songs? I wondered. What is wrong with love?
The girl had no clue what she was doing. She had walked into the bar wanting to numb the pain. Two months of sitting with it had not done her any good, like everybody said it would. She was going to take matters into her own hands. She was going to try something new – drink herself to annihilation. It was either that or cutting her wrists.
She sat by the counter aware of every pulse in her body. Her big, brown eyes glazed over with the shimmering of tears. She was always on the verge of tears these days. Everything triggered them. She had become used to it. Her hands shook when she placed them on the counter. The man sitting next to her glanced over, his gaze moving from her hands to her face and back to her hands again. She quickly pulled them into her body and then slid them under the counter. The man averted his eyes back to the dark brown liquid that swam in his glass as he swirled it around. He smiled sardonically as if he knew something she didn’t.
She took a breath and started to second guess herself. Everybody here was here because they wanted to be here. She could tell by the lyrical tilt in their voices as they talked over their drinks. They all looked like they knew what they were doing. She on the other hand, seemed foreign in the place, even to herself.
“What will you be having, miss?”
The man behind the counter asked, interrupting her thoughts. He was tall and burly, experience etched in all the hard lines on his face.
“Uhm…uhm…” she stammered looking at the hundreds of bottles that graced the walls behind the counter.
“Give me the strongest thing you’ve got,” she said, trying to sound confident when she really felt like throwing up with fear.
The man gave her a quizzical look.
“I have never seen you in here before. You new to the neighbourhood?” he asked as he started to mix liquids.
“I live just two blocks from here…it’s my first time…” her voice trailed.
“I will be sitting in that booth over there,” she pointed to the one that was out of the way and out of the light.
“If someone could bring my drink to me that will be great, thank you.”
She jumped off the bar stool and walked away before he could say anything else.
I imagine if all the heartbreak in the world could speak it would stop the world. Really. If everybody showed up with the things that have broken in the name of love every sound would hush even just for a moment. Because the love we know seems to hurt and burn us and we all never know just how many of us walk around wounded. Even when we stand next to each other in coffee queues and pass each other in city streets we are oblivious to the broken things we each drag along behind us. Until someone is brave enough to show us exactly where it hurts. And suddenly we show ours too.
Bless those courageous souls.
The big boned man towered over her holding a glass of something. She didn’t notice him there, her eyes distant as she stared into empty space. He watched her. He could clearly make out the tear marks stained to her cheeks. She was so small that she reminded him of a frightened dove. Something pulled at him. He set down the drink in front of her, startling her, and then he slipped into the booth opposite her.
The girl gave a a loud gasp.
“What are you doing?”
She had beautiful eyes, he thought to himself. They said everything he needed to know.
“I brought your drink,” he said gesturing to the glass.
“Oh…,” she reached for the glass and saw its dark contents. She picked up the glass and it felt overwhelmingly heavy in her hands. She stared at the strange looking and smelling liquid and once again, wondered what she was doing here. She sighed.
“Thank you,” she didn’t look at him.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?”
Her head shot up to look at him surprised at his question, ready to fire something negative at him. Something about minding his own business. But when she met his eyes she saw compassion in his face and her whole body wanted to rest in it. Her shoulders collapsed of their own accord as she let out a breath. She was so tired.
“He broke my heart.”
“He said he loved me but he went and did the one thing that did not say love at all.”
“He is a jerk,” the man said simply.
She stared at him for a long time and then the corners of her lips twitched before she smiled. He smiled back, admiring her.
“I never thought of it that way before…but you are right. He is a jerk,” she said with a weariness he could feel across the table.
“I know that kind of pain and how blinding it can be. You can’t let it win. You learn from it and move on.”
“What kind of bar is this?”
He laughed – a big, wonderful sound from every part of his big chest.
“Well, let’s just say I’ve taken to you… so consider this free advice, on the house,” he winked.
She smiled again and he wondered about the jerk who had given that smile up.
“Listen little one, our responsibility is to learn how to love well and part of loving well is learning that not everybody will have the capacity to receive your love. You can’t force them.You can’t give your love to every Jim and Jack, do you understand me?”
She nodded her head, “I think so.”
“Now, ” he said as he slid out of the booth and rose, “I take it you don’t drink? I will make you a strong Irish tea instead.”
He picked up the glass and walked away. She turned to watch him go, her heart thawing and breaking free as he took each step.
One of our greatest challenges as humans is learning how to love. We go to great lengths learning all kinds of skills in this life but somehow we never think to put in as much work in learning to do the most important thing we will ever do in our lifetime – loving. We assume it comes naturally. But all the snap shots of people in their private moments holding their heads in their hands and beating their hands across their chests in pain wondering what they had done wrong when that person they loved walks out the door, belies all the assumptions we make with straight faces.
Love is not an easy thing but neither is it complicated. If we are doing the work, at different stages of our lives we come to see love clearer. It has many components such as responsibility, sacrifice, grace, forgiveness, maturity but perhaps a huge part of what makes love love is that it is freely given. It is not coerced through compulsion, guilt or some type of manipulation whether verbally or non-verbally. The difficulty in our relationships is that we are afraid of each other’s freedom. The assumption again is that freedom gives people the power to do whatever they want. The assumption is that freedom is separate from love. But freedom and love are one and the same thing. Freedom is never a threat to love. If it is then it is not love. Because in that freedom is the choice to lay down one’s own life for the beloved. It is pure, devoid of resentment and grounded in a strong foundation that is moral at its core.
We must come to see this, to learn how to love, one step at a time. And we can begin by taking responsibility for our injured and immature souls. For to love wholly, we must ourselves be on the journey to wholeness.