The Nature of Love

Love is a funny thing. I’m speaking of true unconditional love as described by St. Paul in 1 Corinithians 1:

The Gift of Love

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

When you love a person this way it is strikingly different from the way love is portrayed in modern American society. It means that you want them to win, even if it means you lose. It means you want their happiness, even if it costs you your own. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for those I love. I am devoted, loyal, supportive, and accepting of all of who they are, even when they make mistakes or do things that wound me out of fear or self protection. I can’t help myself. I look at them and I see them inside, vulnerable, lovable, beautiful and I only want to protect and love them. To comfort and hold them. I feel a sea of light inside of me that is so deep with my capacity for love… and granted it’s true the pain I suffer at rejections and losses is likewise enormous, but the sea is deep enough to absorb that agony as well. That ocean wells from my love and devotion to God and from his love for me. It is the core of who I am.

Sometimes when we love someone this way, the only gift we can give them is our absence. Occasionally we know why, but other times we don’t. And when you love and your only desire is to shower your love upon the people you adore, to never see them, to no longer share any part of their life is the worst pain. It is loss and grief and suffering. But it is a sacrifice I continue to make as needed… often with no understanding of why. I simply continue to hold my love for them in my heart, a flame that I will always keep burning and watch as they silently drift into my past.


Hinterhof by Ja…

Hinterhof by James Fenton

Stay near to me and I’ll stay near to you —
As near as you are dear to me will do,
Near as the rainbow to the rain,
The west wind to the windowpane,
As fire to the hearth, as dawn to dew.

Stay true to me and I’ll stay true to you —
As true as you are new to me will do,
New as the rainbow in the spray,
Utterly new in every way,
New in the way that what you say is true.

Stay near to me, stay true to me. I’ll stay
As near, as true to you as heart could pray.
Heart never hoped that one might be
Half of the things you are to me —
The dawn, the fire, the rainbow and the day

“Hinterhof” by James Fenton, from Yellow Tulips: Poems 1986-2011. © Faber & Faber, 2011.

Loving Forward

It’s a new year and it’s time to catch up. I have spent the latter part of the year in a kind of grand experiment. In addition to adopting 2 soldiers and a marine and sending 6 letters a week through Soldier’s Angels, I decided to offer to listen to anyone who needed someone to talk to online. I did this in a limited and controlled fashion and also talked weekly with my rector about the experiences I was having.

I started this experiment for a number of reasons. The first was that I discovered a site where there were many lonely and desperate people who seemed to need someone who cared and who would just be there and be present for them. I am made to care and love so it was a perfect fit. It called to me so strongly.

I have also been considering whether to go into counseling in some form as a career once my books are published and this seemed like a way to see whether I would be able to deal with some of the emotional requirements of that role.

If I even helped one person it would be worth whatever grief I suffered.

So, did I suffer grief? What was the result of my experiment?

Well it hasn’t concluded, because when I signed on to be present for people I signed on for good or as long as they needed me. Again, that’s just part of how I’m made. Loyal and devoted to a fault.

But I have met some people who became very dear to me because of their sorrows and their triumphs. Some just needed to talk over decisions that were weighing on them and they had no one they could seek advice from. Some sought a parental relationship, guidance, support and encouragement. Some were just lonely and wanted company. Some were in crisis and because I have been there myself I was able to reach out and take their hand. Some have become friends I know I will keep because our relationship grew from me listening, to me sharing in return. Some have already said goodbye because they no longer have need of what I offer.

I think that was the hardest thing. Letting go when they are ready to. Because of course, I get attached to each person I help. I fall in love with each person a little bit. I can’t help but see the beauty in each person when they share themselves and it is captivating. The more time I spend with them, the more I care. I don’t look for anything in return of course. But to no longer see their face or hear their voice when they are ready to move on is the hardest part. To no longer be able to check on them or worry for them when for weeks they were my concern all day, every day is painful. To no longer be allowed to care. This is where the grief comes in. I knew it would happen up front and that makes it little easier to bear. I gladly pay the price for having known each person for even a short while. They were a blessing in my life as I hope I was in theirs. But it still ouches.

You know I’ve written about loss and accepting it, how it is such a natural part of life. The thing to do is stay open, accept and love anyone you feel love for. Know that it will hurt when you lose them and spend your energy on learning how to recover from loss effectively instead of building walls to protect you from caring. Walls don’t work anyway. You end up caring and hurting no matter how hard you try to keep your distance.

So I let myself have a few days watching marathons on TV and sleeping in. I stare at their pictures and talk to them through my prayers. I think of all the things I wish I could have done with them or said to them. I carry a memento of them with me that I can touch as I go through my day. These little things help me move forward. I might not “get over” people or be able to stop loving them, but I can let them go on without me. For myself, I can keep my memory of them close and honor the feelings I have by paying them forward, always ready to love again.

A Prayer for the Lovelorn

Recently I was listening to a friend describe some challenges in their love life and I was filled with empathy and sadness for them. The person they are in love with is what I refer to in my own mind as a “transactional lover.” To them love is an exchange. They provide their idea of love to get something in return. Sometimes what they are seeking is affection, rescue, financial security, comfort, friendship, even company… it can be many things. In exchange for it, they will be your lover, your partner, they will try to give you what you ask for.

The problem with these relationships is that both partners end up feeling that they are trying to earn each others love. On the one hand, the transactional lover feels obliged to give in to the partner to appease them to earn what they need from the relationship all the while resenting it. In their minds, they are earning, buying and paying for that “love” and they want whatever they feel they’ve negotiated.

The less transaction based partner who is unaware of this may just love unconditionally, gives freely and doesn’t really understand the dynamics at play. It may seem to them that no matter how much they give, reassure and love, it never seems to truly satisfy the transactional lover. They aren’t reassured, they can’t seem to really just settle down and commit to the relationship. It might feel that they always have one foot out the door. It’s true, because for the transactional person, the earning and striving to transact IS the relationship. The need to maintain the ability to walk away is how you maintain the power to renegotiate terms as needed. With a transactor, power always resides with the one who is most willing to walk away.The concept of loving unconditionally is foreign and unbelievable and the idea of willingly giving up power and being vulnerable to a loved one to demonstrate commitment seems a special kind of insanity.

The mismatch between these two styles can be incredibly painful, primarily for the person who is capable of unconditional love. Because most transactional lovers will see someone who is strong enough to love this way as weak, will view them as easily manipulated and have little respect for them. Their indifference, power games, inability to recognize the gifts they are being offered are deeply offensive to the psyche of the more open and vulnerable unconditional lover who is laying their whole heart out in a display of remarkable courage.  Unconditional lovers see this relentless manipulation and game playing by the transactional lover and often choose to overlook it and give anyway, out of love. They hope that somehow security and repeated demonstrations of acceptance, reassurance and love will eventually soothe the soul of the person they love. Alas, in my experience it doesn’t happen.

If someone doesn’t believe in unconditional love, they are not only unable to return it, which is what my friend really deserves, they are unable to see it, believe it, even accept it from someone else.

The hardest part when you are in such a situation is acknowledging that there is nothing you can do to help them see the world the way you do. If you think about real love, true love…think of your mother, father,  your children, of course they don’t have to do anything to earn your love. They just are, and that’s enough. You’ll know someone is important to you when it’s not what they do for you or how they make you feel, so much as when you think of them you are just so happy and filled with warmth and joy that you know them. Their existence is enough for you. That’s real love.

It’s hard to let go of people. It’s hard to learn how to lose. Accepting loss is one of those things I’ve written about before. It’s just a part of life that has to be faced, embraced and lived. It will hurt. It will heal. It takes time. I personally work hard to stay in a place of acceptance every day. I choose to believe that those of us who love unconditionally are blessed. I know I found my way here through many struggles and losses. I finally believe I deserve to be loved the same way in return. God loves me this way. I have him if no one else. I love people this way and that’s OK. If someday, God wills it, perhaps someone will look into me and find me that lovable as well.

I pray this for my friend. I hope they come to believe that the ability they have to love deserves that kind of love in return. I hope they come to believe that happiness and joy can be their lot in life. There is no one I know that deserves it more. They have been through so much, learned how to make good decisions from making bad ones, drawn close to God and they have one of the most generous and giving spirits of anyone I’ve ever known. I hope that they can trust that God will see them through.

So I’m sending out a special poem/prayer for my friend. It always makes me feel better, find a little peace:

Father, I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all Your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,

For you are my Father.

prayer of abandonment – charles de foucauld

Learning to lose

Sometimes I am grateful God has given me such an open and loving heart. Often I am able to look around and feel his presence surround me. Other times it can feel like a terrible affliction. It may sound strange but unrequited love is not the worst emotional pain you can suffer when you can love intensely. It hurts, don’t  get me wrong. I think it’s just become familiar throughout my life. A far worse pain is loving so much that you are willing to relinquish your selfish desires and wish only for another’s happiness so you can maintain a friendship. Despite that you lose them completely and they slip through your fingers like sand, dust, ashes…gone completely except for the memories in your heart. That’s what hurts most of all. There must be a lesson in this for me, I’ve made this sacrifice more than once and it sucks harder every time.

Not all that long ago I figured out loss is my biggest fear. It’s important to know your biggest fear. It can drive you, make you act in ways that are counter to your character, honor or best interests. You need to be aware. My biggest fear used to be failure and for years it drove me to extreme lengths to be perfect, to succeed, to never make a mistake, to plan for every eventuality. To no avail of course, because everyone fails. In time I learned to embrace failure as a way to grow. I conquered that fear.

Now loss, another part of life has taken its place. I can’t get rid of loss. No one can. You just have to accept it. I used to try and avoid it, numb the pain away. I tried all the old familiar tactics. A shot of whiskey. Burying my feelings. Putting up an impenetrable wall around my heart. Of course none of them worked. I still experienced loss. So now when I feel myself trying to run away from situations that are going to result in loss I am always suspicious of myself. I don’t seek loss, but I don’t need fear of it to make me pass up everything I want.

When it comes I know I have to suffer through it. Sounds terrible doesn’t it? It is. It’s awful. It involves grieving. I had no idea I could cry so much. I spent so many years avoiding tears in my attempt to avoid the pain of loss, I guess I had a lot in reserve.

I cry a few times a day. The ugly kind. Sometimes I curl up in a ball and yell. I’m in pain and it helps. Afterwards I always feel better for a while. Until the next time. I bargain with God. I pray for it to stop. I try and pretend it isn’t happening or didn’t happen. I know that after a while the intensity of my grief will pass. It will become less of an open wound and more of a sore ache. This isn’t my first loss and won’t be my last. I’m learning that this is the only way to effectively deal with it. This is what I was trying so hard to avoid all those years. This.

In times like these I always wonder to myself why in the world I ever allow myself to love anyone. But the truth is I can’t help myself. People are so incredibly lovable. I know there are wicked ones. But so many people are good at heart. They are trying. They are searching. They are lost. They are flawed and still… they are breathtakingly beautiful. Yes when God made me, he designed me to love. I know how to do that better than anything else. It’s who I am. I am learning to let go and learning to lose. Despite my fear I am resolved to stay open. Despite my pain I will stay true. So many people lack love in their lives after all, surely someone out there could use some. I’ve got way too much inside to give.

Warning: Girly Stuff Ahead

Tonight I decided to go to Metro and indulge myself a little. A very little. Honestly I am a little stressed out about my mother moving away. I knew it was coming and I am cool with it, but it doesn’t make me happy. I will miss having her at home at night, caring whether I am home or not, eating or not, healthy or not. It makes me long for the days of salon visits and retail therapy. What I wouldn’t give for a mani/pedi, a decent salon hair treatment and a facial. I’d love to follow that up with an afternoon of shopping at some of my favorite stores, J. Crew, Ann Taylor Loft, Banana Republic and the Apple Store. Sigh. Maybe a little detour into Williams-Sonoma.

Those were the days. When money and things ruled my life. 🙂

Just kidding. There definitely is a part of me that misses that lifestyle, but its a very small part.

So tonight I used a great little coupon I got in email after signing up to Metro’s mailing list. 50% off an appetizer. I was helped by a very earnest gentleman named Justin. I started with my usual Lavender Earl Grey Tea by the Republic of Tea. I once complained that they didn’t have Rooibos or English Breakfast tea at Metro, but it was there that I first was forced to try this version of Earl Grey and it is now my current addiction. For a starter, I decided to try their French Onion Soup. I’ve been eying it for a while and I wondered how it was. It was boiling hot but delicious. They used one of their now Perfect yeast rolls as a crouton. I especially liked the Gruyere they had grated into the soup. Yummy.

For my entree I got another appetizer. I chose a repeat of the miso glazed beef I had last time on a smear of apple butter. It wasn’t the Kobe beef that they originally featured, but it was still flavorful, rare and delicious. I had the Pot du Creme, and felt a nice little purr settle in my tummy.

This was my second trip to Metro in the last week and a half. I met a colleague who leads the youth ministry from church there last week and we had a wonderful meal on the sidewalk outside. It’s a great time of year to eat in their outdoor dining area. We enjoyed the sushi happy hour. (50% off from 6-7 every day on all sushi) I always order the same thing, a shrimp tempura roll, no tobiko, add cucumber and add avocado. We split some edamame, which is outstanding there. It’s dressed with sea salt and lime. My entire meal with the sushi, edamame, tea and the usual pot du creme was under $20 including a 20% tip. I always tip a minimum of 20%.

I don’t want to get too much into politics or the financial crisis because it make me a tiny bit aggravated. OK, a lot aggravated. I find myself agreeing with Dennis Kucinich about the idea of trying a New Deal approach, a bottom up investment into the infrastructure of this country rather than this immoral idea of investing into the top of the economy and hoping it will trickle down.

My poetry was workshopped and will require a lot of revision. I am pining a bit for my absent loved one. He lives in a city two hours away and when I mapped my semester, I made sure to be busy beyond belief. I planned on not dating or being involved. I certainly did not plan on him. I think about Fall Formal and try to find a Sari to wear. The theme is “Marigold Dreams” and it is loosely based on Monsoon Wedding, or the idea of a modern Indian Wedding. So everyone is planning on wearing a Sari for the girls and Indian attire, Nehru jackets or Jodphuri suits for the guys, the food will be Indian and we’ll have performers, mendhi for our hands and a themed specialty drink.

I just want to be beautiful and be light as a feather. I am getting a bunch of my friends to go too and can’t wait to dance and be surrounded by people I care about. There’s something magical about a dance. Especially a formal dance. It brings out the fairy tale in every girl and it’s romantic to be at a ball accompanied by a handsome prince.

I’m the one in the corner, the one with the pointy hat

What have I learned in the last 10 days? Drawing is really hard. It’s even harder in a class full of people who have taken lessons before. Luckily there are a few of us who actually are beginners taking BEGINNING DRAWING. Since we are in the minority though, I can understand why the teacher prefers to pitch the class slightly towards those who are more proficient. It just makes me feel like such a useless bag of cement. I spend at least half of the 3 hour class cajoling myself into sticking with it. A rather dismayingly large part of me wants to quit because I am not immediately proficient. Tsk, tsk. That will never do.

I have also learned that Feminist Philosophy is going to piss me off, without fail, no matter how hard I try to keep it in the realm of the mind. Why does it bother me so much? Not for the obvious reasons. Not because it reminds me of Sexism or Injustice in general. Not because it makes me angry about the oppression of women. (Though really, those things are enough) It’s because at our core we are all the same element, our souls are made up of the same ephemeral stuff. It’s only in this hard and fast physical moment that we are translated into Male and Female. Part of me absolutely delights in the differences that this translation brings. What I abhor is the value that our (American/Western) society places on these differences. Why is analytical skill or aggression more highly valued than nurturing or communication? It may be politically correct to say that it isn’t, but if you look at the bottom dollar it absolutely is. Might=Right. It just aggravates the heck out of me. Maybe it’s hard wired into our DNA.

I’ve learned that I still love fencing, and want to be better at it, passionately. I am setting aside some of my $ to get a bit of decent equipment. That’s IT.

I’ve learned that I am in a class of poets, all of whom have different voices. A few of them awe me and I find them delightful reading. I look forward to reading more. I think I would feel a lot worse about my own poetry if I wrote it for anything other than catharsis and self-revelation. Luckily I am a hack and I can live with that.

I’ve learned that you can overcome your fear of speaking French badly in public. Especially in a room full of other people speaking French badly in public. 🙂 I just read that there is a J-term trip to France to study French. Beginners encouraged. Sigh. I would love to indulge myself in that. But I am pretty sure such a thing is impossible for someone like me. The cost will likely be prohibitive. I would be blessed to get the paid internship in DC. The idea of going to France for a month to study a language is a fantasy land kind of thing.

I’ve been looking for a place to live while searching for a used car since my mom will probably be moving to Richmond at the end of the month. It’s kind of scary and kind of exciting at the same time. I got to work at a wedding last weekend on Saturday night. They married in the courtyard and then came upstairs for the reception. It was very romantic. They danced to the theme from Ice Castles.

The night before was a huge party called First Friday’s. The club featured a live band called The Kings. It was fun to work the event and listen to the music. It was largely a matter of dancing around the guests to the songs, getting drinks and singing softly under your breath. Kind of fun. The guests were truly champion imbibers however. I was a little shocked/impressed? I would be in the ER with alcohol poisoning if I attempted to match them.

I’ve come to the startling conclusion that something curious is happening in the middle of my chest. To that organ of fire and mystery, that unruleable, immutable, explosion of heat and light where love resides. How dim its light had grown, banked to embers, soothed to silence and serenity. Lately though, there’s been a breath of air, a stirring, a flicker, a flame. Where before I could ignore it, content that no danger of combustion threatened, now I sense unruly desire. Its a matter of moments for my ear to hear a sound, a voice, linger on cheek or lip and suddenly it is a nova, an inferno, consuming me. As if it had not rested idly, softly, innocently, but instead husbanded all its strength, gathered itself to burst forth intoxicated by the object of devotion. I am left perplexed, amazed and quite at the mercy of this wayward heart. There is no choice of course but to risk all, come what may. That is my nature. I can no more change it than I can stop breathing or blinking. I know pain, I know loss, and I know I can survive it. Even the smallest joy is worth great loss. If you have the courage to take it.

Luckily that isn’t something I lack. Tact-yes, courage- no. Hee Hee.

One more quick note for my own monitoring purposes, I have already lost 5lbs since the start of school. (Including the week before the official start date) If things continue as per usual that means without continued real attentiveness I have exactly 5 weeks before I cross the NO GO line. (100lbs) It is my sincere hope that the intense workouts with fencing and PE will build enough new muscle to compensate for any loss so that I don’t drop below 100lbs.

This Sunday is Welcome Back Sunday and we get to wear special T-shirts to church and sign up for new stuff. I am reading the Prayers of the People and serving Chalice at the 10:00 a.m. so that will be fun. Then next weekend is the first week of new Sunday school, and new service times, we will now have an 11:00 a.m. service! It’s also the first Fall gathering with Dinner and we (The Canterbury Society) will be bringing in Dick Schmidt (Editor of Forward Day by Day) for an event at Hollins the following day so he will preach at that service.

All in all, many new threads to weave into my life and contemplate. I feel a great desire to spend some time swimming. I wish I could run away to Douthat for an afternoon swim or even better the Gulf. How I crave the salt embrace of its waters. A part of me is always longing, reaching for it inside.

Time for me to head home and seek a meal of some kind, work on my French and Philosophy homework and write a little poetry.

Au’ Revoir