You can never tell with them. Dangerous and riveting creatures altogether. Best to avoid them because they can do and will bring you [pain]…but they are so utterly fascinating, so unpredictable, so allowing, that you find yourself drawn to them almost against your will, against your better judgment, against all sense and sanity, day after day, like the tide is drawn reluctantly and joyously to the moon.”
Mink River, by John Doyle, page 230. Moses, the crow, speaks on the topic of humans
How many people walk around cities with broken hearts, finding the story of their future, one so carefully constructed, suddenly doomed to be filed away? As they turn the page reluctantly to a new chapter, do they wonder who they will be there to walk their dog with them in the cold drizzle of morning? When they walk onto city streets, sidewalks and coffee shops and bars filled with strangers, do they meander distracted, mind drifting, unasked, to thoughts of past lovers, hearts filled with remorse and bitterness? Or do they walk confidently into the blank chapter of their new life, eyes ahead, head up, shoulders squared, determined to continue writing their story? Do they shuffle their feet in the leaves, dancing to a song they once shared with someone? Or is their song a new composition, exciting and rousing? Do they re-choreograph movements that had become so habitual or do they put one foot directly in front of the other, a single-file, fine line of similarity?
Love is a messy venture. These days I find myself wondering what cosmic forces collide in the construction of a dual humanity. One person and another, meeting each other in quiet moments, maybe loud. Do they know that as they stare at each other, that they also stare at a new reality that they can never turn back from? Alain de Botton, a Swiss-born, United Kingdom-residing thinker-philosopher, wrote a book in 1995 called On Love, in which he discusses the complexities and realities of a life seeking love. We all create stories which we use to construct our lives. As humans, we are by nature constant creators, allowing the world and our lives to unfold around us. But in love, this becomes tricky, as we construct stories around the person or people that we allow into our lives without any promise that these stories will actually be published. We plan drinks with the people we encounter, dinners with them, sleepovers with them, breakfasts with them, trips with them, purchases with them, lives with them. We continually put pen to paper and write our future in ink. This person will be “the one.” As Botton says, ”In our better moods, we would also find comfort under the illusion of a projected future…we dreamt of where we would live, how many children we would have, what pension scheme we would adopt…defending ourselves against love’s demise, we took pleasure in planning our lives together on a grandiose time scale” (152).
But though we are storytellers, narrators, and creators, these stories are not promises. They’re just stories. Does this age-old idiom “a story is just a story” mean that a story is necessarily untrue? It is all in the eye of the beholder. I have thought many times about stories. They are worlds we construct with our words, the most flexible of substances. But in the scheme of love, we create stories to cope with the present, to give it gravity, to send an anchor down into the darkness of the unknown and hope that it remains intact. We write these love stories for hope.
On a Saturday afternoon, I walk through downtown to watch the people in their busy-ness, in their calculated leisure. It is a cold, purely winter day, though the sky is brightly lightly pink and a strange orb hangs stoically, calmly, in the sky, backlighting spindly branches of proud trees. I am intrigued by love and I write love stories of strangers. An elderly couple sits on the MAX train, immersed in conversation of their guidebook. A couple of mixed race coexist with two children sitting closeby, sharing a Large order of Chicken McNuggets. A young hipster couple with matching skinny legs covered in matching skinny jeans stands hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm, thrifted sweaters peeking out of wool coats. Couples in spandex, aiming to bike 60 miles that day, pedal side-by-side. How fast will they go? A man stands on the MAX train, lost in his book. He leans on a glass divider with earbuds in his ears, seemingly oblivious to the passing world outside, and his wedding ring reflects the light from the train’s interior. I am as stealthy as a spy when I watch these people, trying to hear passing words of conversation. I imagine the renaissance of each relationship. Which words intrigued the other? When was that moment that they looked in each other’s eyes and knew? What shirt was he wearing that day? What was her favorite music at the time? Did she talk about her most recent inspiration? The questions are endless, the knowledge beyond my grasp. I can only wonder.
Our possibilities are endless. Two years ago, I mused on this thought, that all the people we will ever know are all around us. de Botton calls this romantic nostalgia: “Romantic nostalgia descends when we are faced with those who might have been our lovers, but whom chance has decreed we will never know. The possibility of an alternative love life is a reminder that the life we are leading is only one of a myriad of possible lives, and it is perhaps the impossibility of leading them all that plunges us into sadness” (143). It can happen so fast, the falling out of love, your world thrust unceremoniously into a new beginning, not the continuation of a beginning. It can happen so abruptly, the creation of strangers. A chasm can develop between two people who held hands only days before. As much as they shout, their words echo off the tall ceilings that grow so suddenly between them. People call this losing love. But the thing about love, in this world constructed by Galileo, is it is never lost. I like to think of it in terms of the law of conservation of energy– love is never lost, just repurposed, recycled, released into the world for someone else to claim it. Or absorbed back into ourselves to save and use another day, maybe with another person. We can observe love, we can be in love, we can love others. The possibilities for this active way of being are endless.
Heartbreak is inevitable, if we decide to open ourselves up to other people’s insecurities. But Brené Brown asks listeners in her interview with Krista Tippett on the radio show “On Being” if this inevitable heartbreak necessarily leads us to the manifestation of our truest selves. When we are the most vulnerable, she says, when we dare greatly without many guarantees, this is when the most growth happens and when we are able to find our bravest selves. She says, “does this mean that our capacity for whole heartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be brokenhearted?” Wow, what a scary question. If this means that our hearts can never reach their fullest capacities without getting bruised a bit, then why don’t more people throw themselves head-first into getting hurt? Um, well, it sounds a bit suicidal to me. It also sounds counter-intuitive- vulnerability is scary and potentially harmful, but it’s also our ticket to happiness. But on this very Day of Love, let’s try to believe this mindset. Start a resolution to be vulnerable and put ink to that love story you’ve been wanting to write. Start a resolutions to Love, Love, Love.