Hopeful Romantic

I am a hopeless romantic.

There.  I said it.

I believe in love.

I believe in love so completely, so deeply that it almost makes me naïve.

A couple of online friends recently announced their engagement, and as the date of their wedding draws close, they have shared sweet remembrances of the early days of their courtship.  The hesitant inquiries.  The “I can’t believe someone as amazing as she is could possibly be in to me” disbelief.  The heart-wrenching “I know she likes me, why won’t she just say it?” tears.  And then the warmth, joy, and tenderness as they find their rest in each other.

I can’t stop smiling.  Or crying.

Another couple with a certain amount of social media acclaim prepare for their upcoming wedding with unabashed joy and eagerness.  I only have an inkling of one side of their story:  the struggle to accept that love is the best part of any of us.  I don’t need to know anything else.  The way my heart rejoices over that anticipated fulfillment of hope is enough.

I cannot see my dear friend and her husband together without remembering their wedding day.  Her sister-in-law sharing that shortly after they started dating, her bother (my friend’s husband) told her “I’m in trouble – she’s my kryptonite.”  Yeah, I get sappy, and my heart turns mushy.

I know love doesn’t always equate to permanence, and sometimes the fairytale fades.  It doesn’t matter.  I still believe.  I believe with the same fervor with which I clapped to save Tinker Bell.  I believe with the same complete devotion I had for Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

Childlike?  Perhaps.  But never childish.

My natural inclination is to do everything I can to protect myself, and yet, in the face of love, that desperate inclination yields, and I shyly peek out from behind the wall.  I have commitment issues, and inverted abandonment issues.  I continually look over my shoulder, asking the question “Who?  Me?”  but the questions still, and my issues stop shouting for a moment whenever I encounter love.

In the face of love, the parts of me I have worked so hard to toughen up begin to soften.  Oh, I’ll protest and say that love is for fools.  I’ll crack jokes about loss of freedom, and being tamed, or, worse, domesticated.  I’ll say I’m too selfish and self-centered to ever settle down.  Actually, that last one might actually be true.  I’ll tell you that I’m fine being single and unattached, and I am.

But don’t believe me.

I am cynical and skeptical about a great many things, but never about love.

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L is for Love

L

It seems that I’m becoming more comfortable with embracing challenges these days. With that in mind, I’m embracing the A-to-Z Blogging challenge, by writing about the things that I most closely associate with being alive, when I show up and engage with life as fully as possible.

And with that, I give you:

LOVE

I have to be honest. I don’t want to write on this topic. I came so close to changing it for something less dangerous like, oh I don’t know “Lions” or “Large Angry Carnivores (see ‘Lions’)” or “Lethal Weapons” or maybe even “Landmine Removal”. Anything but this one topic that can reduce me to cowering in the fetal position in a corner, sucking my thumb, and muttering incoherently.

I don’t do “love” well. I’ve written before about my hope to be brave enough to be vulnerable. I wish I could tell you that I have made significant progress in the last two years, but the truth is for every step forward I take, I seem to take two or three back. Sometimes I wonder if I am one of those who are doomed forever to stand on the outside, looking in.

And yet. . . . And yet.

My friends are still here, still as tenacious as ever, still loving me when I can’t find it within me to love myself, still believing in me, still refusing to let me believe the lie that I am, somehow, unlovable. But I still don’t make it easy for them and I don’t completely understand why.

I have blown up, materially damaged and otherwise ruined enough relationships across the spectrum to finally get that romance is going to have to take me completely by surprise. It seems that I am hell-bent on sabotaging myself and then I turn into something I’m not. The collateral damage is heartbreaking and so not worth it.

But even there, in the brief window between trying out that four-letter “L” word and the onset of panic, there is a moment, a taste of something extraordinary. A hope that one day I can say the words and not feel the need to escape or to destroy, a dream that one day I will be able to stand my ground and let love be whatever it’s going to be. At times like that, I hold on tightly to what C.S. Lewis said on the subject:

“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

I don’t have a choice, you see, but to allow myself to flirt with the danger, to engage in every way possible, to open up and see if this time my heart is brave enough for this “love” thing. And if it isn’t? Then I’m hoping that I can stand to let it hurt until it heals, stronger than it was before and willing to risk it all again. And isn’t that what engaging with life is all about?

H is for Horses

H

It seems that I’m becoming more comfortable with embracing challenges these days. With that in mind, I’m embracing the A-to-Z Blogging challenge, by writing about the things that I most closely associate with being alive, when I show up and engage with life as fully as possible.

And with that, I give you:

HORSES

I won’t tell you how old I am, but I’m celebrating a milestone birthday this year, and I am STILL completely horse mad. I tell people I fell in love with horses around the age of three or four. My father was between assignments and had moved Mum and me to Maine to live with my grandmother while he got things sorted out. The Budweiser Clydesdales were making an appearance in Bangor and Daddy thought it would be kind of cool to go see them. He lifted me up to get a closer look at them and right at that minute, that beautiful dark bay head swung in my direction and knocked me upside the head. I haven’t been the same since.

I rode my first pony at the age of six and then didn’t ride again until Daddy got stationed in England when I was 14. A family friend had a small riding school and I helped out around the stables in exchange for riding lessons. Those were some magical years, let me tell you. Catching ten minutes’ kip in the corner of my favourite mare’s stall on a rainy afternoon while she worked on a hay net tied up in the opposite corner. Walking a filly with colic until the vet could get out to see to her. Chasing a pony across an old air strip after he had ditched his rider. Oh and speaking of escape artists, you haven’t lived until you’ve watched a Welsh pony shed bridle, saddle and rider all in one motion at a canter and never miss a step. I watched Alice do it twice and never could figure out how she did it.

A Bedouin legend has it that Allah took a handful of the South Wind and breathed on it to create the horse. “All the treasures of the earth lie between thine eyes.” And who, having looked deeply into the eyes of a horse, can deny the truth of that? “I have given thee the power of flight without wings, whether it be in onslaught or retreat.” I have seen horses fly. The Lippizaners of Vienna with their airs above the ground. The breath-taking performances of Cavalia. Even the show jumpers and eventers I used to follow with a near fanatical obsession – six foot drop into water? No worries. Seven foot wall? Piece of cake.

The thing about horses is that you have to be fully present when working with them. They will not suffer fools or distraction lightly. A horse is a creature of wind and passion and fire and you cannot take any part of it for granted. I don’t romanticize my equine friends at all. I’ve been bitten and thrown more times than I’d care to remember. I respect their strength and their unpredictable nature. But I also know that they are capable of near heroic patience. I know that the love of a horse, once given, is a prize to be treasured.

I think I learned more about how to love from the horses I have known than most of my human relationships. I know I have learned more about restraint and discipline and grace from them. I have learned to recognize beauty in whatever form it takes. The toss of a mane, a duck of a head, a sudden leap into the air and a mad dash across a field. Poetry set in motion. Beauty in movement. It catches my breath every single time.

 “God forbid I should go to any heaven where there are no horses.”
– R.B. Cunningham Graham

Truth Bombed

There are some people who are just so good at what they do, and share their vision, in sight and experience so compellingly that I can’t help but follow them even if I’m not really part of their target audience.  Erika Napoletano is one of those folks.  Danielle LaPorte is another.  Entrepreneur, life coach, humanitarian, creativity guide  – you really should do yourself a favour and check out her website some time.

A couple of weeks ago, she dropped a “truth bomb” right in my lap:

“What do you hope is true?”

I immediately rejected the obvious:  I hope it is true the Avalanche won’t completely blow chunks this season (no chance that is true).  I hope it is true that the Broncos are Super-Bowl-bound.  I hope it is true that some of the best days of my life haven’t happened yet.

Eventually, though, I landed on this:

I hope it is true that I am brave enough to love and to love well.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have friends and family that I love dearly.  Just the fact they are in my life brings me a giddy rush of joy, peace, excitement, warmth and a thousand other things I cannot articulate well.  I have leaned on them far more heavily than I ever imagined I would have to and if I could move heaven itself for any one of them, I would find a way to do it.

But do I love them well?  Do I even know what that looks like?

I grew up in the Air Force as an only child.  Every 2 to 3 years, my Dad would be reassigned and trust me, I know I was one of the fortunate ones.  I had lived in 3 countries and 5 States by the time I was 8 and by the time I graduated from high school, I had made a return visit to one of those countries and 2 of those States.  A new posting.  New school.  New friends.  Promises to stay in touch with old friends, even though we knew it wasn’t likely to happen.  Pack up.  Move.  Start over.

The truth is that I had learned to hold on to my friendships very loosely; I expected to lose my friends.  Even now, with my nomadic lifestyle far behind me, I STILL tend to hold my friendships in open palms.

My friends are tenacious, though, and I am learning and I have learned.  I have learned that friendship doesn’t come with an expiration date, although it can and does morph over time.  I am learning that just because life changes, it doesn’t automatically follow that the new reality isn’t big enough to embrace the old.  I have learned that time and distance don’t have to lead to a loss of connection.  I am learning the very real value of community and how that sense of belonging can ground me in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I was growing up.

I hope it is true that I love them well or, at the very least, that I love them better today than I did yesterday.

I have never had a significant relationship with a man that lasted more than 2 years.  Friends, I say.  We’re just friends.  Never mind that I’m seized with a painful kind of disappointment when I expect to see him and don’t.  Or that my heart laughs when he teases me about the way I drive.  Ignore that my soul feels safe when I’m around him.  Forget that we can talk all night about our hopes and dreams for the future.

We are friends.

Because I am too scared to imagine what it could be like if we were something more.  Because the idea of showing him that much of myself is enough to make me run in any other direction but towards him.  Because I have learned to accept the shadows.  Because I am not brave enough to admit that I love him at all.  I want to be that brave.

I hope it is true that I am willing to let my heart be tested.

I absolutely and hopelessly adore my best friend’s kids.  They are funny, bold, intelligent, loving young people who know what they want, and who love fiercely.  They are flat-out amazing.  And I know how often and how intensely Kathy has cried for them and over them.

I have been witness to the heartbreak of a wonderful couple watching their children turn away from the values they were raised with and make poor decision after poor decision, setting out on a life course that will put them at odds.  Estrangement is inevitable and likely permanent. How is it that their hearts do not shatter under that much pain?

Others have sacrificed tears, time, and financial security in their quest to become parents.  Fertility treatments.  Sex on a schedule.  Waiting.  Glimmers of hope that faded too quickly, leaving raw and jagged wounds behind.  Then to be told that they are too old at 30-something to bring love to a child who is dying for want of it.

First time parents, wide-eyed and breathless with wonder and anticipation of the new life they are bringing into the world.  Trepidation, excitement, joy, all taking turns in their hearts and in their minds, and sometimes colliding with each other.

And me.  Childless.  Wondering how on earth it is possible to love someone you have never met so completely, so fiercely, so gently?  How is it possible to sacrifice so much, endure so much without going totally mad?  And yet, with all of that, I  am still not certain whether I am more relieved by my childless state or if it is grief for what I will never know that squeezes my heart.

And all my hopes, in the end, can be refined into this:

I hope it is true that I am strong enough to be vulnerable.

What about you?  What do you hope is true?