The Art of Love
When My Life Changed Most, I Think
It was 20 years ago today Sgt. Pepper taught his band to play...
No, no, it wasn't that. It was 11 years ago today and it wasn't something like a hurricane that happened, though it had the effect of an internal category 5 storm and was a catalyst for more change in my life than anything else I can remember. It brought the kind of emotional upheaval that was a mixture of exquisite beauty and excruciating pain. And the pain was so intense that there were times I thought I wouldn't survive it. But I always had the choice to use it for my own growth, and that was my ultimate decision.
What was this catalytic event? You may be imagining something extremely out of the ordinary, but it's was nothing more than a relationship. But it was no ordinary one. Not by a long shot.
As relationships go, there is one particular philosopher with whom I share a perspective: Martin Buber. He wrote of what he calls the I-Thou relationship. In an essay, John Barich describes Buber's I-Thou relationship as follows:
There is an authentic way or a deeper way of relating to world, which Buber calls the I-Thou relationship. This is the place where people come together and encounter one other on the deepest level possible. Buber writes: "The Thou meets me through grace -- it is not found by seeking. By my speaking of the primary word [thou] to it is an act of my being, is indeed the act of my being." We can see from this observation that Buber was not talking about a casual conversation at the local pub or a heated negotiation to resolve a labor dispute. Buber is describing a meeting not only of minds but of souls, of wills, of that which resides at the core of one's being. When you say Thou to another person, you are sharing the mystery of your being, you are responding with the totality of self to the Thou who is addressing you, you are meeting one another on the level of spirit.
Most important for me, as for Buber, is the idea that it's possible to have an I-Thou relationship with God through I-Thou moments with people, nature, art, the world. The relationship of which I write is the one that took me highest into this ideal, a meeting on the level of spirit and a connection to my source.
Another essay from the Jewish Virtual Library adds, "Such I-Thou relationships are not constant or static. People move in and out of I-It moments to I-Thou moments. Ironically, attempts to achieve an I-Thou moment will fail because the process of trying to create an I-Thou relationship objectifies it and makes it I-It. Even describing the moment objectifies it and makes it an I-It. The most Buber can do in describing this process is to encourage us to be available to the possibility of I-Thou moments, to achieve real dialogue. It can't be described. When you have it, you know it."
We had it, without trying. We just did. And we knew it. We experienced it in many ordinary moments throughout our days and we experienced it whenever we spent dedicated time together. But both of our lives were very complicated and those complications made our relationship very challenging outside of the I-Thou experience. I dealt with those complications better than he did, and his fear of them pulled us apart. But it never did anything to the love.
It was in this relationship that I learned the meaning of unconditional love without attachment. It's because I loved him unconditionally that I could set him free and still love and accept him as he was and is today without bitterness and resentment. It's that love that wants only that which is for his highest good. And there was tremendous pain in the letting go, but it was in that pain that I found my way to unprecedented growth, both personal and spiritual. And one of the gifts that this relationship brought to my life (and the lives of my family) is the beautiful little light that is Rachel.
Several years ago, I wrote the story of April 25, 1995 and posted it on the page of my abandoned website, The Art of Love. The site was initially intended to serve a business idea that I had to create customized gifts that told a special story shared by the giver and the receiver. It was inspired by a gift that I gave Rachel's dad and the story was background for it. You can read about and see the gift via a link at the end of the story. Eventually, I thought I'd use the site as a more personal venue to share news, photos, stories, etc., but I never really developed it and it hasn't been updated in ages. (And I have this blog now.) So, if you decide to poke around over there, don't be surprised to find unfinished pages and dead links.
It's hard for some people to understand the effect a relationship like this one had on me without the concurrent assumption that I'll never be satisfied with anything less. But if that assumption were true, it would denigrate every truth I learned about unconditional love and it would violate some of the most important rules by which I've learned to live.
Here's one of the most important: Take nothing with you of the past but the love and the lessons; leave everything else behind. Without this, I'd discard the value of my experiences, both good and bad, and with them I'd discard the beauty of the other human beings that I've been honored to know in exchange for the ugliness of resentment; I'd keep old grievances from the distant and unchangeable past alive, allowing them to rob me of any peace and happiness in the only place where I can truly experience them -in the present moment; and I'd repeat my mistakes.
Honoring the experience of such a love from the past doesn't take anything away from any relationship in the present; it allows me to offer that love in the present. This idea is counter-intuitive to some, but it's something I understand completely. And though the awe of such an experience is naturally something to desire in any relationship, it isn't a condition of love for me, for then I'd be a hypocrite. Unconditional love, by the way, doesn't mean that you have to stay in an unhappy or dysfunctional relationship. It just means that you choose to love differently- perhaps from a distance or in another context. This explains why Willie and I are divorced and still have differences in some of our perspectives and values, but are still friends who love each other. We value each other and our friendship much more than we value our grievances and differences. I'd have it no other way.
I have a lot more to say on the subject of love, particularly as it relates to what many people call love but looks nothing like the real thing to me. But that's one for another day. On this day, I'll just honor another one of my guiding principles, one that's not always easy to remember when times are tough. I'll introduce it in the form of a cliche saying in which I find a great deal of value: Don't cry because it's over: smile because it happened. I can sum this up in one word: gratitude. It's a magical elixer that can help remind you that the universe wasn't required to give you any of the things you have. Consider all of them blessings. Try to count them, then think about how many other people cannot take these same things for granted. I've never known a better formula for peace and happiness than gratitude. Practice it every single day and your life will change, I promise.