Animals fascinate me, almost every day. I have noticed after a storm that animals all tend to gather at the same feeder, even though they normally eat at separate feeders – the equines at one, the sheep at another. Today, as always happens after a storm, everyone but one (Griselle, I think) is at one crowded feeder, while one wily sheep is chowing done on the same good second cut hay in the rear.
Why? I have no idea. Animals have their own signals and instincts and habits, and most of them are utterly beyond the comprehension of human beings. On the surface, it makes no sense for animals to jam together like that, crowding each other for hay when there is an open feeder a few feet away.
And why only after nasty storms?
What signals do they give or get? What instincts are pushing them that way. I love to try and figure out animal things like this, this one has stumped me for years.
I went to take a shower this morning, and I found this heart-shaped bar of soap that Maria had left me before she left for India, the message was understood and very much appreciated. Yesterday, Julie, who lives in a small town in Alabama, wrote me to ask if I would mind defining love for her, she is puzzled about what it means and struggling to understand it.
I don’t blame her, there are few useful places to look when it comes to understanding love. Juiie said she wished writers wrote more about the reality of life, not the fantasy of love.
I said love was not really the focus of my writing, I wondered if she had the wrong writer in mind, but she said I did write about love, especially in regards to my relationship with Maria.
Would I mind giving it a try? It was a creative challenge, and love is an important subject for me, I have written about it often, directly and indirectly. So here’s my try. Love is on my mind today, as Maria left for India, I felt it’s importance in my life.
I found genuine love late in my life, I honestly didn’t know what it was or how it worked. In many countries, love doesn’t enter into marriage or long relationships, marriage is practical thing, often about money, land, ambition, family politics, animals or security.
In our country, the culture – movies, books, magazines, the media – emphasizes the idea of true love, passionate and all-encompassing. Other kinds of love are rarely mentioned.
Julie, I think love is complex and evolving. I feel a great passion for Maria, personal and sexual, but that is not what makes love meaning for me, and I think, for her. Love is a long-lasting thing when it works, it matures and deepens, or should. Passion ebbs and flows, it is wonderful, but not, for me, what matters the most.
In my other relationships, I was selfish and disconnected, I hid from problems, i did not confront them, I did not do the hard work of love, and the people I love let me run and hide until I was too far gone to love. It was too late.
First, I would say, love is about trust. You can be yourself, be accepted for yourself, you can depend on the person you love to support you and be present for you. You must, in return, accept the person you love and not assume you can or should change them to fit your tastes or needs.That is selfish love. Real love is selfless.
Love is about acceptance and respect and encouragement, love is not just about what you want, but what the other wants. Love is about making your partner bigger and stronger, not smaller and weaker. Love is about embracing independence, not dependence.
it is about standing in your truth. Maria and I have had some hard moments of truth with one another, she often tells me things I do not wish to hear, I do the same for her. Love is not about protecting someone from the truth, it is about the truth itself. Even when we are angry, we never doubt our love for one another. We always see past the anger, and into the love. These conflicts can be cleansing and nourishing.
They seem necessary.
True love is about compromise.
You must be able to say, “I am sorry,” or “I was wrong,” or “I hear you.” True love is about listening, and the occasional subjugation of pride. Listening is not about replying, or agreeing, listening is about understanding. When problems arise – and over the long haul, they always arise – passion does not resolve them, neither does making love.
Cultural representations of love are always simple-minded and shallow, they almost never reflect the depth and complexity of a true relationship.
What resolves issues is the deep investment two people make in loving and caring for one another. My partner’s happiness is my happiness, my partner’s success is my success, her pain is my pain. Love is a manifestation of the term we, it asks for patience, tolerance, and empathy.
It also demands boundaries. I can empathize, but not take my lover’s problems from them, I cannot make myself bigger by trying to solve them for her, I can help her but I cannot save her. Only she can do that. Sometimes, love asks us to let go. Love is nourishment, it grows strength.
Three years ago, I had pain in my chest and shortness of breath, and I went to the doctor and ended up in an ambulance going to the hospital to have emergency open heart surgery.
There are no mirrors in ICU, no one wants the patients to see themselves after that surgery. I happened to pass a glass wall, and saw myself after the surgery. No one wants to look. I was horrified at the tubes and drains and catheters and monitors protruding from my body, I looked, to myself, like a monster in a horror film.
A few moments, Maria and my daughter appeared to see me, and neither could mask the look of genuine shock and fear on their faces. In a few days, the tubes and bandages and needles were gone, and I went home. I felt uglier and more repulsive than ever before in my life.I could not imagine returning to normal.
Maria crawled next to me in my bed and touched my wounds and kissed one of them. She told me I was a handsome and sexy man, she said she was so lucky to have me as a husband, it was wonderful to talk with me and be with me. I’ve been waiting for you my whole life, she said.
The surprising thing to me was that she was telling the truth. Nothing could have been healthier for me to hear.
She couldn’t fake a thing like that, I would have seen right through it.
She made me understand that whatever my body looked like, what she loved was my soul. She made me feel whole again.
And surgery had nothing to do with the love of soul. I had the greatest motivation to recover. We have often traded that role for one another, we have each had or troubles and disappointments, but it is our souls that are connected, and for me, that is what love is.
Love transcends life, it never denies it. I found real love when I was 61, and while I do not tell other people what to do, I do often urge people not to give up on love.
As I entered my sixth decade, I have given up on love, and on sex. I was living in a guarded moat, emotionally and literally. Love broke down the gates to the castle, and opened me to life.
Julie, love is not what you see in the movies or on TV. It is no always, pretty or sexy or simple. But it may be the most wonderful thing on the earth.
Ever since Robin was born last summer, I’ve been thinking about what it is that grandparents are for. I don’t care to go over the top with it, Robin is not my child, and I am not an integral part of her life. She has two wonderful parents who will shepherd her through life.
I am not close enough to see her regularly, but we absolutely do connect when we do meet and I am understanding what my role in this is. I think I am meant to pass along certain truths and feelings and wisdoms about life to her, not in words or declarations or preaching, but in love and connection.
I see this process is both instinctive and biological. In a strange sense, I have learned some of this from dogs. Fate and I connect on a strong level, we touch the independent and unpredictable and distracted spirit in one another. We see the fun and the pirate in one another.
A grandchild is not a dog, nor do I wish her to be. For me, a dog is never a child, and a child is never a dog, and people who forget the difference will regret it.
But love is a powerful teacher, and Robin and I already love one another. She knows me, even if she rarely sees me, and in a sense I know her. I hope pass along to her my passion for living my life, taking some risks, avoiding a hollow or substitute life based on money and security.
Her parents will guide her much more than I will, and that is the way it should be. But I have things to pass along to her, and they are not in words or teachings, they are in my life, and my heart, and in the way I love and think and struggle so restlessly to figure out how to live.
I think that is what a grandfather is for, that and to offer love. Robin has entered the age of wonder and discovery, she sits up, rolls over and gazes thoughtfully at the world. She is curious and open.
At 12:45, I was sitting in the lot behind the Round House Cafe, Maria and I were texting one another, we were texting as she entered the airport, waited in the security line, stood outside the gate, boarded the plane. We were talking about her fear and her excitement, the ups and downs of this trip even before it began.
We are always together, I said, even when we are apart.
As she took her seat on the flight, originally scheduled for Sunday night, she said she was a bit nervous, “it’s all kind strange, just getting used to it.”
I said imagine five years ago, would you have thought of doing this? She texted back, “That makes me feel good, thinking that. Thank you.”
She thanked me for not being one of those men who would be threatened by her taking a trip, and I thanked her for that. I cannot imagine why I would be anything but happy about this trip.
She sent me a photo of a gray bag with elephants on it, it contained socks, earplugs, toothpaste and a brush, it was complimentary from the airline. She loved the bag, and then she told me the plane offered 91 different movies. She was impressed with the aircraft.
As always, we were each worried about the other. I assured her that I wasn’t doing too much shoveling, that I wasn’t too lonely, that I would take care of myself and let people help me if I needed help. I reminded her to find the exciting part of this trip and to think ahead to Kolkata and teaching those girls how to make her potholders.
She always brightens up at that. I’m sure it is difficult for her to leave her donkeys, pony, farm and studio. She is so at home here.
Maria is not an easy traveler, she is not at peace on airplanes, and I did wish for a moment that I was there with her. We ground one another.
And then I wished that she was here with me. A lot of feeling, a lot of emotion. I told her I might cry a bit when she took off – suddenly, this was very real – and she said that might make her cry again.
I told her to get excited again.
Then, I sent a message that she didn’t answer. The plane was leaving the gate, phones were being turned off.
My last message to her: “you gone?”
But there was no reply. She was gone. It was real.
In the air for the next 12 hours, out of reach and contact with me for the first time in a long time, eight or nine years. She has never been out of reach before, and this was a very different feeling for me, it hit me hard, opened a bit hole in my heart, I did cry, just a bit. I imagine she did too, she cries openly and easily.
I drove home, and went into the back yard and shoveled a path to her studio, I wanted it to be clear and accessible. I know when I miss her, I will go sit in her studio for a few minutes – she gave me permission, because her spirit is very strong there. I can be with her there.
The snow was heavy and tall, I shoveled the path quickly and intensely.
Jack Macmillan, a neighbor and friend, was driving me, and he saw me shoveling and pulled into the driveway and came out to the back. He was just checking up on me. “You need any help?,” he asked. But I didn’t, and I thanked him for checking on me.
It is a good feeling to have people checking up on you, and also a strange feeling, because it does suggest worry. I am not used to being worried about. Open up to it, I told myself, it’s a good thing.
So this trip to India, a wonderful thing, is very real now. After all this time and preparation.
Maria will be in the air for 12 hours, then 16 more hours in Dubai. Soon, she will be teaching the victims of sex trafficking how to make art and earn money.
I have purchased a massage and room service meal there for her in Dubai, she will like that, she would never spend that on herself, but loves a massage. I am very happy for her, and very happy for me to be her lover and friend.
Some people were posting tracking links for her flight on Facebook, and I took them down, even though I know they were well-intentioned.
I think it is up to her to share those details, and she will, and so will I, with her permission. I don’t think she would care to be tracked. But it is her story to tell, and she is telling it beautifully already. She is deep in the Ritual Of Initiation.
We are not used to being apart, and anything new is healthy and revealing. This trip has already changed her and made her strong and confident, and it is just beginning. With a bang, a 14-inch snowstorm.
Today, the Cassandra Conety Era began. I didn’t expect her this morning, there was so much drifting and piling snow, but I got a text message at 6:51 saying “I will be over around 7:30 to feed for you.” And at 7:30, there she was. Maria had called twice to threaten me if I went outside and didn’t want for her.
This is the first day of what i call the Cassandra era, she is coming early to feed the animals, run the dogs, take care of the chickens., help with the firewood.
I got the firewood myself and was started to rake the roof when she showed up. The idea is for me to have a kind of Creative Fellowship, I just get up and work. I have to say, it is very strange to have someone here taking care of my animals while I am here. That is a first. But I can see the benefits, I think I will get easier with it.
Cassandra is a very solid citizen, she is soft-spoken, professional. She was raised on a farm and is completely at ease with farm chores and responsibilities. She is thoughtful without being intrusive. When I asked if I could take her picture, she just shrugged and said “sure.” I said she was part of the story now.
When I told her Maria’s flight had been canceled, she just nodded. She is not into drama. She is a person you trust, I think this arrangement will work well.
Cassandra is a vet tech at Cambridge Valley Vets, and the dogs know her well and love her. She is very much an outdoorswoman, she was impressive shoveling, sweeping the farm, checking on the chickens and the cats.
The challenge for me is to get up early and get to work, and not set food outside until she comes. That means ignoring the whinnying and braying from the animals once they sense or hear that I am up. A new era, a new thing. The idea is that Maria has her creative experience, I have mine.
I’m not sure why this is hard, but I know it will be easy enough soon, and I am grateful for it.