There is so much writing about love, yet I have so little understanding of it. And it is important.
Thomas Merton wrote that “love is not just something that happens to you: it is a certain special way of being alive.”
I woke up this morning and turned to Maria, who was still groggy, and I said “there is only one of you.” And she groaned and then answered, “there is only one of you.” I said I had never in my life met anyone anything like her, and she said the same was true of me.
Was that, I wondered, the reason for our love? Some biologists say it’s smell that draws us to one another, the chemistry or biology behind it is not known or understood. Why do we love one person, and not another?
How can we be so ignorant of something so central to our lives? In the Kabbalah, God says love is the point. There are all kinds of books and movies about love, yet we don’t know how it happens.
Sometimes, in the minutes before sunrise, Maria and I each wonder how it is that we came to love each other, and to love each other so much. It is something of a mystery to us.
In think at times that we love people who are symbols for us of something bigger than them or us.
I got the most beautiful letter this morning from Cynthia Prince of Medford, Oregon, she wrote:”when you called Maria your Cather woman I was overcome – never had I known such a term existed! I told my husband of 37 years he now had the key to unlock my soul, just call me his WC woman…he knew exactly what I meant.”
Maria has the key to my soul, and perhaps she does signify to me something bigger than me, something I always wanted but could never find: a Willa Cather woman to share my life – a person who is smart, creative, loving and fierce in her love and life.
Our souls did touch, and we set out together to leave fear and loneliness behind and just live. We fight like Samurai warriors for one another, and in the process, of course, we are fighting for ourselves.
Souls can get lonely and frightened, they need other souls to walk with them.
I spent most of my life in a loveless way, I was too frightened or crazy to figure out how to love. When I met Maria, I had given up on love, I was deep into a downward spiral, like a plane heading straight for the ground. Love was for other people. It was some sappy thing you saw in the movies, or read about in novels. It had little to do with me.
The closest I get to it is the idea that love is about being known. Maria says she never felt as known as she did when we first met and became friends, and the same thing is true of me.
How is it that two people at pivotal points in their lives can to see into the souls of each other, when neither of us could see into the souls of other people? And when few people could see into ours?
I don’t know, I don’t have an answer.
We were both wrecks at the time, not at our best, not really in a loving frame of mind. But we both saw the true person inside of each other, we just knew each other. It was as if we had known each other all of our lives, two people who were uncomfortable with almost everybody were completely comfortable with each other.
I can’t imagine anyone loving me in the shape I was in, or at all, and yet Maria saw through all the confusion and madness and saw the person I wanted to be, the one buried inside of me.
I looked at her and saw the artist yearning to come out, to be released, to see the light, to be freed. I saw her strength and her passion.
I loved that in her. Her love of life reignited mine, and my knowing her somehow gave her the strength to stand in her truth, and reclaim ownership of her life.
When I looked out the window and saw her walking up the hill with carrots and celery for the donkeys and the sheep, I thought, this is my Willa Cather girl, bursting with love and strength and creativity.
I know what it is like to not love, and to not be loved. Now, I know what it is like to be loved and to love. Merton is correct, it is a different way of being alive.
I have to say that I feel my dogs helped to open me up to love, they were the first beings to force me out of my cave, to get my heart beating again. To have the dogs I wanted, and the dogs I loved, I just had to be a better and more whole person, more patient, a better listener, more empathetic.
Orson began the process, Rose deepened it, Lenore symbolized it. I was telling a shrink about Lenore, who I called the Love Dog, and she looked at me and said, “don’t you see? Lenore is what you want? That’s why you came up here. You are looking for that love in a human being!”
I got it, I saw it. I love my dogs, but they have always led me to people, not away from them, and that may be what I love most about them.
When I met Maria’s man-hating dog Frieda, the Helldog, I knew this was a ticket to love. If I could get Frieda to love me, Maria might just find me better than most men she had known and let me in.
And so it was. Maria said she first began to trust me when I was willing to work so hard to break through to Frieda.
And that’s how it is with these Willa Cather girls, they don’t really need men to live their lives, they just sometimes decide to tolerate them for a while. You have to let them live their lives and mean it.
Dogs can be ambassadors of love, scouts and enablers. They have enriched and enabled my life.
To find love I had to do the same thing with Maria as I did with some of the dogs.
I had to change, to be open to it, to look very hard at myself and face the truth about me and what it was I really wanted, and what it was a I had to change. I had to acknowledge the worst things about me.
Dogs didn’t really show me how to do that, but they opened the door, and I am grateful.
So that’s as far as I’ve gotten with this love thing. I am arrogant enough to think I might one day have something new to offer about love.
Love is not, in fact, just something that happened to me. It is a certain special way of being alive.
There is only one of you in this world, Maria, and there is not an hour in any given day that I don’t give thanks for you.