“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
If I have made of my life something particular, and real,
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
Or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” – Mary Oliver
One of life’s greatest missteps and misfortunes is to not really live. To question what might have been, to let opportunities and people go who might have helped us grow, explore and see things in new ways – to question because we did not choose to experience those things for one reason or another. Our practical lives and minds steer us toward clear and safe paths: keep the miserable job because it is stable. Stay in unhappy relationships because you won’t find someone better suited or because you can’t bear to be alone. Don’t spontaneously travel to a far-flung land because it is dangerous – or because you just can’t see yourself being that spontaneous. Stop listening to music because it’s… I don’t know, what young people do? (As the lovely, old Australian film Strictly Ballroom reminds us: “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.”)
Without really living – embracing, learning, loving, doing – haven’t you only visited this world?
I had a job for many years that, in no uncertain terms, was bad. I liked the actual work and subject matter (I did learn a lot) and loved many of my colleagues. But the organizational culture and company – totally delusional. And they played the role of abuser. Most people there were zombified automatons, brainwashed to think they were making a difference, to think they could do no better elsewhere, that every place is the same or would be worse or – god forbid – that the way this place operated was normal. But my nomadic nature taught me better – I had changed roles and companies frequently and was doing other work in parallel that showed me just how miserable that place was.
Almost everyone with whom I worked closely has left and all of them express to me this feeling of having left an abusive partner – having been told repeatedly, “You will never find something better. You aren’t good enough for something else. Nothing else will be better than this anyway.” As soon as they left, a giant weight lifted from their shoulders, and they realized, “Wow, I can actually do things. I am actually effective and smart.” And the toxic nature of the relationship and culture of the previous company becomes clearer than ever.
But while there are the few who have been “liberated” there are still the herds and hordes who haven’t and probably never will be. Mostly “lifers” who have nothing to compare it to and would not have the skills or sense to make it anywhere else.
I wonder when I think of these people whether they are truly living. In some cases, I would say, no, they are not living according to my definition of living – but then they don’t have to. They can define it for themselves. Some people there are just going for the paycheck, camaraderie and flexibility on holidays and their external/non-work lives are full of living. Some like the exceedingly family-friendly nature of the company and stay for more than a decade while having a family. These things make sense. But the die-hard, drank-the-Kool-Aid types don’t make much sense, and I can’t compare what they are doing to living. (At least I would ask in the end of my life “if I have made of my life something particular, and real…” –and the answer would be no.)
What would life be without music? It’s something about which I am passionate – even if I have never been one to make music (which I kind of regret – but at the same time, it’s not such a deep regret or loss that I will ponder it at the end of my life wondering why I didn’t do something about it).
But no, I am on a constant journey of discovering new music – and sharing it (like it or not). I’ve written about this before, and about the supposed drop-off in music discovery at age 27 (or something similarly strange. Oh no, 33. As if that is so much better). I will never understand this.
The other day I told a friend I might be in Gothenburg for a concert; she asked me what show, knowing full well she would have no idea who it was because she is just not into following music. It defies all logic for her – and for many of my friends – that I can put together a mix of music several times a year with so many things they have never heard of.
But for me I can’t say I think I would be living without constantly seeking out new music. To fully live life, it needs a soundtrack.
I do not love easily or often. When I do, on these rarest of occasions, I know it. I know I love and there are no questions or doubts about the feeling or what it is or what it means. (Does it mean there is no fear? Of course not. But there is no doubt whatsoever about what the feeling is.) When I love truly and deeply, pulled by an undeniable force that I can’t control, I would go to the ends of the earth. Despite my infamous insular, self-driven and independent nature, I am, by love, transformed to become expansive in my inclusion of the person I love, inviting them to also inhabit the world we create together – a person for whom I would go anywhere, do almost anything and defend, support and love through dark and light, bad and good. This all-encompassing approach should make it clear why I don’t and can’t feel this way about just anyone (as much as I simultaneously revile and admire people who think they fall in love with every person they meet – the whole thing must be very easy for them. Not to be dismissive, of course).
It happens that this infernal New Age book I recently read (yes, I keep referring back to it) described well how I might describe it. In addition I would say that love is… or, maybe no, not love, but loving – active loving – is fundamentally a conversation. A conversation that goes on, lingers, does not end, that continues even in silence.
“…the value and process of soulful romance rests in what he calls radical conversation, in which one intends, continuously, to discover more and ever more about oneself and the other. Through such an exchange between two mysteries, one draws nearer to the central mystery of life.
Loving the otherness of the partner is a transcendent event, for one enters the true mystery of relationship in which one is taken to the third place – not you plus me, but we who are more than ourselves with each other.”
“Radical conversation has emotional, imaginal, sexual and spiritual dimensions as well as verbal ones. And the conversation is approached not only with skill and intent but also with innocence and wonder. Neither the other nor the self is a fixed thing. The bottom is never reached. One hopes to be forever surprised.
But of course it’s not all delight and ease. Far from it. We are constantly discovering how we project our shadow – both its light and dark aspects – onto each other. The dance of soulful romance always includes owning back those projections and transferences. Our relationship will expose all the places we are emotionally blocked, blinded, wounded, caged, protected, or otherwise limited.” -Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft
Does this mean no doubts ever creep in? No. But they don’t negate, erase, eliminate or diminish the underlying feeling or its strength.
Doubt’s a constant stream of questions (these don’t all apply to me; just a generic list): Am I rebounding? Am I clear-headed enough to embark on something significant? Am I repeating the exact same pattern that got me into a long and one-sided love affair from years ago? Am I ready for this? Or, for example, as one friend pointed out about people ending long relationships and possibly heading into new ones, have they really grappled with the question, “Who am I outside the old/long relationship?”
Yes, questions and doubts because that is what it is to interact and be with those with whom we are in love: to shut out the noise of too many superfluous questions and practicalities, all of which do not matter at the core of it all, and to find a place together (emotionally more than physically) that is both centered and calm at the same time as setting you alight and keeping you deeply rooted in the moment, wanting more but being content all at once.
At the core of it all, I will still live fully. I am fully alive. And I love. And I know I love.
Photo (c) – the late, great Paul Costanich