18.5.18 Garden tulips
I am looking at the tulips nodding over my notebook. I am looking at my bare legs, the raised hairs on my arms, the gleam of my hands in the bright sun. Something has happened to my breath lately. It is thicker. It flows in and out like something warm and liquid and I have to keep from swallowing over and over.
I do not know how to tell this. It is a nonsense tale. All these months writing boldly of a single life, of courage, my teased challenges to love and infatuation and all the rest, and here this was waiting as if to show me up.
They started me on a new cardiac drug regime a month ago and it is working. Although it isn't a cure, I have more energy than I’ve had in years. My movements are faster with less of that gelatinous pull. Where I could walk 20 steps, I can now, on a good day, walk 40, although my legs scream in response, like over-stimulated children. Where for long months I could do little, now it is easy to do too much, but every time my nervous system tries to pull me into galloping tachycardia and unconsciousness at the slightest adjustment, the pacemaker steers me back. I feel good. I feel newly awake. I feel strong.
To have been pulled out of symptoms of heart failure at the exact same time my heart was pulled so unexpectedly into new love is so ridiculous as to be unbelievable. I’m not even sure I believe in it – in love as unasked for and fast and sure as this. Do I? Do you? I feel like you will laugh at me or roll your eyes. I know I want to.
I text him from my hospital bed, my heart rate already a steadier, more sensible line on the monitor just an hour after the drugs had hit my bloodstream and I hoped it wouldn’t jump when his answer came and ruin the whole procedure. I wondered if I should declare him.
“Are there any variables we should take into account?”
“Ah, yes, you see, there is this man…”
Eight weeks in, we pour over our early communications like mages over star maps, trying to understand it. How simple sentences exchanged as strangers could have grown into this: a polite, formal correspondence, then shy and eager, shifting so quickly to avid, to unapologetically, giddily smitten. Two months ago, I didn’t even know his name and now it is a treasure, dug all the way into the soil of me.
Words soon weren’t enough. We’ve spent the last month hesitantly touching our fingers to the video screens that now sit between us every evening. He lives in another country, a beautiful one, and shows me the sky there each day, a different blue to mine. He is over a dozen years my senior and has goodness running all the way through him.
It is impossible and impractical and I won't stop.
I have spoken of vulnerability so many times but how little I knew of it really until now.
I have avoided writing about all this here, deliberately, stubbornly. I’m not even sure if I should. It's why I've been so quiet, although working on the books I'm writing is another obsession entirely and consuming me just as much. It's all been too big to speak of. I couldn't find the edges of my life to describe it all. I'm another shape, suddenly, and I don't know what it is yet. It makes me afraid.
About the only thing I can bear to do right now is tend the garden, my new energy driving me ever more ardently to tend and try and make something grow.
I poke sharp sticks into the soil around the newest, wobbliest additions and scatter slug pellets with fierce understanding. The laughable, horrifying, beautiful alignment of it, to fall in love during springtime, when all around me fragile new things struggle towards a new life; to have to watch what fails. To be in this body, this body I thought would never be enough for anyone new again and to wonder and fear that all this – this new energy and intimacy – is some horrible mistake and that something is waiting to devour it all as soon as I am assured.
Suddenly, there is a ‘next’. Suddenly, there are plans, dreams. It’s as if life realised the record was stuck and has nudged my whole earth back into movement. Suddenly, after years of stasis in this house, this scattering of familiar streets, there is the potential of new sun on my shoulders. I am full of fire and energy under this clear sky and a gentle man talks of driving me to Sweden, to Germany, of all the things he wants to show me.
I do not understand how life can be this terrifying and this tender.
I am happy. I am joyously, hysterically panicked.
What can I tell you? It is a nonsense tale.
1.5.18 Dicentra in the garden
I am learning new things about love. When it's needed. When it makes the biggest difference to a life. I am learning it through my son's life, my plants' lives, and my own.
We are used to needing and offering care through suffering. There is an expectation that it is required and deserved, then. Our innate sympathy for pain turns us to it, often despite ourselves, when we witness the sound of it. We know its healing comes from kind-hearted love, and as human beings, we are good at providing that, whatever anyone says, however lost we all say we are. Perhaps some of us deserve more than we receive, but if we can be open and honest with our pain, love and help will often touch our lives in small ways, if we have the eyes to see it and the courage to let it in. I believe we are all drawn to care for each other like that. I love that we are.
I have been loved through suffering, kindly and patiently. What I am learning is that the need for love doesn't stop when you find hope, potential, goodness. If anything, your need for it intensifies.
I am cradling new things just now. I am growing a book. I am growing a new relationship. I had anticipated and looked for neither, but now find I can't help but steer towards their promise, hungry despite myself. They have collided and aligned, unexpectedly, intensely, and I feel more vulnerable, more exposed, and more terrified than I think I ever have. It is a painful joy. A devastating hope. Some days, it's shaking me raw.
When times of suffering come, there is a kind of ease in hardening, in self-protecting. We get to pull to safety, into withdrawal and retreat. But when it is time to put suffering aside, or at least turn down its clamour, which we always must if we are to stay fully alive, we must do the opposite. We must unclench, unfurl. We must shed all our skin and become new baby things, ready to start again, terrible and bawling. Harder still, we must turn, move our feet, reach towards the things that suffering may have told us aren't meant for us at all, because it does that, doesn't it? It whispers that its lands are safer than that bright, unfamiliar place, full of risk. How much simpler it would be sometimes to stay in that hunched, dark place where everything hurts. How perversely comforting and affirming it can be, to let the world confirm what we always feared, deep down: that we are no good anyway, and so should stay right here. There is pain in it, excruciating, but there can also be, underneath it all, a safety, a rightness. Life does make some sort of hollow sense here.
I know this trap. I know its lure. And how much harder it is because it is rarely, if ever, a case of happiness and growth barging into your life and burning up suffering in one bright, magnesium flash. It is never that convenient. Instead, we have to make space for it next to us, still suffering, still bleeding, still secretly convinced of our unworth. This is the only way to live. This is the only way to live. We don't get to leave anything behind. We must simply heave it onto our shoulders and take it into light, and knowing this, realising this, is a new terror. We must be our same broken, flawed selves in a new life. We must show ourselves to it, to everyone. God help us, we must.
This is why we must love each other when things start to go well, or could do. This is the point we must not turn away from each other, and yet we do - oh how we do - out of envy, resentment, out of our own pain and insecurity or our simple disinterest. It seems to get worse with age. We are less indulgent of second chances, third choices, somehow, our generosity worn.
I tell you: we need to be loved, with joy and patient care, through new beginnings, every time. Perhaps, if anything, we need to be loved more each time, more loudly, more uncompromisingly, for it is now, in these tender first steps all over again, with the weight of our pasts on our shoulders, that we are most likely to panic and shut down, to self-sabotage, to decide we can't, we CAN'T, we don't deserve this, we're not good enough, we'll only fail again. It is love's job to say, firmly, delightedly, hopefully: you can, you do, you are, you must try.
I watch my son with his piano teacher on Saturday mornings: his open, nervous, hopeful face as he fumbles the notes for the dozenth time and looks for reassurance, and his warm teacher responds with unabashed, patient praise, with the subtlest of guidance, with pride, and I know that this is a time ripe for love. I know this is a time that love will make every difference to his future.
My friends ask me gentle, hopeful questions now. They make space for my new things. They let me talk about them, eager and embarrassed, frightened and fumbling, and I feel more love now than any kind word achieved in years of heartbreak and pain, because they believe I am worth more than where I was. They believe these new things are mine to have, that I am worthy of them. I know that if these new seeds of things get to grow into something strong and beautiful, it will be because I have been loved through these shaky beginnings.
And so, I guess, this is an instruction. We tell each other to care for suffering, as we should, but all I can think of today is to ask you, to beg you, to let love be bigger than that. Let it be braver. Let us remember to love each other through our fragile, risky, ambition. Let us love the hope of each other. It will take nothing from us. Don't let the wounds in you convince you otherwise.
In Buddhism, we call it mudita. It is joy in another's joy: a wholehearted, honest, generous love, underpinned with a compassionate knowing that joy is rarely simple, rarely clean. It is considered another of the sublime states, not because it is easy, but because it is not. It takes courage and a generosity that doesn't come easy to our wounded, parched souls, and yet we work at it because it matters.
Perhaps all joy, all brave growth, all bright achievement that exists in the world was built on love like this, once: this mudita. Perhaps that's one of the reasons it's so deeply important.
We get nowhere alone, I think that's what I'm realising from this tender, wonderful, terrified place. We get nowhere alone.