It is Valentine’s Day and I am half a continent away from my beloved spouse. I am spending the week with my father and sister – both of whom I also love dearly – preparing my father’s possessions for his move in the early part of March to his new home. Everything to do with this process is about love, about balancing many loves, and gathering up memories of past love, and casting hearts forward into new love. And so I am pondering many aspects of love and wondering why, at 60-plus, I still can’t give a definitive answer to what it means to love some one or some place or some principle or some idea, and why I can’t (personally) love consistently with grace and patience.
I am pretty convinced loving has to do with being present to the present, being fully connected and attentive to here and now. In my father’s situation, being present is (among other things) an opportunity to handle each and every item in his current home and notice which ones still make his heart sing. Which possessions does he truly love, which represent the joy and beauty he wants to bring with him into a new geographical space…and which items need to be released to bring joy and beauty to someone else. This activity is also about loving himself right now in this very moment, loving the man he is – not the man he once was, or the man he may become, but who he is right now. And surrounding himself with the tangible objects that reveal that amazing “who”.
For me, as I approach that stage of women’s lives when we (hopefully) embody the wise woman, the crone aspect of the triple goddess, watching and helping him is a chance to prepare myself for the discipline of stripping myself slowly and steadily down to essences. It is about daring to love my Self enough to release the masks and roles that have served me however well (or, sometimes, however ill) over the years of my life until now, and being intentionally more transparent, more honest, more real. As I engage with my father in his discernment, I am asking questions about my own possessions like, ‘Do I cling to the books on my bookshelf because I continue to be inspired (fed, nurtured, challenged) by them?’ (Which is another way of asking, ‘Am I really going to read these books again? Really?’) or do I cling to them because they look very impressive when someone visits my home, and I feel affirmed when those guests can admire my interest in spirituality? Or to put it another way, Do I love my books? Or only love the status I perceive they (may) give me?
I am who I am right now partly because I read all those books once upon a time and I was (indeed) inspired by them, and shaped by them, and my vocation was enriched by them. But their inspiration and wisdom and challenge are all inside me now; woven into my being…and either that is obvious in my actions and words and presence, or it isn’t. The books sitting on the shelf as a statement of something don’t make me a more intellectual person or a more interesting person or a better person or a more authentic person. Can I love who I am unconditionally– without the props to add gravitas to the persona? Am I good enough? In my own eyes? Can I give up the yearning for what I once was, and stop thinking that ‘someday’ I will be adequate? Can I live the present moment fully…because the present moment is all any of us have.
I’ve written about this before [here is one example and if you go to any blog and look at the Tag Cloud to the right, then click on the word ‘love’, you will find more] because it is a big pondering, and a long pondering. It may actually be the pondering that is the whole purpose of our lives in this time and place. (I don’t know what other times and planes of existence might bring – I suspect they all have their own lessons, and I look forward to what the next adventure-time-space might offer with a little anxiety and a lot of giddy anticipation.)
But somewhere deep in my heart is the conviction that until I can accept my own adequacy – no, not mere adequacy, but true unique beauty – I cannot be consistently graceful, patient, and generous in my love of any one or any thing else. Love is not either/or, but both/and. It is an inhale (bringing us to focus on the imprint of the divine within) and an exhale (releasing us to celebrate the imprint of the divine beyond.) Getting stuck at either end of that pendulum swing is incomplete and unfruitful. We all have people in our lives who are stuck; we have probably been stuck once or twice (or thirty-six times) ourselves. It is important to remember that whatever it takes to shake us out of “stuck” is a blessing.
In my past life as a parish minister, I took a course with Peter Steinke on healthy systems. When he was asked how leaders could maintain a non-anxious presence in the face of conflict and sabotage, he said, “Practice. You put yourself in an anxious situation and you stay present.” One of the other clergy present kept coming back to the same question, looking for an easier solution. Peter kept repeating the same answer. Because, of course, there is no other way.
The answer is just as true for loving, “Practice. Love, just Love. And when it gets too hard, take a deep breath and keep loving.” Because, of course, there is no other way. Iris Murdoch said, “We learn to love by loving.”
This Valentine’s Day, I am loving up-close, and from a distance. I am loving the family that is related by genetic links, and the family into which I married. I am loving the place my father has called home for 40 years and where my mother drew her last breath, which will all-too-soon be gone from my landscape. And I am loving the currently empty space that will shortly be his new home. I am loving being in the part of the country in which I was born, and I am loving the thought of returning to the part of the country where my husband is waiting. I am trying to love the process of sorting and packing and organizing, because it is a revelation of who my father is right this instant. I am loving my father who is daring to do this new thing. I am loving my sister for all the companionship she has provided my father during this time. I am loving my daughter, and sister-in-law and brother for taking time away from jobs and homes to come in mid-March and move and unpack. I am loving the friends who have offered to help. And I am loving what my father’s decision is challenging me to do and think and feel.
Some of that love is easier than other parts, but it is all practice. And maybe someday, if I keep practicing, I will be (almost) perfect at it.
Text © 2015, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2014, 2012, 2011 Immram Chara, LLC
NOTE: The fiber piece, Focus: Love, is available through my Etsy Shop. There is also a new set of spring floral cards and a set of spring landscapes there, and a fiber piece that celebrated the change of the season from Samhain to Imbolc (Focus: Emerge). Check out the shop; and explore the website where things have changed on several pages.