Love’s Tragic Life

Over its lifetime, love is always loud and wild. It knows no moderation, and burns bright, hot or icy cold. At its best it is the sunshine in the heart, but its fire keeps burning, even in the heat of heartbroken tears, jilted anger, and sighs of longing. At its worst, it can burn again like ice, in fits of jealousy and belated contempt.

But when it finally dies, it does so quietly and silently, without the faintest whimper.

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To Love is…

Love wouldn’t be true if it was given in exchange or expectation of anything in return. To love is to give of yourself freely and generously, not expecting even to be loved in return.

 

 

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For Your Eyes

For your eyes what my heart suffered and what it will,

And for love what is left of me and what is gone.

I have never been one to let love into my heart,

But whoever gazes into your eyes can’t help the fall.

 


Adapted from a poem by the Arabic  poet Al-Mutanabbi:

لعينيك ما يلقى الفؤاد وما لقي

وللحب ما لم يبق منى وما بقي

وما كنت ممن يدخل الحب قلبه

.ولكن من يبصر جفونك يعشق

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Hope Dies Last

I did not make the 100 days mark. Today it has been 98 days since I last saw my beloved Englishman, and I had to see him again when he texted me to have coffee.

Over the past few months, and especially during my holiday, the pain of missing him gutted me. When I surrendered to my longing and texted him he sounded off, unhappy, worried, or even apathetic. In our acquaintance, it had always bothered me that so many things were left unsaid, and although I am sure he knows how I feel about him, he never really heard the full story. So I wrote a simple love letter that I sent as an attachment through a messenger application. Whether he reads or not, it is his choice.

The last time I saw him, we met at an LGBT event where I gave him a rainbow flag. This love letter is my proverbial white flag. I am done with hiding from him, deleting his contact and blocking him on social media. I am also done with meeting him frequently over coffee as normal friends do. In my letter, I just made the simple plea that he write to me or text me every once in a while, to let me know how he is doing. I promised to see him a few times every year, if he wanted, because I feared that my heart could not handle more of these public meetings.

We exchanged some texts after I wrote the letter. He knows that I sent it, but I now doubt that he will read it.  When I arrived back, I told him that I had a little package of chocolates for him. He texted me today to ask if I would have coffee, and I acquiesced because the pain of missing him and worrying about him was greater than the risk of unsettling my heart again after meeting him. My heart was already unsettled over his strange and melancholic texts.

So we met today, and we talked. I did not pass out, I did not cry, and I did throw my arms around him. I deserve credit for at least that. I lost control over my train of thought and speech a few times, but I managed to demonstrate my capability for restraint. He talked about his expensive hobbies (good ! I disliked his acquired snobbery), and his family travels and activities with his wife and daughter (also good, keeps it real). We lightly touched on emotional issues, which were apparently all mine. Perhaps I will finally believe this?

I have done my part. I loved this man for the past year, and I loved him well. I cared enough to let go. I still love him, and will miss him for some time in the future. This time, I am not promising to cut all ties with him, I will leave the lightest of connection between us, just in case the longing grips me again by the throat.

There is a Spanish proverb that goes: Lo ultimo que muere es la esperanza – Hope Dies Last. A tiny flicker of that treacherous sentiment still resides deep in my heart. My beloved found me once when I did not want to be found. And although this event unleashed deluges of tears and many days and nights of emotional torture, I am grateful he did, because ultimately he helped me find my true self, my heart and my capacity for love. Perhaps one day he or someone like him will find me again, if by then I still did not mind being found.

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Then We Take Berlin

I have spoken before about the joy of places. And I still think that some cities can make you fall in love with them while others reject you, make you feel alien, weak or overwhelmed.

Of the cities I lived in I have loved Aleppo and Abu Dhabi as a child then grew up to fall out of love with them.  I was too young to understand sophisticated Vienna, so I ran away from it. I still have deep affection for sleepy East London (South Africa, not the British London), but I was intimidated by the barely suppressed danger and violence of Johannesburg. I despised the arrogance and intrusive urgency of New York, with its constant demand for attention. And after I escaped that difficult city, I willingly accepted Nairobi. My relationship with it is one of quiet understanding. I take from it what I need while I ignore all its problematic sides. Nairobi allows you to create a peaceful bubble around you, where you can listen to birds and bullfrogs, watch the passage of clouds in the blue sky, or feel the cooling touch of tropical rain. New York in contrast encroaches on every aspect of your life, you have to live it, or leave it.

Of the cities I lived in, I only truly loved Cape Town. And although its spectacular views rarely concealed its rough edges and contradictions, my adopted city still owns the biggest part of my heart. My first love, though, was for a city I first visited in my teens, a city that touched my soul with its painful history, as she carried the guilt and scars of the war that ultimately divided its heart.

Berlin was my first city-love. I fell in love with it at seventeen, when a relative took us to visit the wall, and choked back tears at the many memorial plaques of young people who lost their lives as they tried to cross it from East Berlin. Since then I fall in love with it again whenever I visit. I love the waterways, the bridges, the parks, the monuments and the museums. I love the organized transport, the availability of middle eastern food, and the open spaces in the suburbs. It is a big city, but sprawled over a very large area, and surrounded by lakes and waterways. Residents happily ride bikes and walk. The corner stores still operate in many areas, and each of the suburbs has its own commercial centre which give the places their small-town feel even within the big city.

Berlin is proud of its environmental awareness, its cosmopolitan character, and its embrace, sometimes welcoming sometime grudging, of refugees. As I grow older I feel that the city resembles me. It has long left its younger days behind, and still struggles with past separation and pain, and tries to hold on to its conscience despite hard trials.

Some people would cynically point to its dysfunctional politics and ongoing corruption cases, the most glaring example of which is the fiasco of the BER, the Berlin Brandenburg International Airport that was supposed to be completed at least five years ago. The airport complex stands mostly complete if it weren’t for serious safety issues with the building, electronic doors and fire-protection systems that prevent it from meeting safety standards and block its operation indefinitely. It has become a symbol of total German failure where everyone expects German efficiency and exactitude. It proved to be a problem too complex and too expensive to fix.  It is passed on like a hot potato from one project manager to the next and from one government mandate to the next, no resolution in sight. This might be seen as one of the city’s many failures, and symptom of its crumbling and corrupt systems. But I can still see many positives elsewhere, in the conscientious and humanist attitudes of its older citizens, especially those who were old enough to remember its divided days. In the availability and abundance of public spaces, and in its honest attempts at embracing diversity.

When I visit my Oma’s city, I let it embrace me like a kindred spirit as I jog in its shaded parks between oaks, birches, chestnuts and elms. As I swim in its lakes, feeling the smooth water glide around my limbs, cooling my skin on these recent scorching days, and warming it on cloudy days when the breeze blows cool and ripples the surface. There is nothing quite like sliding through the silent green-blue water, breathing in its mossy scent, listening to its whispered tinkling against my ears with every gentle stoke, and watching as its surface catches the rays of sunlight, turning them into a scatter of diamonds. Floating alone in the middle of the lake, embraced by the smoothness of its water, the cool forests at its edges and the skies above, is an experience in sensory mediation. I emerged from it baptised in wonder and appreciation. I envy those who do this every day, especially those who let the water caress their naked skin.  Germans are not prude, they often swim in their birthday suits.

I have seen families with kids, elderly couples, and women alone or in pair enjoying this public space. They swim, paddle on stand up paddle boards, or just relax by the water. As long as you reserve your space early enough you can enjoy a quiet moment in nature. It is much more soothing than a busy tropical beach. When I visit in winter, I still enjoy the walks in the park or along the waterways, and visits to the museums. There is plenty to do. Berlin to me though means family, my German heritage, where my grandmother was born, and where I might once like to live. If only my heart weren’t already lost in Africa, to someone who still resides there.

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Love, I Know What You Are

Though it is hard. All gifts are temporary. I unwillingly surrender this one. And thank you for it. God. Or world. Whoever it was gave it to me, I humbly thank you, and pray that I did right by him, and may, as I go ahead, continue to do right by him.
Love, love, I know what you are.
________________________________________________________________
Excerpt From: “Lincoln in the Bardo: WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017” by George Saunders. Scribd.

This material may be protected by copyright.
Read this book on Scribd: https://www.scribd.com/book/334747443

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Why ?

Why is it, that when I think of my beloved, it feels like my love for him combines all the love I felt for all the boys and men in my life, their past and their present? Why do I yearn to comfort the fatherless boy he was, like I embraced as a girl-child the remembered sorrow of my dad, who lost his father at eleven? Why does my heart channel towards my beloved the painful sympathy I felt for my brother when he burned his soft baby hands on the stove? and the ache I felt with my son when he cried bitter tears at losing a beloved toy I could not replace? Why is that man now my ocean, towards which flow all my emotions of love, longing, and tenderness regardless of origins.

And why is it, that whenever I see him, I feel bathed in the warmth of full sunshine? And no matter how many people are around in a room I only have eyes for him.

And why is it that even when I am thousands of miles away, and haven’t seen him, spoken to him, nor texted him for weeks, I still feel my love for him and the space he occupies in my heart ? And why is it that he is the first person I think about when I open my eyes in the morning, and the last one I remember before I drift off to sleep?

And why is it that I now cry at love stories and love songs, as I have never cried in decades?

And why is it that I have to suffer this heartache, when I was not even looking for love, and have long given up on romantic relationships and rejected casual hook-ups? And why is it that my heart chose him when my mind knows and accepts that he is possibly terribly unsuitable as a partner, even if he were free?

And why is it, that even after I abandoned social media, erased his phone number and blocked him, I still stalk his accounts, know his number by heart, and return to contacting him, when the stranglehold of missing him threatens to suffocate me?

And Why is it, that on a hot day when I could hardly breathe and feel like I am about to die, I have an overwhelming urge to speak to him just once before I exhale my last breath?

And Why ? When I neither want nor need him to belong to me, I feel that I still belong to him, and want him to know this? Why do I still yearn for his company, his presence, his voice or even his texts?

Why doesn’t my heart follow the script and listen when my mind is honestly and sincerely set on letting him go ?

Thousands of questions why, and not a single logical answer.

 

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One Only Needs…

Man braucht nur eine Insel
Allein im weiten Meer.
Man braucht nur einen Menschen,
den aber braucht man sehr.

Mascha Kaléko (1907-1975)  Jewish German language poet


One only needs an Island
Alone in the wide ocean.
One only needs one person,
But that’s the one you need most.

 

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An Onscreen Love Story Gets Me

I am spending my holiday with family in Germany. My father is retired and my mother is semi-retired as she only does a few hours a week, helping out a lady who cares for her severely disabled partner. I enjoy my parents’ company and therefore I readily join them around the television to watch the offerings on German television.

The programming seems to be specifically designed for retirees, with long-running German telenovelas, and dubbed American series from the 1980s and older. I usually get into the telenovelas quickly, occasionally asking about the fate of some characters that have disappeared since I last watched. And I always manage to catch episodes I have seen before when I watch old  American series such as The Twilight Zone. As for the repeated movies, my father said jokingly “We only watch the movies we know” and so it happened that I caught a glimpse of one of my favourite movies “Die Brücken am Fluß” which is the German title for Bridges of Madison County. I was not in the mood to weep so I did not watch it in its entirety. Unlike my father I am not a fan of watching a movie I have seen before, least of all the ones that open up the wounds in my heart.

My mother talked me, however, into watching the movie Love is All You Need. I watch very little television, and I probably see less than half a dozen movies per year. I acquiesced this time because my mom praised this film so much and said she had seen it twice already, once as recently as last week. Also, the male lead was played by Pierce Brosnan, a handsome actor I had a crush on back in the 1980s when he played the mysterious detective Remington Steele, and I followed almost every season of that series. And while Remington Steele appealed to the romantic minded teenager I was in the late 1980s, the older Brosnan, is definitely more attractive to the middle aged woman I turned into now, and the character he played even more so.

The movie is simply a love story in the stunning setting of an Italian villa surrounded by lemon orchards, beautiful blue skies, and clear turquoise waters. The female main character Ida is a Danish hairdresser who has just finished a course of chemotherapy and has lost her hair to the cancer treatment. To add to her woes, she walks in on her husband having sex with a younger co-worker. The couple were supposed to attend their daughter’s wedding in Italy, and Ida decides to travel there alone. She runs into different problems on her way there, and is further humiliated when her husband shows up with the young airhead he is having an affair with.

The wedding location is a villa that belongs to Philip, the father of the groom, who also owns the lemon orchards surrounding it. He is a widower with a sour disposition, and he has several run-ins with Ida, who is brilliantly portrayed by a Danish actress Trine Dyrholm. I have never seen her before, but she was utterly convincing as this optimistic, and gentle soul, whose indomitable spirit shines despite her suffering and perhaps as a result of it. Philip finds out about her illness and has seen the bald head she hid under her blonde wig, but he is attracted to her optimism and thirst for life. This was my undoing in this love story. A man who is attracted to the woman’s soul rather than her body. A man who reassures her that no matter what her prognosis is, whether they will be together for ten minutes, a few month or many years, what is truly important is that he has the pleasure of her company for the time they are both given.

I have felt like this, so I know. I was married for almost nine years, and I remember very little from the decade I lived beside my ex husband since we first met in 1998. The years of my marriage seem like a vast empty space punctuated by decisions on home locations, careers, business, and finances. Except for a few words uttered in anger, there is almost no trace of left of the intensity of feeling we shared, if we ever did. I was living in an emotional wasteland. By contrast, if I added up all the moments I spent with my beloved, and included even the occasions we exchanged texts, the temporal will add up to a few days. The physical will amount to me kissing him on the cheek, and him kissing me on the forehead. We joined hands a couple of times, and I think I put my lips or cheek to the surprisingly soft skin of his palm. Yet the emotional intensity of these few encounters was, to me at least, worth years of methodical and loveless spousal couplings. I remember nuances of speech, and whole conversations exchanged without words. I have lived a lifetime of feelings, in a few texts, in mundane details exchanged. When he once lent me his jumper I felt it as an embrace, and when our eyes met and held, I felt him holding my very soul.

Life is not about how many breaths you take, or how many years you live,  it is about the moments that take your breath away. I now treasure those moments, whether lived, felt or remembered. Some love stories capture such moments, and those are the ones that get to me. The movie ended with that love declaration. I am sure that everyone who has ever loved understands it. Whether for a moment, a month or a few years, true love deserves to be treasured. I wept at the end of that movie too.

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How to Read a Love Story

In my quest to exorcise the thoughts of my beloved from my mind, I started some months ago to read all the books that he raved about. I thought that once I finished them all, I will finish with him too.

First I read the English Patient. Perhaps I was not in love with the imagery and language as he was. He said he usually read it slowly to savour it, and always went back a few pages to re-read them when he dipped back into it. However, I did relate to the brokenness of love and heartache. I fully understood it on an emotional level.

Next I read  “An Equal Music” by Vikram Seth. My beloved is a musician, or at least a former musician, and he shares some common traits with the protagonist of the book. It is true that they play different instruments, but they are both of working class background, and hail from the northern parts of England. The book character also finished his music studies at the Royal Academy of Music in my love’s hometown. Without even reading the story, I suspected that he also related to the character on an emotional level, in the tragic and besotted way he fell in love.

The book was never a bestseller. Perhaps it did not find a large audience because chamber music is a part of its plot. But strangely enough it was one of the books I owned. One that survived the cull of several moves, from Johannesburg to the Eastern Cape, to Cape Town to New York until it finally settled on a bookshelf in Nairobi. It was still on my To-Be-Read (TBR) list, when he mentioned it me, as one of his favourite books. I was amazed that we managed to agree on this obscure title too, one of many subtle connections we shared.  Please stop here if you intend to read the book because I will speak about it next, and might spoil the plot for you if you read any further.

In a nutshell it is a love story. One that does not have a happy ending. The protagonist, Michael Holme, meets the woman he loved and never managed to forget. The chance meeting happens ten years after they part ways and lose touch with each other. Next comes the resurrection of their love, which is a bittersweet interlude that threatens to unsettle both their lives. Julia is married, and is trying to conceal the fact she is going deaf, a terrible ordeal for a pianist who relies on her sense of hearing for enjoying music and presenting it to the world. Micheal himself is an accomplished violinist in a chamber music quartet, but I got the sense that he was still drifting aimlessly in his artist’s life, when he found Julia again. I accompanied him on his journey and understood its suffering and inevitable resolution.

Some books take you on a journey of knowledge and discovery, others on a roller-coaster ride of nonstop action, and the third type are the ones that invite you to accompany the characters on their emotional journey. This book is one of them. Since I discovered my own emotional intensity, I can appreciate and commiserate with the feelings of similarly broken characters. Michael and Julia are not perfect, each of them is flawed in his way, yet their responses are raw and real. Michael especially struggles with accepting Julia’s decision to stop seeing him, and this drives him into self-destruct mode, with a few tantrums thrown in for good measure. The book does not end in total disaster, there are small measures of joy, acceptance and redemption in Michael and Julia’s life. They survive, in their separate lives.

It was quite interesting that both love stories my Englishman recommended featured a forbidden love affairs that ended tragically or miserably. In both stories, the emotional bond survived separation or even death. At a previous point in my life I might have mocked either or both narratives. But today I know that those who wrote about love from first-hand experience never lied. The genuine descriptions of love whether in poems, songs or novels always speak to human feelings, and go on to become bestsellers. Love is essential to our lives. It is shared and expressed universally across cultural, spatial and temporal divides. At its best it is like an internal sun, that illuminates from within, lends glow to the eyes, and gives lightness to the steps. At its worst, It is a heavy piece of flint carried under the ribs, or a giant’s fist wrapped around the throat. Days, months or years might pass where the offending objects diminish until they are almost forgotten. Then, something shifts and the flinty stone would expand, hot and sharp to stab your insides and stop your breath. The fist would tighten its grip to choke the throat. Anybody who has ever grieved a lost love would relate to this pain, as I related to the heartache in the English Patient and An Equal Music, and to the emotional turmoil in half a dozen other love stories I read since I was similarly afflicted. The scars will always remain.

Such is the sentiment of a poem quoted in An Equal Music. You part from the one you love but they always leave their mark:

But never either found another
To free the hollow heart from paining –
They stood aloof, the scars remaining.
Like cliffs which had been rent asunder;
A dreary sea now flows between,
But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder,
Shall wholly do away, I ween,
The marks of that which once hath been.*


 

* Fare Thee Well by Lord Byron.

 

 

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