The Shifting Landscape of Longing

Whether I am at my best or my worst, I always try to read. I read more when I am the best version of myself. And at those times, I have a structured route map for where I am going with my reading. My life would be going somewhere, I would be getting over specific difficulties, trying to learn something new, or attempting to fit what I am experiencing to some philosophy, life path or self-help doctrine. But there are also the times when I find myself completely without a compass. I lose sight of the meaning I once derived from suffering, love, or the struggle to learn. At those times my reading becomes equally lost, and I read discarded pieces of ideas, or obscure titles that I want to sample or consume before passing on. I try to grasp for meaning in once cherished practices, and get once more in touch with my hidden longings.

In the past three years I experience profound changes in my inner life. I suffered a lot, but I thought that I came out as a better version of myself. I ran a marathon, ate healthful food, exercised and meditated. I read and wrote a lot. If not on this blog then at least in my daily journal, and in my gratitude diary. Yet everything else in my life was in a state of flux. I was in a holding pattern, dealing with the worsening toxic situation at work, and the constant mismanagement from my supervisor. When Corona hit, I was not sure what to do with my travel plans, my career, and my investments. Only my soul was following its own north star, and steering by it. I loved, and the love I felt overflowed to everyone around me. It lent meaning to my life.

In my native Arabic language, the word “heart” shares a root with the verb to shift, change or reverse. So it is not a good idea to place too much trust or meaning to the whims of the heart, or trust the shifting landscape of longing to provide a permanent map. My guided meditation practice often dwelled on the idea of “impermanence” so I knew intellectually that change is inevitable, and nothing ever stays the same. In fact everything can change completely in the blink of an eye. And this is what happened to me. I was already feeling disillusioned with my life. My struggle with the toxic work environment has reached a new high that drove me to draft a formal complaint, and apply to jobs in places that I did not like, just to escape. And my trust in the capacity of my own love was starting to erode. I retreated to a selfish state of self-preservation where I stopped opening my arms to embrace the universe (or to get stabbed in the chest by its inhabitants). I cowered instead in my shell, waiting to be acknowledged, sought, and consoled. I lost sight of my north star, stopped exercising and meditating, and simply devolved into a worse version of myself. Not quite the worst, but one I knew was so much inferior to the one bathed in loving kindness, and positive cosmic energy.

At this time, I met a strange book. It is an obscure volume by a British/South African author known for his police procedurals set in South Africa (Imago by James McClure). The book has some hints to the crime genre, by masking or hiding the motivation of characters and then showing the strange influence these motivations have on subsequent events. But in truth, the story is about a competent doctor who is suffering a midlife crisis. Tom the main character, is a married doctor in his early forties. We meet him, as he becomes besotted with the teenage daughter of a friend. In a space of a few days, his life takes an absurd turn as he pursues this love, with the stories he tells himself. He mis-interprets events, misreads the meaning of each encounter, and lies to cover up and misdirect in the manner of a confused teenager. I cringed as I watched his laser focus, which should have been on his work and patients, turn to this new object of his longings, to the extent that he only performed all tasks mechanically, as he went on inappropriate flights of fantasy.

The story takes its tragi-comic turns, with flawed characters who are blindly following their own route map of longings, and unrealised dreams. The irony of finding the book, when I did, was not lost on me. I did not think I was as delusional as Tom in my love story. I definitely had more evidence that the object of my longing had some feelings for me, but did I really? If I took the approach of hard logic to my narrative, I could have also been reading non-existent signs in the sand and misinterpreting innocuous kind remarks or facetious flirtations. It is all a shifting landscape depending what you are looking for, and what you believe. For Tom, the delusion gave way to something new, but it somehow mapped the rest of his destiny and pointed him to a new direction that answered to his longings. Maybe it will be the same way for me.

Shortly after the book found me, my world tuned itself around. I am now in the midst of switching workplaces, countries and continents. In two months, I will be departing from my beloved Africa, and starting a new life elsewhere. I am also leaving a piece of my heart here. My inner life is now coming into a state of flux, while my outer life is changing completely.

My heart still wants to believe that there was more to my love story than the void I am now left with. And I still long for the better person I was, when I loved. But I am not abandoning hope of one day finding a new meaning, a new direction to follow in the shifting landscape of longing. And while the evolving chance for change presented itself to me, by an unexpected, and welcomed, relocation, I will always remember the mesmerising blue eyes that first led me to search deeper into my soul.

Love is…

In the previous post, I tried to discuss love, aided by the definition* given by M Scott Peck, in his important book The Road Less Travelled. Today I will expand a little bit on the definition with my own ideas on the subject, by way of introducing my own experience of love as an intense soul connection.

As wide and varied the concept of love is, I think the Greek philosophers gave a good approximation of its various types and degrees. According to them there are eight types of love. The three most well known ones are: Agape – Spiritual, unconditional love; Eros – Romantic love and Philia – affectionate love. And then there are five further types: Philautia – Self love; Storge – familial love; Pragma – enduring love; Ludus – playful love and Mania – obsessive love. On this spectrum of eight types, agape is the most noble and evolved type of love, while mania represents a regressive type of love, that turns it sometimes into a destructive force, both for the lover and the beloved.

If we try to apply these archetypes to human relationships, we can see that they are not discreet. Because romantic love can be playful and affectionate. In rare cases, it becomes the enduring love of couples who have loved each other since their high-school days. It can also show the dark side of mania. Similarly, familial love can be affectionate, unconditional, and even obsessive.

At first glance, self-love might look like an odd one out among all the types of love as an emotional bond between humans. But it forms the unseen foundation for all types of love. Loving and accepting one’s self is a pre-condition for experiencing a wholesome and evolved love. It did not escape my attention that the definition of love in The Road Less Travelled, included an element of self-love*. It is important to understand here that healthy self-love is quite the opposite of narcissism and arrogance. True love, by Dr Peck’s definition is a quest for spiritual growth and evolution. It is a journey that starts with accepting our faults and continues with embracing others with kindness and forgiveness. And it has no end destination, the ultimate goal is to continue growing and loving. There are many spiritual traditions that aspire to growth through unconditional love for all of creation. For the Sufis, for example, the ultimate goal is to be one with the universe and its creator. This is the ultimate evolution of love, to embrace the whole universe in the heart, and to experience what is felt as the creator’s ultimate love, the highest form of Agape.

There is no one definition for love, because the way we love is dependent on the stage of our spiritual evolution. Love, the way it is perceived and given, mirrors the awakening of the soul. I came to this conclusion after I was led on my own journey of love, which is still ongoing. Up until then, I was convinced that love was a proclivity of youth. Hormones, physical attraction, and an urge to procreate drove this emotion. I had a lot of sympathy for my younger (and sometimes older) girlfriends who suffered heartache. But I was smug and happy in the knowledge that the years of my angsty youth, and the ticking of my biological clock were long behind me. I didn’t see myself as an easy victim for Eros, and I didn’t believe that other kinds of love existed, but destiny had other plans.

Heartache was a territory I knew, and was not keen to visit again. My biggest heartbreak thus far had been my first boyfriend. I cried my heart out over him, but the young heart heals fast. It is easier to replace one lost love with another. The angst of youth, the neediness, the wish to be attractive and desired, are all faults of youth that invite fresh heartache, but they also keep young hearts moving from one relationship to the next, healing old wound by acquiring new ones. It is said that the young have elastic hearts, so falling in love and out of love is much easier on them.

Love is easy on many older people too, depending on how they perceive love. The less evolved spirit would mistake animal lust, attraction or infatuation for love. The more mature spirit would settle for affection and friendship. Some couples get lucky and evolve together from one stage of love to another, arriving together onto a mutual level that is satisfying for both of them, or achieving enduring love. This makes me think of love as a mountain. All people are capable of stepping onto its base, some get to the top half, and very few reach the summit. I think of Eros as the base, and the most accessible part of that is simple sexual attraction. The next level is Philia and the farther limit of that is enduring love. But the true triumph of the spirit is to reach the summit of agape.

Almost all works of psychology take a secular view of love. They recognise erotic love as fickle and temporary, and accept Philia and Pragma as the only types of true love. So Peck’s work of love could be understood as working to advance from one level of less enduring love (like Eros or Philia) to Pragma. This is a very “pragmatic” and secular view of love. I feel that the concept of Agape, on the other hand, was overtaken by its devotional and religious content. Sufi love and devotion are a form of Agape, so is altruism and the love for all humankind. But in some cases this “Higher Love” is also possible between mortals, and when it happens then it is an ultimate love that can encompass all other levels. To come back to my mountain analogy, those who scale the summit have previously reached the lower base camps. Similarly, when you love an individual on the highest level, you are also capable of feeling affection and erotic love towards them. The only difference is that these emotions are not central to your connection.

Soul connections are not recognized by psychology. They only come up in esoteric spiritual traditions, mystic fringe beliefs or pseudo sciences. I was myself an agnostic, or even an atheist when it came to my faith in love. I wrote a post about this some years ago. Ironically, it was written while I was experiencing the first stirrings of my soul connection. My rational self, and my ego, were trying to remind me of what was real on earth. I rejected love, all the secular or garden variety types of it. And I would have laughed at anyone who claimed that true love existed. I thought that people who spoke, wrote or sang about the love that stir the soul, then rocks it and purifies it from the inside out were either using extensive poetic license, or mind-altering drugs. That is, if they weren’t nutcases or outright liars trying to sweeten the bitter fruit of love for the unafflicted. From where I stood, the lower slopes of love mountain looked rocky, barren and uninteresting. And although the higher sections looked greener and more inviting, I was convinced that I was too old to care about reaching them. The summit was completely invisible to my eyes, and I did not believe it even existed. I was trained to believe only what I could perceive with my senses.

But I was about to be taught life’s greatest secret, about the essential things that can only be perceived through the heart.

Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

Le Petit PrinceAntoine de Saint Exupéry

Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

The Little Prince – English Translation

* In the Road Less Travelled, M. Scott Peck defines love as “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”.

Loving the One You’re With, is it really the Road Less Travelled?

A few months ago I read, with great enjoyment, an old but still very relevant book, The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. The book is subtitled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, and it is definitely worth reading.

The author, is a psychologist by training and brings out several interesting ideas with examples about common types of neurosis and disorder in the human psyche. Yesterday I started reading the section on love, a main theme in his book as can be deduced from the subtitle. He defines love, as the ” the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth“. The author admits that his chosen definition might not be the only one, or even the correct one, but he is content with emphasising the choice and action elements of love. He refers several time to the “work of loving”.

The author also acknowledges that love is too big and too wide to limit to a single definition, so he tries to establish common grounds through a process of elimination. Because while philosophers and psychologist differed significantly on defining what love is, there is general agreement on what love is NOT. The books itself gives several examples on cases of dependency and self-sacrifice that are clearly not love. But the author also insists that love is NOT an emotion, it is action. He repeats several times that “love is as love does“. He also feels that the term “falling in love” denotes an emotion based on erotic attraction. It is nature’s way of tricking us into reproducing and preserving the human race. Once the honeymoon phase ends, he says, we slowly fall out of love and this is where the work of loving starts. What he calls real love, or true love, is rooted in the will, so choice and intellect play a huge role in it, unlike the falling in love, which is all emotions and seems mostly to be out of our choice or control.

Interestingly, he does not deny the potential and power of the emotion. He explains, that falling in love with another person destroys the boundaries of an individual’s ego. The lover becomes hugely invested in another person, and this destruction of the ego, feels exhilarating. When we fall in love we are reborn into the wonder of feeling unity with our beloveds. He compares this unity to the one we felt as newborns with our mothers and the whole universe. But the novelty of this feeling wears off, and we soon find out that our needs do not match those of our lover, and the ego boundaries rise again. For babies this is the moment of starting awareness and experience, and for a couple it is where falling in love ends and the work on loving starts. The journey of loving, as he sees it, is made of the effort of listening, giving attention and bracketing, the conscious act of putting oneself into the shoes of another, suspending judgement, and seeing the world through their eyes.

This rational view of love mirrored one I have believed in for the longest time. It is also rooted in the teachings of Christianity where the sanctity of marriage, and monogamy, need to be protected and preserved. It is also a simple practical tenet of life: If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. Or simply just love the one you are with and ignore all impulses of love that come your way, because they are an illusion anyway. True love is hard work and commitment to a common goal, to raising a family, to mutual spiritual growth. I agreed with this wholeheartedly until a few years ago, and I still agree now but with many reservations.

I have seen many working marriages, even good ones, that are based on types of partnership and reciprocity, on the work of loving, in the words of Dr. Peck. These marriages always have some rewards and fulfilment for one partner, or both, and they can be very solid, with each partner being courteous and attentive to the other. But while I once believed that attaining a good marriage through the work of loving is the only happiness possible, I now recognise that this type of love has its limitations.

There are times when two souls, despite all good intentions, can head towards two different paths of evolution. There are times, when one partner evolves, and another stays on the same path. No amount of loving work can fix this. The answer sometimes is to accept it, and continue to love, if not the husband (or partner), then the children (or the life/business/career/home) we created together. The mutual love for the children carries many marriages through. Countless women have settled for it in my culture. They married, they loved and adapted to their lot, their destiny, and that was their life. But sometimes there are other choices. The author himself admits, perhaps grudgingly given his Christian background, that he believes an “open marriage is the only kind of mature marriage that is healthy and not seriously destructive to the spiritual health and growth of the individual partners”. So deep down it seems that his belief in the work on loving, in exclusive monogamy, is rather flawed.

The work of loving, and the will to love are powerful antidotes to human promiscuity and experimentation. It will certainly allow many couples to experience gentle loving, and sometimes very happy, relationships. It is a good rule, but it does not explain everything there is to love, even if it accounts for most shades of it. From my observation, I feel it is rather the road we are most likely to travel towards a rational and secular type of love. It accounts for the true love of friends, companions and for most lasting partnerships. The rarest type of love, however, is the one that stirs the soul. And the journey to this type of love is truly the one very rarely travelled. I will try to delve into this in my next posts.

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You can borrow a copy of the The Road Less Travelled from the Openlibrary, which is an excellent resource for reading out of print books.

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.
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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

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.

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.

 

 

The Language of Heartbreak

I have been taking refuge in reading and writing. Sometimes I come to type my thoughts here. I also keep a daily counter of the days spent without my love addiction. The need and the craving are all still there, but at least I am keeping to my intention, no seeing him, if I can help it.

The trouble comes when I remember him. An image passes before my mind’s eye, or I cave in and let my eyes roam over his public Facebook photos. I read or hear something and it reminds me of something he said. I see his name somewhere, a curse because his first name is quite a common one, and I feel the stab between my ribs or the fingers of pain and regret squeezing my throat. It happens daily and I just need to breathe and let it pass, just like withdrawal symptoms of drugs or alcohol. It is quite painful to let go, and it will take a long time. For a recovering alcoholic even a single drink risks a return to addiction, so I might also be in for a lifelong battle.

My reading journeys are taking me into other people’s stories and lives, some real and some imagined. I have discovered a new empathy for the dysfunctional and heartbroken. Now it seems that there is a new language I understand, that of heartbreak, and I find myself quite touched by the stories of love and loss, especially love of the variety I found with Aquarius II. I am painfully aware of what I have lost, and I can empathize and recognize when one of my fictional characters is about to experience the same loss, whether they themselves realize it or not.

I have spoken before about my reaction to The English Patient. Aquarius II told me he loved the book and read it more than once. I loved it too, and this is perhaps a testimony to our twin emotional disposition. But even before I experienced my wild attachment to Aquarius, part of me hungered for a deep love connection. I was still married to my emotionally distant husband when I saw the movie Bridges of Madison County for the first time. I watched it on late night television, while my husband slept in our room. I should add here that this did not happen often, because he rarely allowed any light, television or any other noise or activity after his chosen time for lights out. Fortunately,  the movie was gentle and quiet, so I was able to finish it without disturbing the sleeping husband. When it ended, I quietly wept, knowing that I also craved these feelings, a love that transcends its temporal limitations and lives in the heart long after the lovers part. I might have eventually got my wish. Pity though that my love affair was completely devoid of love scenes.

The latest book that hooked me with its raw emotion is a collection of short stories entitled A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin. I usually find story collections hard to get into but these stories read like scattered experiences from the author’s life. After reading some, one begins to recognize the author in her many guises, her dysfunctional family, her lovers, and her wild and free life. Her creativity is electric, fueled by a free spirit and substance abuse. I admired her courage in raising four sons, while working odd jobs (including as a cleaning woman, ER nurse, receptionist, and teacher) and battling alcoholism. I was also emotionally bowled over by her experience of love. The fleeting love affairs she had with a Mexican diving instructor, the love of an older student in her university days, or the affair she had with a much younger man. All this, in addition to the men she married. Those lovers were not perfect, there were one or two losers and at least one addict, and all were broken and imperfect. Nevertheless the love itself is perfect in its time and place, in the way two people connect and become more than the sum of their individual selves. I am slightly envious of her emotional experience, and her abiding faith in the power of love. She describes the singular power of love even in the face of death. Her sister is experiencing and enjoying love even while having chemotherapy sessions for her terminal cancer. In almost all her stories, however, the hopefulness of love is intertwined with desperation. Lovers sometimes abuse, betray or abandon. And love does not survive poverty and abuse. The stories are sometimes strange and funny but they mostly left their emotional imprint. They spoke to me in the language of heartbreak.

Bridges of New York City

Robert’s idea of adventure for yesterday was to walk the Queensboro Bridge (Ed Koch Bridge or 59th Street Bridge) from Manhattan to Queens. This bridge passes over Roosevelt Island, and we go past it everyday on the tram. Robert asked me many times if we can walk on it to Queens, so he was very excited when we made our way toward the pedestrian ramp. It was perhaps the first acceptable warm day after a long winter with unseasonable snow.

After that long walk we continued our trek to Steinway in Astoria where we had a late lunch at an Arabic restaurant. I do not often crave Arabic food, but last Sunday we were with friends at the same place and I had a taste of their Kushari, an Egyptian dish with brown lentil, rice, macaroni and lots of crispy-fried onion.

Today we had another adventure planned, again at my son’s suggestion, walking to Brooklyn via the Brooklyn Bridge. Compared to the functional and utilitarian Queensboro Bridge, this one is considered the tourist walk. The Pedestrian Ramp on Manhattan side is surrounded with every manner of stand and refreshment seller – They were selling Belgian waffles, New York pretzels, Juice, gyro, trinkets and fridge magnets and various artwork. Robert and I had the sweet and messy waffles just before embarking on our walk.

While Queensboro bridge had an equal number of walkers and cyclists, this one was crowded with walkers, mostly tourists. The bridge itself is a great architectural achievement, considering it was built in 1883. I am not sure what the walk would be like in normal conditions but at this time the view was obstructed in most part by sheet metal, and it looked like several parts of the bridge were draped or screened for maintenance. There were several views or vantage points where we took pictures, getting crowded with the many visitors. Along the walk there are benches and more stands selling trinkets and snacks. One of the most popular stands was an Indian guy carving perfect mango roses on wooden sticks. When I walked past his stand, a Japanese tourist had just bought one of his edible artworks, and was busy pointing her gigantic camera at it, for a closeup.

I had planned this time to go to a South African restaurant in Fort Green in Brooklyn, but the combination of the rich treat, the time, and the chilly weather, made me abandon this plan. Instead we spent some time at a Brooklyn playground.

View from Manhattan Bridge looking towards Brooklyn Bridge

Because of the less than perfect conditions on the Brooklyn Bridge I suggested that we walk back to Manhattan via the Manhattan Bridge. Robert was extremely enthusiastic. This bridge had interesting sights, a view of the Brooklyn Bridge, and connected with Manhattan at Chinatown. We had interesting views (Interviews – as Robert called them) of Chinatown. In terms of accessible view of the outside, this bridge gave a better experience than the Brooklyn Bridge in its current condition. The main drawback, however, is that the walking route is right beside a busy train route, four tracks are used for the B D Q and N trains in and out of Brooklyn, so perhaps it is better to walk here with earplugs.

In all our excursion on bridges we noted that instead of graffiti, people put locks with special messages, and names usually accompanied by a date. I would assume that these locks would get cut out regularly, but we saw some that looked quite old. There was even a bright red one with the date 05-12-13, a date that hasn’t arrived yet (even if you read it the American way).

Book: In the House of the Interpreter

In the House of the Interpreter: A MemoirIn the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir by Ngugi wa’Thiong’o

The author writes about his years at Alliance High School in Kenya. The writing is very good, with fairly interesting anecdotes and vignettes of Kenyan society, youth, and evangelism.

The last few chapters, cover the author’s return trip to his village after earning his first pay as a temporary teacher, and this is the part where I most related with the protagonist. He was arrested under the state of emergency and spent some time in jail. For me, the book is worth reading for these pages alone.

Overall it is a story of African people, their survival under difficult circumstances and the choices they make; when it is acceptable to compromise and when it is not.

From a character point of view, there are a few memorable ones. Carey Francis the British principal of a school for Kenyan boys. An officer of the colonial power, who is deeply dedicated to educating native boys and presenting them as equal to their white peers. He reconciled both conflicting interest with Christian belief.

Good Wallace, Ngugi’s brother, who fought with the Mau Mau resistance in the mountain.

Also interesting is the ambiguous and often false relationship between evangelism and true morality. Worth reading, even if the story could not maintain tension and interest equally throughout.