Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul,
May keep the path, but will not reach the goal;
While he who walk in love may wander far,
Yet God will bring him where the blessed are.
Henry Van Dyke
From: The Story of the Other Wise Man.
The Gift of the Magi and Other Christmas Stories – O. Henry
Read more: https://www.scribd.com/book/263910109
Fragments of my heart are still floating around. On the internet cloud somewhere, a love letter that he rejected, or refused to read. Half-finished posts, about tender moments, half-lived. I can almost believe now, they were imagined. slivers of paper, or napkins, with childish poems, immature haikus, bittersweet in their honesty and fragility.
I don’t write them anymore, though I haven’t forgotten the taste of pain. I can still feel it, when it rains, when I hear a certain phrase, or see the sour face of Theresa May, who reminds me of the foolish Brits. When I get trouble from my awfully unreliable British car, that I share half the time with the mechanic, as my almost lover put it in his words. The memory arrives, unexpected and unwelcome, it fractures my days, then departs. I know that it will do its damage again, some other time.
And I still haven’t found an answer to the biggest question. What is it that makes us love, so utterly and desperately? How does the feeling survive his near complete absence from my life ? And why do I still miss him, when lately I was only punished for caring? Why did I so easily trade hurt pride for resignation, and anger for forgiveness and compassion?
True love has chosen me, robbed me of pride and anger, and displaced my soul. Today I feel like a stranger in all the places that welcomed me in the past. Perhaps it is my cue to move on. I came here for love, and perhaps I will leave out of love too.
A lazy and careless remark that he threw at me has found its mark. Like a poisonous arrow with delayed effect it hurt me deeply.
When he belittled what I felt from him and invited me to fall in love with “Jimmy the Postman” he did not only degrade himself but insulted me as well. As if I were so delusional and indiscriminate in my affection, that instead of loving him I could have loved any other John Doe. Not even having a taste for certain types of food can be put down in such ludicrously dismissive manner.
There were also touches of hypocrisy. While he sat there sharpening his poisonous daggers, throwing them silently and carelessly at me, he had the gall to contradict me when I stated that I would rather my son grow up a bit less sensitive to pain, than like me, the one who wears her heart on her sleeve, and who carries the hurt and pain of every person she loves. He begged to differ he said “do you mean it is better to hurt others than get hurt?”, and here he was hurting me, but it would have only mattered if he cared, and he was on a mission to prove that he did not.
In a business communication course I attended some time ago, the facilitator chose to break the ice by elaborating on the South African greeting I am familiar with. The Zulu greeting is : Sawubona, and it means, “We see you”. The Bantu language in its simple wisdom recognised that acknowledgement and recognition are the first path to friendly communication. And so it is in all human relations.
The cruelest thing your loved one can do to you is not the rejection, but denying you the recognition and acknowledgment of your feelings. Sometimes all you need from the person you love is an acknowledgment. Yes, I see you, I know how you feel. I am sorry. The ultimate cruelty is not rejecting the love that was given, it is denying its existence, calling it an illusion, a passing fancy or a transitory moment of lust, when it is none of the above. The man I love is doubly cruel, because he led me there, fired those first sparks that burned the house down, then walked away pretending that it was an accident.
It is human to flirt with danger, and to covet the forbidden. We all make mistakes, and sometimes the actions we take or the things we say set off a chain reaction of unintended and regrettable consequences. I prefer to own up to my mistakes and take the consequences, other people choose to run. It is not a matter of courage or cowardice, it is a matter of maturity and taking responsibility for your action, as an adult.
Courage or cowardice should actually be neutral characteristics. Their context determines their value as virtues or vices. Some courageous acts can be foolishly irresponsible, and some cowardly acts are simply retreats in deference to other people.
So on that day in August when I met him, I grabbed hold of my tattered heart, and faced up to the man I loved. I did not wear my heart on my sleeve, I presented it to him, open, forgiving and asking for nothing. That letter I wrote and deposited in the cloud was a final offering and surrender. But even in my fragile state I proved stronger and more grounded than he is. I could feel his unease with my open adoration, and his discomfort at the prospect of reading my letter. He claimed that he might read it if he could find the attachment.
When I walked away that day I knew that he had broken something deep inside me. But I did not know then the depth and the extent of the damage. And I am only beginning to fathom them now.
I have received the ultimate rejection from the man I love. He either did not appreciate how deeply I cared, or he understood my feelings and was afraid to acknowledge them, along with his responsibility for their existence. In the interest of my sanity I decided not to ponder anymore whether his cruelty was out of ignorance or cowardly self preservation, or both. It is the same difference to this wounded heart.
A split second glimpse
shatters my outward resolve
My soul is still yours !
I see it is you,
less with my senses but more
in my every cell
My heartache revives,
for a brief chance encounter
a lifetime of loss.
Don’t tell me how I should love, and how I shouldn’t.
Don’t seek my love then reject its frank expression.
Don’t tell me I should love the postman instead.
My heart will never be yours to command, when it never even listens to my honest pleas.
Love is a master like no other, defies the free will of mortals.
Love falls, like death, like fate..
And wherever it casts its shadow, no blade of grass will grow.
I am just a watcher in the semi-dark, waiting out this endless eclipse.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.