Love and Absence

I thought it would be easier to tame my longing in your absence, I was wrong.

Love survives the distance, and absence could make the heart grow fonder. Sometimes love defies even the distance between life and death; ask any soul who still grieves, years after the loved one is gone. Sometimes it survives on longing, on dreams never realized, ask the mother who still holds her stillborn child in her heart. Love knows no reason, although it is sufficient reason for everything.

Months have passed since I turned away from you, and I only tamed the pain of grieving for you. Now my awareness of your absence has become my companion, I ask it about you, and how you are. I can touch it gently and feel it aching like an old bruise. It will be there for a long time. I have stopped counting days, they do not matter anymore. The time of your absence stretches into the unknown, and your empty space is now acknowledged and familiar.

The loves that I have known in my life were like domesticated carnations, fragrant and pretty to look at in their prime. They survived for a couple of seasons, then withered and died quietly. Your love is wild like a dandelion, an invader that survives drought and fire, and grows through parched and rocky earth. I can neither fight you with fire nor with steel, so I surrender and bow to your resilience.

When it rains, I have to remember you my beloved and hardy dandelion. I send you peace, and surrender you and everything you meant to me to providence. I send you love, and forgive you for stealing my heart. I accept the pain of permanent absence, and open my soul to the lesson you came along to teach me.

Love is still steering my course.

The Resilience of Longing

The English language in its practical and innovative usage, and in its diverse richness of synonyms comes up short sometimes in expressing feelings. In my profession as an Arabic translator, dealing primarily with technical and scientific subjects I am often frustrated with the opposite problem in my native language.  Arabic often fails to deal with practicalities while it has oceans of words for feelings.  For those who are interested in the subject there are apparently 14 degrees of love in the Arabic language, some scholars have named even up to fifty. I often bemoan the shortcomings of my native language in my professional capacity, but when I am feeling nostalgic, blue, or when I am struck by deep longing for my lost love, I always listen to Arabic songs, or read love poems in Arabic.

I am sure the classical English poets have burnt through their papers with ardent poetry about love. There are many well repeated and quoted sonnets, describing in detail the intertwining feelings of love’s joy and pain. But the terminology of feelings comes sometimes lacking and borrows much from imagery or from other languages. The English, it seems, have no word for the deep longing that the Arabic expresses in those many synonyms for love, they even fail to express it as poetically as the Germans do in the expressive term “Sehnsucht”. The single word combines longing with obsession and addiction, and mirrors the torture of pining for someone who is not there, or no longer there.

My longing for the presence or even the sight of my beloved has been the hardest to overcome. The resilience of this longing continues to surprise me as I am never sure when or where it will spring from. It could be triggered by a word carelessly uttered, that reminds of something he often said. My son could show a sudden dislike of bananas and it will remind me that he hated them too. Or I would hear a song I have always loved and realize for the first time that its opening features the sound of the saxophone, his preferred instrument.  I never know whether the longing will be a passing thought, or a stab in the ribs. I never know whether it will bring on a smile or a deluge of tears. But it is still there, and its longevity after my last meeting with him, is always a source of wonder. I just allow myself to feel it and acknowledge it as part of love and loss.


Walking Away from Love

When it comes to love, it is either given or returned. It is neither forced upon someone, nor taken. It can be perhaps learned, and practiced, and willed into existence like a forgotten habit. It can also wither and die without sustenance.

My love for Aquarius was a force of nature, a phenomenon all itself that I was not prepared for. Its singularity left me without options, I wanted either to embrace it or abandon it entirely to embrace instead the full grief of its loss.

While I gave generously and completely, my beloved was pleased to receive my adoration. He shone in its warmth but was not prepared to return affection in the same way.  I could not force him to acknowledge the depth of my love and reciprocate it. Even though I knew that I could have pressed my advantage, exploited his weakness, and the emotional need I felt he had for me. I did not want to be just a passing fancy, a fling, or a quick answer to an unfulfilled desire. I loved him too much to settle for this. I would have settled for the role of an occasional or temporary lover, I would have taken the love affair, with all its guilt and inevitable breakup. Love though would have needed to be an acknowledged part of it, not the close friendship he wanted it to pass for.

Perhaps I am paraphrasing Gibran when I say that love gives only itself and grows by the giving. And only a heart that completely gives itself, and opens itself to pain is capable of thriving in love, or at least truly appreciating its force. Many people approach life with a closed heart, whether in the interest of self preservation, or to protect the self or others from pain, and those will never uncover the mystery of true love.

I still grieve over my love, that was never meant to be. I still cry sometimes over what I could have had. But I am comforted with my conviction of freedom in love. I always accepted the choice of those who walked away from me, and exercised the choice to walk away myself when love ceased to be enough.

It is easier to remember the callous, self-absorbed, and constantly complaining Aquarius, when I do not have to gaze into his eyes. His eyes always told me their own story. Through them I looked into his gentle soul, and peeled away at the layers of pretense. My beloved’s true substance, I felt, hid under all these layers of opinionated adherence to certain form, style, physique and diet. If I do not see his eyes again, I can no longer interpret the subtext of his soul, or misinterpret it.

I am starting to rewrite his memory, it is my way of forgetting what I felt.  The English say, out of sight out of mind. In my Arab culture this saying goes, literally, “Far from the eye, is far from the heart”. This literal image fits my situation perfectly. His eyes were his way into my heart, and by walking away from them I am trying to set my heart free.


Still Missing You … Fifty Days On

You remain my beloved, even when you rejected the opportunity to become my lover.

Everything I know about love, are the feelings you have taught me. I will never reach out to claim you, steal you or borrow you, but I keep you within me, and missing you is my silent companion. I feel like I belong to you, and as time passes I wonder whether the thoughts of you will ever set me free.

Before I met you I neither knew nor touched the depth of my intensity. During my first year in Kenya, I met a young Kenyan man, who was attracted to me physically. He claimed that he felt my intensity, the way my eyes spoke, he called it. I almost laughed, and considered this some innovative pick-up line. Eventually, I let him down easy after two dates. He was married and much younger than me, and I did not want to complicate my life.  I always thought that men mistakenly felt this vibe from me because of physical attraction or plain lust. Then I met you, and your eyes were twin mirrors reflecting back the intensity of my own soul. If I had imagined this, I would have never stayed for that first coffee, and avoided meeting you again. But I got addicted to that connection, because I recognized you, beneath all your uppity exterior and snobbery. You are my emotional twin, a mirror to my soul.

One night last week the pain of missing you made itself felt again, and I lay awake torn apart by longing. The hours dragged past, as I tried to breathe slowly and deeply through the agony. Eventually sleep arrived, but not rest. The next day I caved in again and texted you. You were your usual nonchalant self, speaking how you are sick of having lunch alone, and you even mentioned your solo birthday lunch. You will never know how much it cost me to say no to meeting you on that day. I spent the lunch hour outside in the office garden, away from people. I put down a mat on the grass and lay face down in the afternoon sun, weeping silently into my folded arms.

You offered me coffee again, and said that you will be happy to see me “when you feel better”. What if I never feel better? I know that I cannot meet you anymore in the open, without letting my arms reach out to you, without hugging you so tight that I crack my ribs, or yours. How dare you try to make a friend out of me when you are my beloved? It is not fair. Love is still steering my course, I set it free, I breathe it in and out, and send it out to you on the wind, with every silent tear. I send it out to you at night when I put my head down to sleep and in the morning when I first open my eyes. I do not resist it, nor resent it, I just accept it along with its suffering.

My longing is deep and powerful, and I treat it like a wild and unpredictable animal. I let it fight and pull against its restraints, I let it act out its wild nature, in the hope that it will become tamer one day. Sometimes I wish I was dealing with something as natural, primitive and elemental as lust. Because physical desire is a wild animal that I can understand. It just needs to be fed and satisfied. My longing for you defies understanding, and it can neither be fed nor forgotten. I try to survive one day at a time as Zen teachings dictate. There is no past and no future, I just need to survive this moment, without you.

One day I will stop counting the days since I last had coffee with you, but today I still know, it has been fifty days.