The night passes slowly across the lake, spreading its weight over the water and climbing the shoreline to meet the trees, and in the wakening leaves, and in the rising grasses, there is the crawling movement of life reaching back – back from languorous roots and hidden burrows, back from the frozen months of winter, back from antiquated dreams now rebirthing, back from the aged memory of beginnings. Beside me my beloved lies, breathing her calm, quiet breaths, which become to me the mantra I cannot ignore. They become to me my own rising chest, my own sense of calm. I begin to fall asleep and the sensation of nostalgia passes over me, as if I were returning to something forgotten but to which my heart belongs, as if I lingered in the space between heaven and make-believe. We conspire, which is to say, we breathe together. Her breath becomes mine, and mine becomes hers, and the room fills with our recollected dreams as I begin to fall away. I fall asleep. I fall into an awareness of something just out of reach, a vague memory that is both prehistoric and nearer to me than any feeling I’ve ever known. I am falling, and in falling I experience a moment I cannot describe.
I have dreamed all my life of knowing God. I have listened to the falling rain in hope of gleaning a discernible whisper. I have watched the woods in hope of seeing some movement between the trees. I have looked to the minds and the hearts of men to be my teachers. I have waited. When I was young I knew a prophet who heard the voice of God. He taught me repentance and the necessary pain of redemption, and I offered him my mind with the faith that upon its malleability would be impressed the knowledge that I sought. He became to me a conduit of divine love and I turned to him in supplication, listening with earnest hope to the words I felt to be so true. And then the voice of God told the man to leave. And I was alone and in silence. And I did not know God. A second man appeared, and I became his disciple, and my want of knowledge was no less insistent, but my mind was far less pliant and this man’s words did not reach my heart as the prophet’s had. The thought of God became far from me. And I left the second man and again I felt alone.
I begin a list on my hand of all the men who have failed me, and on the other are the women who have caused me pain. My life becomes a slow account of all the people who have fallen short of giving me the perfect love I have always wanted. Their names form a line down the lengths of my arms. They cover my body with their indecencies and I approach the mirror to see, with deep conviction, the ledger, made red against me. I see the proof that I am unworthy of love.
I am falling, and in falling I feel no fear. For a moment I recognize the deepest truth. Between wakefulness and sleep I grow nostalgic for God. I am falling, and the place to which I am falling receives me with an open palm. Held there, in love, I see the truth I have always known, the one I’ve been trying so hard to return to. Held in love, I see that all of them have been my teachers, and every imagined wound was a lesson not yet learned. Held there, I begin to understand that though I imagine myself to have suffered by the words and actions of those around me, the truth is that my suffering was chosen, and that every time I chose it, I was failing to see an opportunity to relinquish some aspect of my ego, and instead accept a necessary truth, the only truth, the truth of love.
We looked to our fathers and our mothers as the men and women responsible for our wellbeing. Later, we looked to our friends, and our lovers, and our children. We may have never believed them to be saints, but we were disappointed when they acted in any other way. They disappointed us by withholding affection, or criticizing us, or abandoning us, or being too forceful, or being too weak. We experienced the pain of their disapproval, or their disregard, or their disdain. They were not perfect, and though some seemed close, we still emerged from our experiences of them with a list of wounds to be carried with us through the years that followed. We may not have blamed them, but we looked at their actions or their inactions as explanations for our wounds. We justified our feelings of inadequacy by our analyses of the ways they loved us or did not, of whether they did so too much or too little. We lived our lives believing that the actions of those around us could be understood only as either blessings or wounds. We disregarded the possibility that even the wounds could be blessings. We disbelieved that we were safe.
I look to my beloved, that my eyes upon her would be a light, which, with patience and intent, would seek to pierce the hidden shadows of her soul where fear conceals love. I offer myself to her, to also be seen, to conceal nothing, to know the blessed pain of her light upon me, to know the gift of a wounded ego, to know that beneath every fear is hidden love, to know that I am safe. There is nothing more terrifying than this holy love. To allow it upon us, to allow ourselves to fall into it, to move into the scorching flames where our egos cry out in pain and all that can remain is our truest, purest selves, is the gift of life we have always been wanting. It is the gift of life to which we have been longing to return.
If my essential self is love, and if that love is divine and perfect and unchanging, and if everything else is merely ego, than the only wounds I can bear, the only wounds I can really experience, will be wounds inflicted upon my ego alone. My truest self remains safe. When someone teaches me that I am unlovable, expressing disapproval, or disdain, or disregard, I have a choice, as I always do, to respond in love or to respond in fear. My ego cries out in agony and resorts to resentment or despair. But my essential self understands that the wound, if it is felt as a wound, is trying to teach me something.
If I am told that I am ugly, then I hold in my hands a potential lesson, which I can either learn or discard. To discard this lesson is to do one of two things. Either I dwell in the belief that I am ugly and therefor unlovable, or I react with defiance and hold more strongly to the belief that I am beautiful, and that it is because I am beautiful that I am worthy of love. Either way, I am reacting at an ego level and ignoring my essential self. Being told I am ugly can only wound my belief that my value is in any way affected by being physically beautiful. To feel wounded, is to learn that this belief still exists within me. The lesson then is not to succumb to the accusation of ugliness, nor to defy it with claims of beauty, but to recognize that it is ultimately meaningless. To discard this lesson, on the other hand, is to further thicken the layers of ego built up around my truer self. To discard this lesson is to invite it to return, and not with malice but with genuine concern, that I would again have the opportunity to shed my ego, and open myself to love.
The names of men and women pass through my mind. I see their faces one by one, and I become aware of the imaginary walls risen up between us, walls born of the pain that I have felt, or the pain that I have caused. There are few for whom I feel resentment, but there are others from whom I would keep my distance. Their names pass through my mind and for a moment I glimpse the love hiding quietly behind our collective fear. We wait, and in silence we tend to our walls with covered whispers and unseen glances, with worried minds and cautionary hearts, becoming ever more deluded by the belief that we are separate, and unsafe, and that anything but love exists between us. Time passes and we grow tired and forgetful. Enemies are born. Grudges lay root. Pain sets in. And love continues to implore us, calmly asking us to look into our open palms and see them filled not with grievances, but with lessons waiting to be learned. They are our blessed wounds, given to us that the walls so carefully tended to by our fear, would dissolve, revealing something true, and invulnerable.
I lay awake imagining the slow breath of trees. Beside me, my beloved lies. Her own breath rises and subsides, and by the calm weight of her presence I begin to fall. The walls of our bedroom disappear and all around us I hear the restless birds shifting in their branches, and the rain making circles on the lake, and the cool wind touching every blade of nascent grass. I give in. I let go. And there, on the periphery of my falling mind I remember something ancient and unimaginable. A wave of nostalgia moves through my mind, dissolving my body and hers, dissolving the bedroom, and the night, and the blankets of rain, until I remember, in the faint moment before falling asleep, the synonymity of being in love, and knowing God.