I was reading today a blog post by a woman who was widowed last year, and who is slowly, painfully, working through her grief and loss. I can’t visit her blog very often because her stories are so wrenchingly sad–how could they not be?–but I do stop by occasionally to see how she’s doing.
She said that on her first birthday as a widow, she tried to ignore it altogether and told everybody in her life not to acknowledge it in any way. She ended up crying alone in the bathroom at work, and said the day turned out to be much worse than she expected.
Everybody grieves differently, and far be it from me to say what’s right or wrong for her or for anyone. But I felt such a pang about her birthday, and about how she exponentially aggravated her pain by the choices she made in observing it. I wondered, is there nobody at all in her life from whom she can receive love now that her husband is gone? Friends, family, coworkers–is nobody else good enough to hold her up through this? Might she have arranged to take the day off work, spend some time with a loved one, take a walk, go shopping, watch a movie, anything other than crying alone in the bathroom? Did it really have to be that hard, that lonely, that sterile? Does the loss of one person require the entire abnegation of oneself and all one’s emotional needs ever after? Is that what having once had a “true love” means?
I don’t know this woman or much of anything about her situation or her marriage, and I don’t mean to mock or disrespect her by any means. I just think, wow, we all limit ourselves so cruelly in love. I have observed that most married people, in particular, regard their spouse and biological children as the sole sources of intimacy, affection and all other essential emotional nourishment in their lives, and if those particular people are unable or unwilling to provide it, they won’t allow themselves to receive it from any other person, ever, because they’re holding out for “the right one(s).” For many people, the pool of love is large enough for only two. Once they couple or marry, no one else need ever again apply for admittance to their inner circle of trust.
I’m not talking about affairs or cheating or polygamy–I believe in monogamy and the sanctity of marriage. I’m just talking about really loving another person other than your spouse–is it even possible? Or do all the generally accepted rules of marriage say no, never, or else it’s a sin? Do married people always have to maintain a certain discrete emotional distance from even their oldest, dearest, closest friends, and never allow friendships with people of the opposite sex, in order to keep a clear emotional space reserved exclusively for their spouse? And if that spouse is routinely absent from that space for whatever reason, what then? How are people supposed to survive on a single source of essential affection upon which they cannot rely?
That grieving widow probably feels as if her husband was the only person who really knew her, really understood her, really loved her. And now there are multiple voids in her life, not the least of which appears to be in her ability to accept love from anyone else. As such, she cannot allow anyone else to get close enough to her to really know, understand and love her. A vicious circle.
I’ve had my share of bad scenes in relationships, god knows. And when I’ve been knocked down, I have turned to all the other people I love and who love me to help me back up. They are arranged in my life kind of in concentric rings: my parents and my sister closest to me, then my close friends, then my not-as-close friends, then my neighbors and coworkers. All these people love or at least like me to some extent, anyway, and each of them is willing to extend a hug or a handshake or a listening ear to me when I am in need, if I’m willing to ask for it.
There is so much love around each one of us, and we are often completely oblivious to it as we stubbornly hold out for our “one true love” or insist that love can only be shared within our own family.
Rather than being a two-person puddle, I think love is an ocean in which we are always invited to swim. It’s god’s gift to us, and can come from any source. Creating meaningless, artificial barriers to it within our hearts and minds under the banner of propriety or pride or fear is a foolish waste of energy. I don’t believe that god intends for anyone to be lonely, and we don’t have to be if we are willing to open our eyes and our hearts.
Relationships are our primary teacher. They are the context in which we either grow into God consciousness, or deny ourselves and others the opportunity to do so.
~ Marianne Williamson, Illuminata
As my grandmother once told me, “love is love is love, and we all could use more of it, honey.” So dive into the ocean and cast your net wide!