Do you know this feeling? Bone-cracking sobs waiting inside your body for their outlet, ribs creaking with pain and fatigue whether you let those sobs out or not; the stone that fills your heart so the blood has to squeeze around the edges; the finely focused headache that sits right between your eyes, inside the bone, as your attention turns blindingly inwards.
There’s no way you can see the world outside you in these moments, you are crushed by the weight of something – you don’t know what – that presses down on your shoulders, holds your neck tight, causes your back to pop in multiple places when you finally remember to shift your body, find a new posture. You really don’t care. You hardly know you have a body at all, except when you ache for the touch you are missing, put a finger to your cheek to recall a past caress.
I’m at the stage where the sobs won’t come. They are jammed at the exit, too much to release at once. I try to work, but work won’t come, either, and then I realise, for now, this is my work, to feel this feeling, to live this experience, the flip-side of perfect love.
Of course, this feeling is why precious, massive love is so rare in our experience. We all know we love – families, children, friends and lovers – and yet the vivid presence of experienced love is relatively uncommon. Often when we sit with loved ones, our thoughts are on something else. Sometimes we forget to greet our partner with delight, put down what we are doing, throw our arms around them, or throw them on the bed to appease the physical longing for them that has haunted us through our day. Is that how your evenings go? Moving on to dinner and a movie after love and lust are satisfied?
But if we face our love this fearlessly, we have to face loss of love with equal courage, pull the experience to us and live it, with mirrored vividness, and it hurts – more than we think we can bear. Those racking sobs, once experienced, are what haunt us, and the next time we fall in love, we might hold it a little further away from us, allow ourselves to fall into the easy distractions of life – housework, dinner, TV – so that our experience is that bit less vivid, so that the pain, when it comes, might be that bit less intense.
We make that choice: more love followed by a greater sense of loss when it ends – however it ends – or less of each.
Of course, when love goes in this way, it is not actually love that goes. We have not lost love – if love were gone it would be easy, we’d simply say goodbye, as we would to a casual acquaintance.
We haven’t lost love – the experience of love remains – it’s the joy of the presence of the loved one we lose. Holding love in that space of absence is painful – but that’s our job, to hold love and live it; so that when love comes again, in the same form or another, into our physical presence, we can feel it, even more than we did before.