Yes, I need you, my fairy-tale. Because you are the only person I can talk with about the shade of a cloud, about the song of a thought—and about how, when I went out to work today and looked a tall sunflower in the face, it smiled at me with all of its seeds.
See you soon my strange joy, my tender night.
| Vladimir Nabokov in a letter to Véra
You came into my life not as one comes to visit—but as one comes to a kingdom where all the rivers have been waiting for your reflection, all the roads, for your steps.
| Vladimir Nabokov in a letter to Véra
Much of what happens to us in life is nameless because our vocabulary is too poor. Most stories get told out loud because the storyteller hopes that the telling of the story can transform a nameless event into a familiar or or intimate one. We tend to associate intimacy with closeness and closeness with a certain sum of shared experiences. Yet every day total strangers, who will never say a single word to one another, can share an intimacy. An intimacy contained in the exchange of a glance, a nod of the head, a smile, a shrug of a shoulder. A closeness which lasts for a second or for the duration of a song being sung and listened to together. An agreement about life. An agreement without clauses.
∆ John Berger, from ‘Some Notes About Song (for Yasmin Hamdan)’, Confabulations
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
"Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver
Usually we imagine that true love will be intensely pleasurable and romantic, full of love and light. In truth, true love is all about work. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wisely observed: “Like so much else, people have also misunderstood the place of love in my life, they have made it into play and pleasure because they thought that play and pleasure was more blissful than work; but there is nothing happier than work, and love, just because it is the extreme happiness, can be nothing else but work …” The essence of true love is mutual recognition – two individuals seeing each other as they really are. We all know that the usual approach is to meet someone we like and put our best self forward, or even at times a false self, one we believe will be more appealing to the person we want to attract. When our real self appears in its entirety, when they good behaviour becomes too much to maintain or the masks are taken away, disappointment comes. All too often individuals feel, after the fact – when feelings are hurt and hearts are broken – that it was a case of mistaken identity, that the loved one is a stranger. They saw what they wanted to see rather than what was really there.
True love is a different story. When it happens, individuals usually feel in touch with each other’s core identity. Embarking on such a relationship is frightening precisely because we feel there is no place to hide. We are known. All the ecstasy that we feel emerges as this love nurtures us and challenges us to grow and transform. Describing true love, Eric Butterworth writes: “True love is a peculiar kind of insight through which we see the wholeness which the person is – at the same time totally accepting the level on which he now expresses himself – without any delusion that the potential is a present reality. True love accepts the person who now is without qualifications, but with a sincere and unwavering commitment to help him achieve his goals of self-unfoldment – which we may see better than he does.” Most of the time, we think that love means just accepting the other person as they are. Who among us has not learned the hard way that we cannot change someone, mold them and make them into the ideal beloved we might want them to be. Yet when we commit to true love, we are committed to being changed, to being acted upon by the beloved in a way that enables us to be more fully self-actualised. This commitment to change is chosen. It happens by mutual agreement. Again and again in conversations the most common vision of true love I have heard shared was one that declared it to be “unconditional.” True love is unconditional, but to truly flourish it requires an ongoing commitment to constructive struggle and change.