Feb 14, 2013

Love Is a Funhouse Mirror

Growing up, there was nothing more intriguing—and confusing—than love. It’s supposed to make the world go round, but really, it just made me dizzy. People would fall into it, and then out of it. And to my young ears, every emotional response sounded strangely similar to a stomach ache from eating too much candy.

Cradling me in her arms, my mother whispered the word to me. And I sensed it as I was consoled by my father, telling me that the bully’s words didn’t matter. I heard it when Nana reminded me I was important to her.

And it might have pricked a tiny hole in my heart as I watched Jill ride by on her bicycle, and I wondered what it would be like to talk to her. I wrote her name with a piece of chalk on the driveway and then hosed it away before anyone would find it.

Growing up, I heard four fab singers tell me love was all I needed. I opened up my King James and found a tawdry song by Solomon. The pastor spoke of phileo, eros, and agape. It was Greek to me.

What a mysterious thing.

I saw the words of love scrawled in trees and watched it play out from the stage and big screen. It was a simple scale of notes on the old piano and a raging symphony all at once.

In school I read about it, the stuff of poetry and sonnets. Lovers in dangerous times, replete with heroes on tight ropes. I was the imagined suitor, splashing cologne on my tender skin and wooing the maiden. It was all very grand, and yet strangely simple.

I thought I observed hints of it in others. Watching the couple at the restaurant, laughing and then narrowing their eyes in resolute seriousness. She, throwing her hair back...while he watched in marvel. Love always seemed to change people. It made them happy. And crazy.

Webster-defined, it's constrained, almost tidy. Really, no help there. Four letters. One syllable. True love, I thought, should be something more.

When the carnival came to town, I never missed the funhouse mirrors, where everything was out of proportion. Maybe this is what love is like? A mystery, by design.

It never seemed to be a sacred thing; it was tossed casually and carelessly into the air. I heard people use it to shower affection on their cats. Or their cars. Or flannel sheets. Even worse, I saw the fleshly pursuits without true hearts, twisting the word so far beyond recognition that I yearned for another that might come closer to the truth.

No greater love than this. Was it really more about giving, than taking? Sacrifice. Maybe the ultimate sacrifice?

I would fight for love, kicking at the darkness until it bled daylight. But it was less about a fight and more about surrender. And when I thought I had found it, I swore I’d never lose it. Until I did. And it wasn’t just once; each successive loss carved a little more out of my ideal.

If you’re in love, Valentine’s Day is wonderful. If you’re not, it’s a long day filled with regret, often ending in two bowls of ice cream and a war movie to help you forget.

Then it happened for real. She wrote my name on a piece of paper and circled it with a heart. I kept her picture on my phone and on my desk and in my car. She slept with my shirt wadded under her head so she could be near some part of me. I waited at the end of the aisle for her, making and receiving vows. Holding hands in solemn unity until death’s parting.

The mystery is still unfolding.

Looking into the sky, the pinpricks of light show promise of wonder. The Author of the word keeps dropping hints, that all of this is a pale reflection of what is true. I have no idea how wide, how long, how high, and how deep true love is. But I’m getting closer.

Like looking at that funhouse mirror, puzzling reflections of who I ought to be.

Image by Bùi Linh Ngân. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by David Rupert..

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