This month, I’m keeping things simple. Talking about simple things. In particular, I’d like to talk about love. Not romantic love, but the more general kind. Platonic love, sisterly love, love for humanity. Which, though it might sound like some poor, distant cousin of the love you feel in your loins, can be just as intense, just as unconditional and just as rewarding, if not more so.
But let’s start with my first love. Yes, the romantic kind. Allister was someone I went to high school with. Someone I had an intense crush on for several years. Yep, I was crazy about him. I’d spend hours staring at him in class, daydreaming about him, writing about him in my diary, concocting reasons to talk to him. But he never requited my feelings, and after graduation we went our separate ways for a couple of years, until… a chance encounter at a milk bar (which shows you how long ago this happened). We talked for a bit and then he drove me home in his Datsun 240Z. And in those few minutes, all the feelings I’d harboured for him for so many years erupted, enveloping me in a delicious frisson. Love!!! He must have felt something too because he asked if he could see me again and of course I said yes. And thus began a beautiful three year romance, my first real adult relationship.
The feelings I’d had for Allister in high school may have started as infatuation, but when we became a couple they very quickly turned into real love. And here rests my (long winded, and rather indulgent) point. I was 20 years old. I was truly, madly, deeply in love. But I simply couldn’t bring myself to say it. After a couple of months together we both knew it was love, but neither of us wanted to say the words. As though saying, “I love you” was some kind of weakness. Like it might expose some kind of vulnerability that needed protecting. Why were these three words so excruciatingly difficult to utter?
I grew up in a very loving and expressive family, but even from a young age I was always very reserved. I figured I was just born stoic, and that Allister was too. The word “love” just seemed too heavy for us. Too laden with responsibility and heft to bandy around willy nilly. The word needed metering out. Pacing, like some precious, finite commodity. It needed saving for a rainy day. What I didn’t know then, probably because of my youth and inexperience, is that love is actually a boundless wellspring. That love expands, infinitely, to meet its demand. And that love experienced within, is a fraction of the same love experienced outside of oneself. Unshared love is finite, because the vessel that holds it is finite. Love expressed, love shown, love shared is infinite.
So, I grew up keeping my feelings hidden away and private, and that worked just fine for 32 years. But when my father died, all the feelings were suddenly way too much to contain. The things I felt during the ten months of my father’s illness and devastating decline, the emotions I’d somehow managed to compress, crush and dehydrate in order for them to take up as little room inside of me as possible, suddenly became impossible to restrain anymore. Years of pent up shit just rent asunder, like a nuclear explosion inside my body. Suddenly I had no choice but to show the world exactly how I felt. And I felt like absolute crap, so… hey, it was a hell of a lesson in learning how to express myself. It wasn’t fun, but it taught me that I actually had nothing to fear by showing my hand. The floodgates I’d spent my whole life barricading just burst wide open, and it was OK.
I was once (somewhat accurately) described as an island. Part of me was actually proud of that for a long time. But when my Dad died, I decided that I wanted to build some bridges connecting me to the people I truly cared about. I didn’t want to be alone with my emotions anymore. The burden of love unshared – it’s too much. I used to be afraid of loving, but I’m not anymore. Getting older, losing a loved one, moving away from everyone you care about for a huge chunk of your life – these things distill the fact that the only important thing in life is to love. This might sound a bit airy-fairy, a bit icky, a bit touchy-feely. I’m sorry if you feel that way. I’ve decided that, for me, a life dedicated to love is an excellent life indeed. I spent so many years agonising over what my purpose in life should be, never finding an answer that filled the hole I was trying to plug. I had to hit rock bottom, hating everything and everyone (including myself) after moving to Dubai, to figure shit out. I was so lucky to find an amazing therapist who helped me realise that my purpose in life is simply to love. That’s it kids. Simple, yes. But not necessarily easy. It’s a purpose that I wrangle with every single day, and one that may never be fulfilled. But in trying, I’ve found that the hole has shrunk, just a little.
I met my friend Natasha in 1999, when we moved into the same share house after my year abroad as an au pair. Let me tell you guys, Natasha is a magnificent ray of sunshine. A gorgeous blue-eyed, blonde-haired, Slovenian goddess with an enormous heart of gold. The kind of girl you would totally expect to be intimidated by, except for the fact that she bends over backwards to make sure you’re OK. She’s self-deprecating to a fault, raucous, hilarious, kind and extremely loving. And I’ve had a massive girl crush on her for the last 19 years. The children of immigrants, we’ve both always shared a loud passion for music, art, travel, laughter, food and wine. We revel in each other’s company, and I’m always delighted when I can spend time with her. This month Natasha was diagnosed with very aggressive, stage 4, stomach and ovarian cancer. I tell you what, friends, news like that freezes everything. Your heart… it just stops. In that moment you realise just how much you can love. And also, just how much you can lose. And here’s where I’m going to get all mushy again – you’ve been warned. I believe that the opposite of love is not hate at all, but fear. I believe that in every moment of every day we have the choice between acting out of fear or acting out of love. And I choose love for Natasha. Sure, I’m scared for her. I’m fucking terrified. She has, literally, the battle of a lifetime ahead of her. But she inspires, and has always inspired, pure love in me and that is what I choose for her now. I choose love.
I’d like to talk about another friend of mine, my au pair “mother” Kate – a woman who has been (during the 20 years I’ve known her) my surrogate mother, my sister, my master, my daughter, my nemesis, my beloved friend. There is no relationship on earth that exists like the one I have with this woman. It’s almost irrelevant to say that we would do anything for each other, but it’s true. On Sunday, 19th August, against a backdrop of majestic natural beauty, Kate married a beautiful soul called Sheldon, in a ceremony that brought tears of joy to many eyes. And I was lucky enough to be invited, to feel like I was actually an important part of Kate’s special day. It was such an honour to spend the four days leading up to the ceremony with the beautiful couple and my gorgeous kids, Daniel and Holly. It was a love fest of epic proportions because Kate has always loved fiercely and unabashedly. She taught her children (and me) to do the same and I am so grateful that all those years ago I was lucky enough to be placed with her family. I have grown as a person because of her and I will always love her.
Not that long ago, I promised I’d move mountains to attend the future weddings of every single member of my second family. I certainly didn’t expect to be called out on that promise so soon, but hey – a promise is a goddamn promise. And I keep my promises. Why? It’s love, folks. I would give everything up for the people that I love, and fuck it, I’d be richer for it. Loving doesn’t deplete me. It strengthens me. My Mum and Dad, my sisters, my husband, my “kids”, my friends, my neighbours, my fellow human beings. I love you all. Hell, sometimes I look in the mirror and can honestly say I even love myself. And isn’t that the greatest love of all?
*Photos by https://www.nicoledreon.com