love and long beach

June 13, 2010

"We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free."

Maya Angelou

I found this Maya Angelou piece on this lovely blog, started by a friend that I haven't seen for quite some time.

I love the connection Angelou draws between love taking everything, and simultaneously setting one free. I once cut out a Starbucks, "The Way I See It" on such a topic. It discussed the freedom in commitment to something - a person, an idea, a love.

I believe in that.

I'm not for all this mumbo jumbo about freedom belonging to those without ties. I believe a person needs ties: roots, faces, smells, sounds that they don't want to live without.

My dear friend Joanna called today. I was her personal assistant in high school. Personal assistant turned to confidant, turned to true friend, and it turns out that, now, my love for her runs deep, across our generational gap and throughout the seasons that we don't talk.

I went to visit her in Florida, last summer, recovering from a bout with mono and needing a place by the beach to sleep and sit. She's been sick for a long time. Doctors have debated causes, debated her diagnosis, debated treatment. Over 20 years ago, she was told that whatever it was, it promised to be terminal.

She talks, often, about the two day trip she took after the news. From New Mexico to California, she thought about what she wanted from the rest of her life, and what she would do if she had it to do over again.

We laughed, together, as she said she wished she had listened to more live music, and played more softball.

But isn't that beautiful?

Afterward, she said this:

"I realized it came down to who I loved, and how I loved them. Did they know how I loved them? How was I showing it?"

Twenty something years later, and her love is a force to be reckoned with. Love shows up in late night phonecalls - "tell me about him. tell me about your life. tell me where you are applying. tell me what you want to do next. tell me what the struggle is." Love shows up in shoes upon shoes, vintage jackets upon vintage jackets, purses from the heart of New York city and sarongs from the keyes all tucked away in my closet because she'd, "thought of me." Love shows up in wisdom, stories. Love shows up in trips to the beach in sandals and skirts - "Let's listen to the surf and watch the sun set. Let's take a week to try and get well together."

Her love is fierce. It doesn't let go. It is a consistent force. It's a till death do us part - but she loves that way with everyone.

I believe there should be people one is terrified to live without, and that there should be great loss when one leaves a place. I'm not so much a fan of the fear that has risen in place of saying what you mean, meaning what you say. I believe there is a simplicity in the refusal to play games - in friendship, in family, in work, in love, in play.

I'd like to think I've been learning something about that, living in Long Beach. I'd like to think that I'll take love with me - that the people I've come to care for, I'll keep caring for. Joanna style - till death do us part, because there is freedom in loving for the long haul.

I leave for Northern California in less than three weeks. From there, I will leave for Africa.

I know that something has been right about my life here, because I anticipate great loss in leaving.

I am thankful for the way my time here has enlarged my heart, and for a place to come back to in September.

(Dancing photo via Kassell Photography).