Open up your hearts to the tears and laughter,
And give yourself to love.
—from the chorus of Give Yourself to Love by Kate Wolf (1982)
I woke up yesterday morning with these lyrics on my lips… and with Susan Anderson lying next to me—the woman I have just given my heart to.
The Back Story
Susan and I met as classmates at Carleton College (1967-71) and first confessed a mutual interest in each other in 1970, but we were in other relationships at the time and didn't do anything about it—until this past month, when we tentatively started blowing on old coals and discovered, to our mutual delight, that there remained a considerable amount of banked heat. Today we have a merry little fire going.
There have been a couple other moments in the last 45 years where we checked in with each other, quietly affirming our continuing interest, yet we were never both available at the same time and it went no further. We've each been married once and played a significant role in the other's wedding (I was a bridegroom for her & Tony in 1979, and she had a speaking role in the ceremony that Ma'ikwe & I handcrafted in 2007), fully rooting for those relationships to last. Susan's marriage ended when Tony died of colon cancer in 2004; and my marriage tended when Ma'ikwe decided she'd had enough of me as her husband last February.
As I reflect on all the things that needed to come together in the right sequence for this tender flame to become so oxygenated—a seed that took 45 years to germinate—I'm shaking my head at the improbability of our story. Incredibly, we both hear the music and are ready to dance, with each other, at the same moment.
Nature BoyThere was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he
And then one day
A magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things
Fools and kings
This he said to me:
"The greatest thing you'll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return"
—Nat King Cole (1948)
You may know this as the song chosen as the melancholy opening and closing of the movie Moulin Rouge (2001) that was sung by Ewan McGregor, encapsulating his desperate love for the character played by Nicole Kidman. Carol Swann (with whom I seriously explored partnership 15 years ago) offered to sing Nature Boy at my wedding in 2007. I told her the lyrics were excellent but the energy seemed unaligned with the up-tempo ceremony we desired. Not knowing how else to sing the song, she chose something else. While Carol's choice worked well (a musical improvisation of a Marge Piercy poem), I have not forgotten that Nature Boy, to paraphrase Robert Frost, was the song not taken.
Today, I've cycled back to the haunting truth of Nature Boy. Susan and I are in our mid-60s, which means the bulk of our living is behind us and the time remaining is uncertain. No one knows how much sand remains in their personal hourglass, and we have both lost contemporaries to death and illness—an inexorable trend that will only increase.
Looking openly at where we are, we are not choosing to be careful; we are choosing love. Rather than wasting a moment on what might have been, we are choosing to dance with whatever sand we have left. We are choosing to be alive, and I'm all in.
He won't hurt you, will he?
This was a question recently posed to Susan by a couple of concerned friends, once they became aware that something was afoot (or afootsie, you might say). Not knowing anything of me, they are being protective of their friend, not wanting her to be taken advantage of—to get her heart opened and then broken.
While Susan and I have laughed at this—a choice that is artlessly easy when immersed in the first rush of a new relationship (who wants to be cautious when you're infectiously happy?), there remains truth in it, because you cannot fully open your heart without being vulnerable to incredible suffering if things later go awry. And you have to commit yourself to the rapids of love without certainty of where the rocks lie that can hole your canoe. There is risk.
Susan and I have both gone through the agony of loss and a broken heart, and yet are choosing to love again, with each other, because Kate Wolf and Nature Boy were both right and when you boil it all down, why would you choose anything else?
In these giddy early days we have little idea what this love means in terms of how our lives will intertwine going forward. All of those conversations are ahead of us. Yet our energy burns brightly and cleanly in this opening movement of our symphony—and that is sufficient to fuel our fire for quite a while.
What's Hafiz Say About It?
The title for this essay is taken from a book of the collected love poems of the 14th Century Sufi poet, Hafiz, translated with care and verve by Daniel Ladinsky (1999). I will close with this fitting selection from that book:
Never Say It Is Not God
I taste what you taste. I know the kind of lyrics
your Soul most likes. I know which sounds will become
Resplendent in your mind and bring such pleasure
Your feet will jump and whirl.When anything touches or enters your body
Never say it is not God, for He is
Just trying to get close.I have no use for divine patience — my lips are always
Burning and everywhere. I am running from every corner
Of this world and sky wanting to kiss you;I am every particle of dust and wheat — you and I
Are ground from His Own Body. I am rioting at your door;
I am spinning in midair like golden falling leaves
Trying to win your glance.I am sweetly rolling against your walls and your shoresAll night, even though you are asleep. I am singing from
The mouths of animals and birds honoring our
Beloved’s promise and need: to let
you know the Truth.
My dear, when anything touches or enters your body
Never say it is not God, for He and I are
Just trying to get close to you.God and I are rushing
From every corner of existence, needing to say,
“We are yours.”