Monday, September 18, 2006

14. For Better Or Else

In the months before Gregory’ death, I allowed myself a small luxury. Every so often a feeling would come over me unbidden. Perhaps I would be driving up to a stoplight with the window down, wrapped in the strains of some lovely piece like Pacobel’s Canon or Barber’s Adagio for Strings. I’d feel the sun prickling my arm as I slowed to stop, drinking in the beauty of the sky, unfolding in what seemed to be a limitless vista.

The moment would be perfect. And I could not prevent a smile, an emotional smile, from welling up. At the bottom, the source of that smile would be Gregory’s love, a cradling love in which I at last felt secure, nurtured, cosseted. It was like relaxing into my own breath. It had been years, maybe ages, since I had allowed – yes, this time, allowed – myself to feel immersed in the fullness of another’s love.

I could not help but remember this over the weekend as I attended the wedding of a young cousin. I could not help but think of love – this deep forever, to-the-depth-of-your-soul love – as I watched these two recite their vows. He, a handsome groom. She, a full, ripe beauty. You could read in their bodies, in the kinetic energy that darted between their eyes, how heartfelt their commitment was.

Mario was there, too. When the betrothed came to the words, “for better or worse,” I looked at the innocence in their eyes and reflected upon how the slow procession toward a death like MS would test those vows. How would this young groom feel about catheterizing his wife to make urination possible? Where would the vow flutter when he found himself performing the most intimate tasks because she, that beautiful body crippled beyond his imagination, could not?

Or what if this strong young man were suddenly made helpless by a random act of nature, like a bad wave body-surfing that wrenches your body into the sand and snaps your neck? You go to the beach for some sun and fun with your wife and children, and leave a paraplegic? What if she – and he – were faced with this?

No one would expect those fresh, young minds and spirits to be thinking such dark and morbid thoughts. But then again, when you are on the other side of such vows, such incidents, when they or similar things have happened, you listen to those vows with different ears and wonder if these two will have the strength of character, the resolve to trend the rough patches, whatever they might be.
I, too, was so in love with Gregory. As Mario was so in love with Izzy. We opened our hearts and our souls, we loved greatly and were hurt mightily.

Then they came to another part of the marriage vows: Till death do us part. I’m here to tell you, that’s a lie. A ruse. I think what it probably does is give the one left in the living body the permission to couple with another. But the truth is, the “marriage” doesn’t end at death. Or more precisely, the love goes on. It goes on for us here, and, if Gregory is to be believed, it goes on beyond death as well. “Tell Ann I love her,” he told my psychic friend. “Tell her now. Death doesn’t change that.” Words to that effect.

So how can I love Mario? How can he love me? How can this be, if each of us were so passionately, so deeply connected to our great, departed loves?

I explain it to people this way: My heart is like a garden. And in that garden, love grows. It grows in many forms. My love for Gregory will always be there, as Mario’s love for Izzy will flower eternally in his heart. But next to that love, there is another love that also grows, like the rose and lily, side by side. Both flourish, neither at the expense of the other.

Will I ever feel that open, free, unbidden sense of wholly love with Mario that swept up my soul with Gregory? I don’t know. I have flashes of it. I’m not sure Mario even knows this. Or perhaps he does. Maybe it is love, not hope, that springs eternal.

And what will happen when we die? If our consciousness does go on, will we revert to our original “loves?” Or our true “loves,” for those of us who have had… more than one relationship? I suspect that what happens is at once both and neither, an expansion of spirit that transcends what we can imagine in our linear, muscle-and-blood bodies.

But as Gregory said to me in his final words, “Flesh and blood needs flesh and blood.” And through whatever quixotic twist of fate, Mario and I have found each other. Till death do us part. Maybe so.
Photograph by Ansel Adams


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