I Can Hardly Say the Word!

Happy spring, everyone.

Never have I felt the dualities of this world more than in the last six weeks. The horrors and unbearable suffering of Ukraine (and so many other places) stand in stark contrast to our beautiful Oregon spring, full of color, squirrels, and sunshine.

Two things (and many more) are always true, and I try my best to hold both in the same moment: not shielding myself from the sorrow in the world and allowing the profound blessings of my life to be present. This is the real work of mindfulness, and never is this more salient (or challenging) than in our most intimate relationships. The promise and moments of deep connection live alongside the irritations and impossibilities of living with another person.

Stage 1 of my Love Cycles Model is about all that is right with the promise and wonder of new love, while Stage 3 is about all that is wrong. Our challenges in love are no different from our challenges in the rest of life. We must hold a space for both with grace and acceptance, knowing they will change again.

Stage 5 of the Love Cycles Model is about wholeheartedness, where all exists at once. As we become more whole, so do our relationships.

If you don’t have a copy of Love Cycles yet, check it out HERE.

For me, this past month has been a deep dive into wholeheartedness, filling me with gratitude for trusting the euphoria I felt at the beginning of my own love story, for diving fully into a relationship that had “impossibility” stamped all over it for a multitude of reasons (not the least being that my partner and I lived in different countries), and sticking through what seemed like years of total disillusionment.

Sometimes, I’ve wondered if two people could ever be more different than Tim and I. He’s an outdoorsy New Zealander who loves adventure in the rivers and mountains, home-cooked meals, and predictable daily rituals that offer him order and sameness. I’m a San Francisco city woman to the core who loves restaurants, hotels, and an ever-changing morning routine. He can spend hours joyfully digging in the garden, where I see only dirt and nasty-looking worms. Some part of me still believes tomatoes come conveniently from Safeway.

And yet, we still share a deep understanding of life, which has always been the joint wellspring at which we connect. I have felt more fully met and known by him than by anyone else in my life. It is a wellspring filled with humor (no one makes me laugh like him), deeply similar core values, and an essential way of seeing the world that feels deeply familiar and profound. Impossible and blessed.

A little over a month ago, I had surgery. It was an “in and out” procedure to repair a body part that needed a serious tune-up of the most vulnerable kind. Even the word makes me flush with embarrassment, but I’ll say it here: hemorrhoidectomy.

It was meant to be just one morning in the hospital, and then I’d be home and in his care. It would be easy, back to my life in a week. Little did we know what was coming.

Although I often feel like I’m 40, I am not, and it was my 78-year-old body that reacted poorly to the surgery. Multiple trips to the ER, days of excruciating pain, weeks of exhaustion, and worst of all, a siege of days revolving around all issues relating to the toilet, the most private and basic of human needs.

And there he was — my lover, my tormenter, my best friend, and a vet who tended wounded creatures for 50 years — caring for me with more compassion, care, and tenderness than I have ever experienced in my life. Constant, uncomplaining, handing me pain pills, encouraging me to eat, taking me to the shower a few times a day, washing me when I couldn’t do it myself, making and remaking my chaotic bed, and even making me laugh through my misery and my fear that the pain would last forever.

I’m much better now, and we are mostly back to life as it was before March 10th. I was annoyed this morning when he didn’t put away the dishes the way I thought “he should”, or when he started giving me pep talks about exercise and long walks up steep hills before I could even walk to the mailbox. But something is new between us. Although I can’t explain it in exact terms, it has something to do with a redefining of what our love story really means.
We are primed by our culture to think of our partners in the best of times rather than the worst of times — for example, when we are glamorous and appealing, rather than nursing a sick creature (at her most unglamorous) back to health.

Writer Parker Palmer says “Wholeness does not mean perfection; it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life” and I get it in a new way. Wholehearted loving is embracing our partner in his or her most wounded places and the paradox is that this act is most of all which makes love thrive and deepen into its promise.

With love to everyone,