It was July, and I was behind the wheel, several hours into driving across the Great Plains, when my mind wandered to the unpredictability of life. I was pondering the statistics:
More than half of marriages end in divorce.
People change careers an average of seven times before retirement.
And most college graduates work in a field outside of their degree.
Gosh, we are terrible at predicting our futures.
Is commitment totally idealized? An endangered skill set? A farce?
Something caught my eye, and my gaze shifted from the road for a brief moment. Fields of sunflowers and hay were dancing under scattered clouds. The horizon was clear and distant.
Moved by the greenery, the pronghorn, the bald eagles, the pheasants, the deer, a state of ephemeral euphoria consumed me. The beauty bounced through my chest and out of my mouth like a pinball.
In stark contrast to my recent thoughts, I told her, “I love you.”
Before I could regret the words, before I could choke on the articulation, I suddenly realized that I meant it. I meant it more than I had ever meant those words before. The electric truth shot down my spine and exploded out of every nerve in my body.
I loved her.
Tears started streaming down my cheeks and I had to press the brakes, pulling over. I needed to collect myself.
In my head, I rapidly listed the dimensions of her beauty, her love, her presence, her generosity. My thoughts snowballed with the profundity of her.
I needed to collect myself.
I took a breath. I continued the drive in silence. The kind of silence that starts with the inhale, and crescendos into a metal concert by the out-breath.
I loved her. Was I being crazy? The internal noise enveloped me.
The more I considered, the more I compared, the more I knew I loved her with every shaky cell of my being. I was dumbfounded by the depth of her love.
Everyone else had left. But she stayed. Everyone else struggled. But she overcame. She met me wherever I was and simultaneously modeled growth, depth, and unconditional acceptance.
By the time I arrived home at the family ranch, I was struck with the shimmering realization that comes with this kind of love—I wanted to marry her. It was the next logical and emotional step.
So I gathered my thoughts, organized my intentions, and weighed the gravity of this idea.
The next morning, I prepared for ceremony. I was ready. It was time.
I knelt down, and began my monologue of love, inspiration, intention, metaphor, and hope. I felt grounded. Connected. No other love could compare. My words wove a tapestry of clarity. She is generous. She is present. She is grounded. She is supportive.
She is always, always, always here for me.
She blushed, leaned in, smiled, and whispered, “Yes.”
We sat there, for a moment, basking in the sunshine of our bliss. Soaking in the sweetness of the moment. I closed my eyes, and laid back. In ecstatic joy, I let myself breathe with the rhythms of the Earth’s rotation and orbit. “She said yes!”
And I felt the fullness of my heart expand, grow, stretch out, up, down, around. I was sure I could feel my heart extending like arms all the way around the Earth. I was so satiated with love that everything else dissolved, suspending us in the timelessness of space.
We had been in silence since that triumphant “yes” echoed through the chambers of my heart. The kind of silence that starts with the inhale, and softly symphonies with the breeze during the out-breath.
And then she spoke. My attention fixed on her, ready to absorb every word.
“All of those things are true. Beauty. Growth. Unconditional love. And so is the reality that I have been exploited and abused. I have been poisoned and I have witnessed massacres. My volcanoes explode with fiery fury. My hurricanes and tornadoes blow with relentless force.”
“Do not be aloof to the ways in which my droughts will emaciate the flowery words from your lips. Do not look away from the cold shoulder of my Arctic winters. I am unpredictable. And volatile. And violent. And here. I am always here. Through the pain, and heartache, and destruction, I am here.”
“Do not conflate my presence with the eradication of pain and loss. Do not confuse my resilience with the elimination of injustice and hatred.”
“This union will teach you more about forgiveness than healing. It will instruct you more in letting go than receiving. When you wed me, you do not escape the dimensions of human trauma—you will inherit it in planetary proportions.”
“I know that I can meet you in your pain. Are you sure you are ready to meet me in mine?”
The blue bird skies of my mind clouded, and my body shook with an earthquake of panic and doubt. I wondered, if I wed the world, with all of her love and all of her loss, with her perpetual spiral of life and death, tragedy and magic, hope and fear—how would my life change?
How might I better dance with my beloved, and uphold my commitment of “for better or for worse?”
A different kind of truth shot through me. I had let my hopeless romanticism deceive me, causing me to fixate on the idealized partner who could meet me in deep intimacy. Whose traumas and pains would not force her to lean away from the furnace of love in my soul.
Lightning bolts of truth struck through my system—intimacy is painful. Intimacy is tracking the beloved as I look into my love’s eyes, and watch changing weather systems blow in pain, revulsion, regret, and hatred where I thought I would always find bliss, love, and ease.
Loving the Earth, suggesting a wedded union, would not insulate me from the dramas of humanity. Rather, it demanded that my own love learn to encompass the seven billion other people that exist on the Earth and every aspect of our relationship with her and each other.
“Unconditional love, my dear, does not play out like a fantasy. In our fantasies, we do not experience pain. Life is inevitably painful. And joyous. And confusing.”
“Unconditional love means breaking apart every time your beloved does not fit your expectations, does not already fit in the existing pant size of your heart.”
“Unconditional love, sacred union, requires breaking open again and again. Not out of self-sabotage or self-flagellation. It is breaking open out of necessity.”
“The seed breaks out of its shell in order to become a plant. The caterpillar breaks out of its cocoon in order to be a butterfly. Are you ready to break so far open that everything fits inside?”
My face flushed with a flash of shame, for my naïveté. Then her words settled in me, like dust after a tornado. The blue-bird skies of my mind returned. I leaned in, smiled, and whispered, “Yes.”
It turns out, that was always my only option.
“One regret, dear world, that I am determined
not to have when I am lying on my deathbed
is that I did not kiss you enough.”
~Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky
Author: Jessica Dallman
Editor: Callie Rushton