Of Love and Compassion
A tribute to Vincent and
Thank you for my life
My dear Vincent,
My anticipation – knowing I will see you, so soon, on my balcony – leaves me breathless with such happiness. To think that it wasthis night . . . this magical night . . . that brought me to you fills me with gratitude.
The seasons pass, darling. Yet for me, our story never dims. How is it that I am so blessed?
Each year on this day, I can’t help but revisit what this anniversary means to me. When I consider what my life might have been, the comparison is both stark and strange. Who was that woman? She was rich by the standards of the world, but didn’t know her own impoverishment. The comparison isn’t sad, but fades into contentment, and I find a profusion of gifts flurrying about me. The air is thick with them, and my heart is full.
It was only through darkness, love, that I could see light. Only through pain that I could know joy. And still I wonder, with your great heart, if you truly understand what you have given me.
You see, you have given me . . . everything.
Before you found me, I sensed – knew – that beneath my uniform of privilege lay discontent. I had neither adequate description nor identifiable reason for my feelings of incompleteness. My society, and the society outside my circle, suggested that I had it all. Who was I, then, to wish for more?
Was I ungrateful? Was I complacent, too at ease with the undemanding nature of my world? I had comfortable friendships. I had a career with which to build money and repute.
And I had walls. Invisible and unacknowledged, they stood, quiet, seemingly benign, between me and the people I loved. They buffered us so well from one another; we never had to be too isolated, and we never had to be too close. Having known grief, maybe I found testing those walls frightening. Perhaps, if I challenged those walls, the people I loved and the safety of my world would go away. With what would I replace my losses? The world outside the boundaries of privilege seemed too alarming to think about for long. So avoiding the contradictions between my head and my heart was easy – and expected. The pursuit of comfort and resources, after all, was considered the mark of a life well-lived.
Vincent, I surprise myself a little, thinking this much about so long ago, even on this day. But the thoughts rise strong within me, and I know you’ll understand.
I wonder how common it is for one’s deepest pain to become the source of one’s greatest joy. In one night, my privileged existence was snuffed out, its illusory nature undeniable, and no amount of money could resurrect it. The rest of the world came crashing through the wall, regardless of my wishes. Suddenly, I was not immune, not safe, but swallowed by a bigger, shadowy universe. There pain and hurt loomed, terrifying and cruel, above me – except, of course, when coming directly atme.
The truth? There was a moment, Vincent, when I could have let go. Somewhere, deep inside myself, I know that to be so.
But how could I let go in the face of a miracle?
For at the height of despair, hope appeared, there in the security of your arms. Hope was in the unmatched depth and warmth of your voice. It was there in the way you nurtured me – all of me – my mind, my body, my spirit. You withheld no amount of care; not the smallest atom of kindness did you deny me. In those days with you, in spite of my fear, I was less alone than I had been, I think, across the entire span of my life.
Yes, I had to fight to find my own strength. But without your tender heart, Vincent, without your loving hand, I would not have survived. Without the example of your courage, I would never have found my own. You spoke to me ofpossibilities in a world that, until you, was utterly unimaginable. You believed in me.
And I can say it, now. You loved me.
And so you saved me.
Even before you appeared on my balcony so many months later, you were with me. Looking back, I can recognize it for what it was. A walk through the city was a changed experience; I could smile at a world that in some secret place sheltered you. Your empathy – our bond – strengthened me, I know, though I was then unaware. What greater proof could there be of the beauty in a life without walls?
You showed me that hope could light the darkest space. And you showed me that I wanted nothing more than to create an abundance of light, if I could.
Perhaps it will be strange to you . . . but even before I complete the sentence I laugh, thinking you must feel it even now, must know. You must know that your gifts to me have made the world such a precious place, and the people in it more dear. Remembering what your gentle touch gave me, I cannot help but wish to pass your kindness on to others. I see their pain and wish to be . . . so much more. You were sight to me when I was blind, a path for me when I was lost. And whenever I am able to help another, even in the smallest way, I feel somehow that I have shared your light with them. I cannot tell you what that means to me.
You are the most beautiful of lights. The most tender of men.
Seeking a new way, a life of meaning, though initially painful, has given me a freedom I never before envisioned. Relinquishing the superficial rewards of excess, I now have real rewards. To know others, to reach out to them gives me so much more than I can ever return. And that frightening universe, in spite of all its complexities and dark places, has become so beautiful. It hums to the music of our bond and opens wide, inviting us in, embracing us.
Thank you for my life, Vincent. For your love. Thank you for – everything.
Until tonight. I forever remain your loving –
Tonight I am once again reminded how deep and immeasurable the gift of our lives is. It was on this night . . . so many years ago . . . that the world as I knew it ceased to be, and the spirit of my life found its center. The old existence ended: a new one began.
Though time has passed, I can still feel you in my arms as you were then. I can still feel the fragility of your life as it threatened to slip away, bolstered only by your trust, by your will. That night I knew your strength even in frailty. I knew your beauty. I knew that you would survive . . . and that I was already forever changed.
I did not know, could not know, how deep my changes would be. Like water wearing against a stone, our moments together, spanning across time, would alter the shape of my life in ways beyond my own imagining.
Even as I write these words their meaning astonishes me, fills me with wonder and awe. My life before you, Catherine, was not without its gifts. I had a world of warmth that I treasured, people I loved – people, even, who loved me. But that existence was a pale thing compared to what I have found with you.
Was my heart open before we met? Once upon a time, I walked these streets, believing myself to know your world. Its corners were crowded with all manner of grief, with loss – even with deliberate cruelty. It seemed a place that could bring nothing but pain, full of frightened people terrified of their aloneness.
The aloneness and fear I failed most to consider, of course, was my own.
How could I know the world until I knew myself? And how could I know myself when the greater part of my heart was walled off, hidden away behind a secret door, so secret that it was unbeknownst even to me? Until the tender touch of a woman, her unfailing faith in me, turned the key. . . until you, I saw the world as through a mist, a haze of partial truths.
How ironic that I should have found you in mist that night.
But it is more truthful, Catherine, to say that you found me. You opened my heart – and opened a world.
I think of a balcony – the impenetrable dark, the cool night air, your lovely face glowing. Preparing to relinquish the dream of being a part of you, I did not know how I might bear it. And then you reached out to me. "Not yet," you said. Those were your very words. "There’s still time." And in the next moment, I felt you take the risk of my aloneness, as no one ever had, and shift it to your own slender shoulders. Through our bond, I knew that it was true; loving kindness, not pity, was in your heart. You wanted me there as much as I wished to stay.
Your patience and love revealed new possibilities, new realities, for me. As you encouraged me to see myself through your eyes, I grew stronger. And as my own image began in slow but irreversible increments to change, the world changed with it. I began to reconsider – everything.
Do you remember the night you told me that you wanted me to know the beauty of your world?
I did. I do. You were beauty, and the bridge to beauty. It could not be possible that your home was only a place of fear and pain. A place of mere ugliness could not have cradled you. As never before, I began to look for the beauty hiding in the darkness.
The meaning of the world’s pain thus began to change. You once told me – how your words resonate with me tonight – that some of our ugliest feelings are the other side of love, and that to turn away from them is to forget where they come from.
I carry your words with me. And the frightened people of your world, so afraid of their aloneness, have become the people of our world. Their fears, sadness – even sometimes their hurtfulness - come from a place that begins as beauty. I know this now. To see their need for love, even when that need has been denied or twisted, brings me closer to them.
I know now, too, that the divisions between our worlds and the people in them are only shadows, unsubstantiated fears banished by the light of love. How subtle, connected, and inseparable we all are. How great is our need for one another. To look for the truth beneath the pain, as I have learned from you, has truly been the end of my aloneness.
Once I stated that there was no place for me in your world. But Catherine, I am in your world. Though I hide my face, though I walk with care, I am a part of it now, as it is part of me. I cry when it cries; I rejoice when it rejoices.
More than ever, I wish to embrace it. I see you in all its grace. You are in the laughter of children, in the smiles and tears of lovers, in the slow and careful movements of the old. You are there, and in everything I do I feel the sweetness of your spirit.
Know this. Your love has given me myself. It has given me the world.
I share it all with you. Blessed with the charge to move toward love, I am joyously prepared to continue a lifetime in which we grow ever closer. With you by my side, every breath, every choice is a gift of such magnitude that . . . truly . . . there are no words. I am happy to spend my days looking for such treasures and, should I find them, to lay them at your feet.
To celebrate the meaning of every moment makes my life more resplendent and full than I could ever hope. And to celebrate you is the greatest gift of all. Tonight and always, I give you, with everything I am -
All my love,