I've just finished reading a book I couldn't put down called "Fortune's Rocks" by Anita Shreve. Thank goodness, because the damned thing has kept me up way too late for the past week, voraciously reading to find out what happens to the engaging heroine, Olympia. It's the story of a young girl, wise beyond her 15 years, who has a passionate affair with a married older man at the turn of the century. The book distracted me so much that I found myself thinking about it at all hours of the day, and I would have to force myself to leave it in my car after my lunch hour so I wouldn't take it out at work and surreptitiously read a passage or two between phone calls. Olympia is forced to give up the man she loves through a series of circumstances I will not reveal in case you read it, and at the moment she knows she has lost him, she understands that he was not ever "hers." Like Isak Dinesen's Karen Blixen whose eulogy of her beloved, "He was not ours; he was not mine," this evokes a selfless love that resonates deeply for me.
When I loved, and lost the man it was attached to, years passed before I was able to make the distinction between the my and the love in "my love for him." I would think, "I loved him so," but in that thought I was clinging onto the "I" because I did not know what to do with the "love" when the "I" could no longer be with "him." I couldn't separate my love from myself. I couldn't distinguish my loving him from himself; I didn't want to believe my love for him was separate from the integral nature of who he was and would become. I wanted my love to be a part of him; I wanted it to have an effect. I wanted it to bring him back. When he stayed away and my love remained, I came to understand how separate they were from each other and from myself. This is when I began to truly know the nature of love and how it exists simply because it does.
Which brings me back to the word "selfless." It is not a lack of self, or self-denial, or self-abnegation, which to me signify weakness, but the strength of the ability to separate oneself and acknowledge the otherness of things, people, feelings and life as a whole. To understand that these things exist outside of you, in spite of you, around you, as well as in you, so that loving someone selflessly becomes an acceptance that your love for that person does not make him or her belong to you.
My father once said that words were "limiting" and that our essential problem as human beings was that we had confined ourselves to them. By contrast, Iris Murdoch is supposed to have said, "Without words, how does one think?" I accord them a weight that has often led me down difficult paths, struggling to carry them and all that they might imply towards the clearing of understanding, where I might rest a while.
I have often marvelled at how a good author has managed to capture a feeling, impression or partially formed thought I have had into words, making me exclaim, "Yes!" Words may be a structure, a single thread of a spider web onto which the dew of feelings and thoughts have been captured, weighing it down, but it is in those moments when the droplets truly shine.