When I finally discovered The Prophet in my forties, I was so incredibly thirsty! I drank and drank and drank, soaking up your words like some magical, healing elixir.
Where have you been all my life and why has it taken so long to find you? If only you had been there guiding my path, speaking from one poet to another, I would never have felt so alone through life’s valleys. You somehow seem to know me or something even beyond me which I needed to know, grasp tight and consume. Why didn’t we read The Prophet at school? Why wasn’t it just as important to learn about ourselves and how we tick, as it was to learn all those numbers I barely ever use? Sure, there was Banjo Paterson’s The Man from Snowy River and Keats’ Odes but why weren’t you there for us too? It’s not easy been young and fighting your way through to the canopy and beyond.
Yet, when I mentioned you to my aunt, she told me that she’d written your words in a card to my mother when I was born. That’s right. You’ve been with me even since I was born. Indeed, were those words a seed in my heart? A poet’s heart just waiting to grow tall and strong? Or, do I but dream?
While The Prophet covers so much ground, it is your words about love that have really formed and shaped me. Words whose poetry has grown into understanding, now that I’m older. I can now appreciate the importance of solitude. That it’s quite okay to spend time all by yourself and contemplate and reflect, rather than being part of the crowd just to have somewhere to go. That being home alone doesn’t equal social death.
When I was young, I used to crave intimacy. There was that yearning desire to fuse absolutely with another human being through mind, body and spirit until our boundaries completely evaporated and the two became one.
It’s no wonder I earned myself nicknames like: “limpet” and “Velcro”.
However, while new love has that intensity, you have to work and otherwise function and have space in between souls.
I’d never really given space much thought. That space is just as important as intimacy. That the words on the page become meaningless without that all-important finger space in between. That drawing is as much about the background, the white space, as it is about the subject.
Strangely, this epiphany came to me while helping out in my son’s classroom during his first year at school. So many of the kids wanted to write all their letters and words together, and they constantly needed to be reminded to “leave a finger space”.
All of a sudden, I realised how important space was. That we actually need space as much as the supposed content.
Moreover, this need for space doesn’t only relate to words on the page or a busy schedule but also relates to people. That as much as we love our partner, children, family, there needs to be space in between us to breathe, stretch our wings and to grow:
“But you, children of space, you restless in rest, you shall not be trapped nor tamed.
Your house shall be not an anchor but a mast.
It shall not be a glistening film that covers a wound, but an eyelid that guards the eye.
You shall not fold your wings that you may pass through doors, nor bend your heads that they strike not against a ceiling, nor fear to breathe lest walls should crack and fall down.
You shall not dwell in tombs made by the dead for the living.
And though of magnificence and splendour, your house shall not hold your secret nor shelter your longing.
For that which is boundless in you abides in the mansion of the sky, whose door is the morning mist, and whose windows are the songs and the silences of night.”
You also wrote about the space between parents and their children. That parents do not “own” their children and children need room to grow. These were actually the verses my aunt wrote out for my mother when I was born:
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”
However, this need for spaces in between people isn’t just about parents and children but also lovers, husband and wives. That, as much as we are a couple and become one, that we must also remain individuals and not lose ourselves in each other. Become half-people.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
Indeed, your vision of love is far from romantic:
“For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.
Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.
All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.”
However, while this space between individuals is necessary, what about when you are living with the shadow of death, so very conscious that your time together is finite, so incredibly finite and that carpe diem seize the day means clinging to each other with all you’ve got and trying to make the most of every single moment. That you don’t want to let go even for a second and pulling away feels like you’re being torn in half and that anguish is so intense and all-consuming.
I know that feeling. Have been there and yet miraculously I survived and rode out of a couple of incredibly treacherous storms. I still remember the anguish when I found out they’d found fibrosis in my lungs, knowing that could spread rapidly or it could just lie dormant. Not do much at all. Yet, I had to wait over Christmas for an appointment with a lung specialist and the thought of being wrenched away from my family, was pure hell. My daughter was only 5 years old and needed me to do her hair, especially for the end of year ballet concert, which I cried through watching her through stained-glass windows feeling each and every moment like it was my last. Our son had had quite a tough year at school and I was the wind beneath his wings, trying to get him through. My kids were way too young to lose their Mum and I resolved then and there to fight this wretched disease with everything I had. Do anything for love. Indeed, I kept singing the song by Meatloaf as I staggered around the house weighed down by grief. It was funny and I know you’ve never even heard of Tim Tams let alone tried one but they’re a highly addictive chocolate biscuit which is as Australian as Freddo Frogs and Vegemite. Anyway, there I was feeling absolutely rock bottom depressed and I looked into my pantry singing “Anything for Love” and then this packet of Tim Tams looked at me and said: “Are you sure?” In other words, it was asking me if I loved my kids and my family enough to give up Tim Tams so I could buy more time? You might think this is an absolute no-brainer but being a lover of chocolate, that was quite a challenge, which, by the way, I did stick to for awhile. There’s nothing like staring death straight in the face to make you change your life. I cut sugar out of my tea and coffee at home and cut back on sugar big time. My husband was also having cholesterol problems and so we also all but cut out fat and cheese. Seemingly against the odds, I managed to lose 10 kgs while still taking prednisone, which we call “the fat drug”.
Change led to change and what was actually one of the lowest points in my life, was actually very productive. As you wrote:
“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain…. When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.”
So, I guess in many ways relationships ebb and flow. There are times of intense togetherness and intimacy and times of solitude. Yet, love binds you together through those changes of season and through your sorrows and joys. Loving someone else, therefore, definitely means travelling way beyond the edge of your own universe and travelling to foreign lands. Indeed, sometimes I still wake up and wonder how I got here. Perhaps, you lent me your wings!
Khalil, it has been interesting re-reading your writings today after really considering the difference between taking the freeway and the Scenic road yesterday with poet Robert Frost. What you are saying, really supports that journey along the rough, unchartered road, straight through virgin bush. You’re wrestling with the rose and it’s thorns between joy and suffering to map out some kind of trajectory through the wilderness. This is indeed a very tough and perilous journey not only through such perils but also straight through our own fear. That’s a journey we naturally avoid. Stay well clear.
I’m not sure I’m too thrilled about what I’m learning. Why do we have to keep going cross-country fighting our way through the wilderness, when we could be taking it easy? I know I’d be bored there but a bit of froth and bubble wouldn’t go astray.
Sorry, this letter is so long but I guess it was never going to be a short conversation. You’ve inspired me so much!
Many! Many Thanks!