Technically I missed a day. Finally, after 92 posts, I missed the deadline and a Monday went by without a post on love.
I had the best of excuses. I was ending a long weekend at a conference filled with people and subjects and activities I love. Plus, it was Memorial Day, as well as Buddha’s Birthday, so I could plead the holiday as an excuse.
But let’s be honest: I was busy, tired, and traveling to the fourth city in several weeks. I will take the hit on that, and simply say: I’ll try not to do it again.
I’m writing this in Madison, WI, where I lived with my kids for a couple of decades. I’m only here for about a week, and the amount of social and familial obligations I’m trying to fit in on top of the usual work is mind-boggling. Thankfully, I know the proper response to the impulse to try and visit and spend time with everybody who deserves it:
Seriously, it’s been my experience that it’s better to have quality experiences with a few people rather than try and pack in a few moments here and there with everyone.Â That smacks of desperation; instead, trust in the fact that there will be other chances to share deeper experiences with the people you need to.
Besides, trying to fit everything in just kind of gives one a headache. There are people who I would love to see – such as my friend Karl and his wife Amanda, who are celebrating their two-year anniversary today. There are people I hope I don’t see – the boss at a former job, the last “corporate” gig I will ever have, whose business practices were so unethical I wanted to wash my hands after work every day.
And then there are the memories.
Boy, You’re Gonna Carry That Weight
When I left Madison, it was, to some extent, an escape. I had spent many years here with many relationships, many hopes that were never realized. Every street, every social venue, every season was filled with some memory. Golden leaves at night at the Memorial Union. Dancing on the Terrace. Emceeing at the Inferno. The first house I shared with my wife. The second house I shared with my second wife. The apartment where my lover threatened suicide, then was upset when I believed her and called the police.
The list could go on and on. It even gets more specific: the couch here in my friend’s apartment where I sat and tried to mend relationships as they were breaking. The desk where I wrote that email that led to the end of a love affair. The crack in the wall that I stared at for hours after she left…
Melodramatic, yes? I agree. I feel, actually, a bit silly about the level of emotion I tie to the memories of this pain. More than that, I wonder why I remember the pain so clearly, feel the sting of failure so sharply, but don’t seem able to remember more than a glimmer of the joys, the triumphs, the things we did together – me and any of the people I was involved with – which were good.
When I left Madison, about a year and a half ago, it was at least partially motivated to escape what had begun to feel like an unbearable burden of the memory of loves lost.
The Balm of Time
The only thing I know of that really does help ease that sting is time. The further away a memory is, the less it hurts to relive it. I’ve tried many other things – reframing, rephrasing, compartmentalizing, sublimating, processing, ignoring, intoxicating, distracting, ritualizing, even self-hypnotizing a time or two, and nothing, not one thing, works as well as time.
Which isn’t really comforting if you’re wondering how to get past the pain. Sorry. Whatever clotting factors and healing agents your psyche produces, much like your body, they take time to work. You can superglue the wounds for a time, but it’s gonna sting, and you’re still not “healed” until the glue comes off. You can bandage up your heart and walk the emotional landscape with crutches, avoiding steep inclines and rocks where possible…but at some point, you’ll get tired of your slow progress, and throw them away.
When that happens, the first few steps, I’ve found, are quite painful. But at the same time, they are the most exhilarating steps you can take, because you finally realize you can walk again.
This Memorial DayÂ weekend I faced many memories of love, from the near and the distant past. But one of the most beautiful – and painful – moments was watching a former partner throw off her crutches and take a few painful steps.Â Watching her inspires the glimmer of hope in my own emotional psyche, the possibility that this time, the visit home might be more focused on the joy. That perhaps I’m a bit closer to optimism and the ability to create new memories in the future.
And this time, I will pay better attention. Because when you get down to it, the joy vastly outweighs the sorrow. I’m lucky like that. I just need to remember it.