On love and persistence

My 2010 ended with a wonderful reading experience, Sue Monk Kidd’s bestselling book The Secret Life of Bees. In the novel, a 14-year-old girl named Lily Owens tries to make peace with the mother who abandoned her…and whom she accidentally killed. In this lush, glowing, sensuous novel about the hearts of women and their search for a spiritual foundation, a particular line by August, one of the most memorable characters, struck me:

“That’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love — but to persist in love.”

And I thought, Exactly. How absolutely easy it is to come to love someone. How thrilling and how wonderful to open your heart to the adventure that is another person coming in. The delicious rush, the heady excitement, the beautiful sweetness of it all — people love the idea of love. There’s nothing quite like it.

But it’s the day-to-day realities in the “ever after” part that people seldom talk about. When you find out that the prince isn’t all that charming and the princess isn’t quite the fairest in the land. Or when you grow up and discover that your mother isn’t perfect and your father isn’t larger than life. Or when you realize that who you’ve become isn’t quite who you planned to be. In every kind of love there is a certain level of inevitable disillusionment. What happens after that?

That’s when persistence comes in. Every kind of lasting love that I’ve seen isn’t one passionate movie moment after another. It’s a commitment, a series of daily — sometimes difficult — decisions to love and to keep on loving. And to forgive. Forgiveness, possibly, is more important than anything else. I forgive you for forgetting that anniversary. I forgive you for not understanding the reason I got mad. I forgive you for what you said when we fought. I forgive you for being human.

Because really, where would we be without forgiveness?  Without the desperately needed grace that allows us to be imperfect? If love is given only to those who are easy to love for as long as they stay easy to love, we’d all be alone. The writer Anais Nin says:

“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”

Persistence is the decision to keep love alive and to replenish the source. It’s the day-to-day effort to keep seeing someone as flawed as we are through the eyes of grace. Near the end of The Secret Life of Bees, this is what Lily Owens realizes about her mother when she learns to love her despite her abandonment:

“Drifting off to sleep, I thought about her. How nobody is perfect. How you just have to close your eyes and breathe out and let the puzzle of the human heart be what it is.”

I think, maybe, that’s how a part of growing up happens for all of us. When we start to let go of the picture-perfect fairy tale of love and start preparing ourselves for the work that it takes. And when we realize that, no matter what, it’s still worth it.



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