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What We Stay Alive For
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what we stay alive for
to remain steadfast in belief, despite lamentation over what we've done to ourselves - the missteps of youth, the spurned opportunity, the unprepared heart, the glassy-eyed sensibility, the quick-draw-shoot-first temper, the self-serving and epic miscalculations, the egoic and puerile torpor of mind, the insensate worm only vaguely aware of the light - that love endures, and still lives, beneath the rubble of the lost years;
moreover, to trust, though it delay for a “thousand summers,” that Heaven's gift will finally arrive; in this delay, "too long a sacrifice," as Yeats wrote, "can make a stone of the heart," and many would refuse to wait; the true mate, however, sets himself to wait, waiting with joy, as he builds his life around the inner-whispering assurances of inevitable reunion;
to surrender to Rilke’s dictum, that, no matter how much one has lost in life, no matter the insanities of an earlier time - the disastrous illusions, the mistaken identities, the besotting infatuations, the riches-to-rags negotiations, the ill-fitting covenants, the ruinous mirages of romance, the unrecognized savior, the bartering away for magic beans blunder, the disdainful and cavalier torching of long-constructed bridges, the trampling in the manure of the sacred 'what ought to have been', the insolent and vengeful unreturned call to life - yes, no matter how unlikely it might seem, no matter the spectacular and now-legendary failings, a genuine love “is being stored up for us like an inheritance”;
an inheritance as spendthrift trust, beyond the squandering reach of an immature beneficiary; that, despite best efforts to derail and defraud ourselves, it is our destiny to find perfect love, that God created us to live in soul-completing union with a sacred beloved; and, therefore, we must live life accordingly, mindful of the blessing to come;
to save and consecrate oneself for heaven-arranged relationship, for holy romance and authentic marriage; the ardent nexus of mind touching mind, to be known even as one knows oneself;
an other-worldly intimacy, a delicious communion, like musical notes in mesmerizing harmony, the dreamed-for "union of spirits"; as the poet has it, “the great relief of having you to talk to,” but, even more, the utterly great relief of escaping the solitary confinement of numbing aloneness, the winter-without-spring of the sequestered inner person;
to stand unguardedly in the open sunny air without repressing one's spirit, the true nakedness; to make oneself vulnerable, risking one's dignity, speaking right out loud, daring to reveal the unanswered prayers;
but now, after so long a time, long after reasonable expectation of favorable outcome, as returning from the dead, dreams redistill as reality, "ludicrous propositions" debut in royal purple, soul pledges come of age, unpublished confidences vivify and embody, as the celestial beloved;
to be accepted and desired, for what one is, the "real you," the true inner person, without mask or role-playing; it is the heart's supplication to be cherished and treasured, and this, with Elizabeth, sans "parceque" and "not for a reason"; to offer love and be loved, without fear of rejection or depreciation; to luxuriate in the safety and heart-comfort of mutual exclusivity, a "secret garden with ancient flower" delight of darling companionship;
but, even all this is not nearly enough to satisfy one's true mate; this yearning to be “accepted and desired,” “cherished and treasured,” must be strictly matched by what Troubadour Spirit-Guide Margaret referred to as “equal ardor,” equal measures of mutually proffered love;
for, a great fear harbored by the one who loves you most is the lop-sided love affair, the profound dismay and discountenance, the disconcertion and discomfiture, of loving more than one is loved; in these trepidations of lukewarm reception, with the songwriter, he exclaims, "forgive me for wanting you so";
however, such terror of imbalance, the unreconciled ledger of the heart, cannot, in the end, befall those who share a mirroring soul essence; forces come in pairs: the seeming Force A and Force B are not solitaries but a mutually interacting and unitive Force A-B; stated poetically, you cannot touch without being touched.
to refuse to become disillusioned with the never-ending nightmare, the interminable wilderness years, during which, as the poet instructs, “the time I spent confused, was the time I spent without you”; those lost years of unlife, existing now as dreaded memory, haunting realization, of things left undone, unaddressed, at critical hinges of one's history - oh, oh, how few and meager were our halcyon days, how quickly they disowned and fled from us;
even so, now, with fortitude, to honor the difficult lessons God requires of us; to forgive oneself of the sin of immaturity, of silence when one should have spoken; and then to sense, despite all having gone wrong, that "somewhere out there” still exists an opposite-sameness created as specific answer to one's unique definitions, not merely of elation but, of life's meaning and purpose; for, with her coming, all "snowflakes begin to fall to their appointed place";
even more, to perceive, in and with her, a new definition of romance and darling companionship, reaching beyond “lover and beloved” with its implicit distance between “subject and object”, extending well beyond egoic duality to the unitive status of the transcendental “One Person”;
to receive as tremendous gift from a destined dearest more than ordinary creature-comfort and bio-thrill, but to include, as per "The Wedding Song," that most rare commodity of the soul - “something never seen before” - exulting joy and extreme delight, the utter familiarity, the sense of coming home, the "soulmate, myself," the ecstasy of a lover rejoicing in and affirming one's very existence;
to enter clarity that "made in the image" also means "custom-crafted"; that is, when she finally comes, she will be perfect - perfect for him, perfectly mirroring all that he ever wanted; and even more, for he did not truly know what he wanted until she presented it to him;
to discover that the centuries-debated ordering principle of life, even the chief constituent of Heavenly felicity, plus the essence of Divinity's secret mind, find focalization in the radiance of one particular girl; to realize, in a concussion of wonderment, an unremitting astonishment, a flooding sense of marvel, that "existential meaning," and all of his covert longings, the hermitical years of late-night hard-bargaining with God, now take human garb, come alive, are reified, in the beckoning eyes of one particular girl;
it has often been asked, will we recognize each other in the hereafter? “ahh, how little,” lamented theologian F.D. Maurice, “we have recognized each other here”; and how difficult to surmount, he warned, the “hindrances to recognition and sympathy”; yes, how did that “one particular girl,” of which we speak, one holding title deed to a particular other’s life and breath, remain hidden, in plain view, for so long;
others may commend her beauty as pleasing symmetry, but he sees more than poetry as external form; only he apprehends her beauty as "consonance with the whole," a "translucence," a shining through, "of the eternal splendor of the One" and of the Truth; only he perceives her loveliness as sacred portal to an inner knowing as she reveals, as no other pedagogue, the hidden face of God;
and, therefore, when he exclaims, gushing with superlative, abandoning all caution and temperance, that she is the most beautiful girl in all the world, he suffers not from fatuous idealization but speaks rightly and accurately; for him it is true, as he, only he, as a present reality, envisions all that she will yet become in a blossoming of latent soul-riches, which manifestation will be shepherded by his encouragement and loving care;
and with his assertions of utmost fealty, paradigms shift, one's center of being realigns, eyes begin to open, as she suddenly perceives him as someone new -- the long sought-for Twin Soul, once hidden in plain sight but now revealed as her destined eternal friend and guide;
in this cataclysmic-upheaval unveiling of cloaked identity, they enter a magical sanctuary of bonded oneness, a sense of wholeness and completeness, an enchanted new world wherein the glitter does not fade, romantic fervor knows no abatement, there is no "nasty habit of disappearing overnight";
in her coming, the nature of reality itself, the quantum undergirding, becomes transformed; one's spirit is jettisoned, even against one's will, into higher orbit; the once-bleak landscape of dreary existence now shimmers with current of celebration, everything seems to glisten in her presence, the mundane is recast as lustrous, a hint of sparkle invades his head - especially in her beaming expressions of delight to be with him - as the radiant visage of the goddess sets the heavens ablaze, upstaging an envious sun;
age-old prophesies heralded this marvel; for, with God's salvation of broken dreams, a new creation day dawns, the Spirit once again hovers over roiled waters, all things are reborn and redefined, all things are refashioned and revised, as she arbitrates with herself, and dares, to believe in second chances;
Love Personified unexpectedly arrives and now tabernacles among mortals; the mournful "calling of the heart" is finally pacified; the ancient doctrine of beatific vision is fulfilled in her "made in the image" glory; truly, in a cosmic moment, all things are made new - the abandoned future is reclaimed and rescued, the sorrowful past is redeemed and reinterpreted, and the eternal present moment issues as the reviving and refreshing living waters of resplendent joy;
and now, after so long a time, far beyond the defining moment of ill-fated youth, long after the epicenter of searing loss, sending him to vagrant trudging toward a forbidding future, devoid, said Spirit Guide Margaret, of “all that makes life tolerable”; that great loss, the epochal event of destitution, against which he would mark the days of his vacant existence;
well after the unprepared heart, the puerile torpor of mind, the unrecognized savior, the unreturned call to life, the spectacular failing; as the poet has it, "you say, go slow, I've fallen behind, and the drum beats out of time";
like an aimless sojourner, confused and dazed, wandering in a time not his own, as one long given up as irretrievably apart, he staggers through unlife; but then, slowly, begins to salvage himself, agrees with himself, that suffering has meaning, that the long wilderness years concealed a purpose, that soul pledges and sacred destiny will not be thwarted, no matter the besetting "handicap, obstacle or impediment”;
yes, in spite of all that happened, and all that didn't: the chasm-wide divisions of the heart, the unbridgeable parting of ways, the astonishing misreckonings, the radioactive and high-handed unkindnesses, the breathtaking misunderstandings, the outrageous accusations, the unreachable forgiveness, the scornful turning away from natural law written upon the tablets of the heart, the high crimes and sins against holy romance -- so severe as to render its victims unwilling, with an oath, to entertain any future rapprochement, in this world or the next; however, notwithstanding these shatterings and shards of life which could not be mended, like a farcical dream wherein nothing could be made to go right;
"you picture me, I'm walking too far ahead, you're calling to me, I can't hear what you have said"; despite the systemic and perennial out-of-phase element of their lives; with utmost anomaly, even against his long-cultivated anger and sometimes-defiant ill intention, he finds himself spinning toward an unforeseen perdition of the ego ... creativity's ultimate discontinuity ... now colliding with the "translucence of the eternal splendor," awestruck and lost in an amazement of love ... solely to know her, simply to share life with her, just to do all things with her;
it is the great relief of having you to talk to; it is, as some teach, the darling companionship as "the rest of God";
it is what we stay alive for.
Tom Schulman: "We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
I don't have anything, since I don't have you
Since I Don't Have You
I don't have plans and schemes
I don't have hopes and dreams
I don't have anything
since I don't have you
I don't have fond desires
I don't have happy hours
I don't have anything
since I don't have you...
what is it to live but to feel the life in you, all the fibres of being, passionately and joyfully
Elizabeth's love letter to Robert, March 20, 1845: “You seem to have drunken of the cup of life full, with the sun shining on it. I have lived only inwardly; or with sorrow, for a strong emotion. Before this seclusion of my illness, I was secluded still … I grew up in the country – had no social opportunities, had my heart in books and poetry…
my life, drooping toward the ground like an untrained honeysuckle
"My sympathies drooped toward the ground like an untrained honeysuckle… It was a lonely life... Books and dreams are what I lived in… And so time passes and passed – and afterwards, when my illness came, I seemed to stand at the edge of the world with all done … I turned to thinking with some bitterness that I had stood blind in the temple [of life] I was about to leave – that I had seen no Human nature, that my brothers and sisters of the earth were [mere] names to me, that I had beheld no great mountain or river, nothing in fact…
what is it to live
"I am, in a manner, as a blind poet… how willingly I would as a poet exchange some of this lumbering, ponderous, helpless knowledge of books, for some experience of life and man… What is to live? Not to eat and drink and breathe, -- but to feel the life in you, down all the fibres of being, passionately and joyfully."
I began to believe in us only when you said that you cared for me 'not for a reason' - then I knew
Elizabeth’s love letter to Robert, November 15, 1845: "Shall I tell you… The first moments in which I seemed to admit to myself in a flash of lightning the possibility of your affection for me being more than dreamwork… the first moment was that when you intimated (as you have done since repeatedly) that you cared for me not for a reason, but because you cared for me.
not for a reason
"Now such a parceque [a “because”] which reasonable people would take to be irrational, was just the only one fitted to the uses of my understanding on the particular question we were upon… do you see? If a fact includes its own cause… why there it stands for ever – one of the 'earth’s immortalities' – as long as it includes it. And when unreasonableness [a sardonic reference in that true love is not founded upon ostensible reason] stands for a reason, it is a promising state of things…"
wilderness without blossoming rose, lampless dungeon, despair's black gaping hole; but then, pinnacle of mountain, the silver flooding, of your coming
Elizabeth’s love letter to Robert, January 10, 1846: "It seems to me... that no man was to any woman what you are to me -- the fullness must be in proportion, you know, to the vacancy [that is, in contrast to her previous most lonely and empty life]… and only I know what was behind – the long wilderness without the blossoming rose… and the capacity for happiness, like a black gaping hole, before this silver flooding… I should stand as in a dream, and disbelieve – not you – but my own fate. Was ever anyone taken from a lampless dungeon and placed upon the pinnacle of a mountain, without the head turning around and the heart turning faint, as mine do?
how shall I ever prove what my heart is to you, how will you ever see it as I feel it
"And you love me more, you say! – Shall I thank you or God? Both – indeed – as there is no possible return from me [in terms of repayment] to either of you. I thank you as the unworthy may … and as we all thank God. How shall I ever prove what my heart is to you? how will you ever see it as I feel it? I ask myself in vain."
Editor’s note: We gasp in astonishment at the beauty of The Great Poetess’s testimony, a startling and vivid display of words-as-imagery pressed into Love's service.
before I knew you, what was I and where, what was the world to me, and the meaning of life
Elizabeth’s love letter to Robert, February 24, 1846: “I am living for you now. And before I knew you, what was I and where? What was the world to me … and the meaning of life? … Then, when you came, you never went away…
frightened of your power over me
"Do you know that … I was frightened of you? … I felt as if you had a power over me and meant to use it, and that I could not breathe or speak very differently from what you chose to make me. As to my thoughts … you read them as you read the newspaper – examined them, and fastened them down, writhing under your long entomological pins [that is, like an insect pinned to a chart for study].
you came to love whomever you should find, imperfections and all
"But the power was used upon me – and I saw … very early … that you had come here to love whomever you should find [no matter my faults or imperfections, as you loved these, too; you loved me "not for a reason"; further, my early attempts at self-effacement and deflecting your love] had just operated in making you more determined [to reach me]…
nothing has humbled me so much as your love, like God's own love, making the receivers of it kneelers
"But I may say before God and you, that of all the events of my life, inclusive of its afflictions, nothing has humbled me so much as your love [which] has been to me like God’s own love, [making] the receivers of it kneelers.”
how can it make me happy, such a thing as my life; it never made me happy, without you
Elizabeth’s love letter to Robert, May 20, 1846: "... while the heart beats, which beats for you… my life, it is yours, as this year has been yours. But how can it make me happy, such a thing as my life? There, I wonder still. It never made me happy, without you.”
a stellar spiritual literati, a pantheon of witnesses testifying to the primacy of authentic romantic love
Editor's note: During the last 20+ years, the construction of Word Gems, I have reviewed the literary work of many great female thinkers of history. Among this “natural and irresistible aristocracy,” as Thoreau viewed it, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Heloise of Argenteuil, and Abigail Adams I count as most wise and, indeed, most felicitously and passionately articulate.
But, within the realm of authentic romance, though we mourn with Heloise and her "how much I have lost, beloved, in losing you," we must offer some small measure of deference, I think, to Elizabeth, the great artist and sage, the great wordsmith and evangelist of life and love.
I am living for you now
Her fervent assertions, an outpouring of innermost being, "how can it make me happy, such a thing as my life, it never made me happy without you," strike at the depths of our humanity, "what we stay alive for"; or, as Elizabeth, the once "drooping untrained honeysuckle," announced to Robert, "I am living for you now." Is there another reason?
a portal to knowing, a cosmic destiny unfurled, a splendiferous shining through
Vincent van Gogh, reaching for superlative, exclaimed that “when facing” the beauty of “a flat landscape, I see nothing but eternity.” But it’s not just horizons and nature-scenes which might enthrall – all expressions of beauty, if we allow, will open a portal to a wondrous inner world of mystical knowing.
authentic romantic love, the best means toward self-realization
However, there is one avenue to the sublime which opens the door to the soul widest of all. As we learn from Kahlil Gibran, via his biographer, "love is a means - perhaps the best means - to self-realization, without which one is less than a full person"; which suggests that we find our godlike maturity only with love's mediation. This augmented level of sentience is what "The Wedding Song" refers to as lovers "giving life," each to the other. Such reciprocity becomes aid to evolvement, an opening of the eyes to how things truly are and what they portend for us.
The sacred beloved, more than any other agent of vivification, serves as catalyst to this enhanced awareness. With her, one “sees nothing but eternity,” a cosmic destiny unfurled, an invitation to the mind of God; without her, he will not find reason to fully develop himself.
She is the one he stays alive for; it is she, her "made in the image" beauty, which ignites "the translucence," a shining through, "of the eternal splendor of the One" and of the Truth; and without receipt of such he will not endure the terror of living forever.
a hand for each hand, the original plan for the world
The little boy sitting in the corner had it right: “a hand for each hand was the plan for the world” – the hand of “one particular woman,” as Dr. Campbell put it, to complete the hand of “one particular man.”
"no one there can fill your desire"
We were meant to live in community. We yearn for the company of friends and neighbors, supporting each other in life. So strong is this wish for brotherhood and sisterhood that, at times, as Father Chardin mused, it reaches almost to the level of “sensual longing.” Even so, affable association and cordial friend - none of this pleasant conviviality - can fill one’s desire.
Neither avuncular favor nor maternal warmth, not even a large kindred gathering, an immersion into familial goodwill and amity, can fill one's desire. Even in that affectionate crowd of doting loved ones, a plenary session of fervent smiles, well-wishes, and hugs all around, you will still find yourself - if only subliminally, that vague uneasy sense of - missing someone.
O thou soul of my soul
Mourning the loss of his Elizabeth, Robert Browning in Prospice [“to look forward”] soars in high-flight, addressing her, O thou soul of my soul. Many in the history of literature have spoken of woman as the life of man, but never so poignantly and felicitously. And if one’s soul could shelter a soul of its own, what would this signify? - nothing less than epicenter of meaning, purpose, and “what we stay alive for.” And so, with O thou soul of my soul, we glimpse a remedy for "no one there can fill your desire."
unlawful savior and covenant
John and Mary cannot fill each other’s desire; "besotting infatuation” with illegitimate savior, the “ill-fitting covenant,” the settled-for second or third choice, albeit sprinkled with ecclesiastical blessing, cannot fill one's desire.
Their problem is spiritual in nature, with biological impulse and instinctual response unable to offer solution. Only two souls in love, two created for each other, can fill the unremitting existential void, two spirits longing for authentic union.
the great harmonia
There are three bases for marriage: biological, psychological, spiritual. Andrew Jackson Davis offered analysis in his seminal work “The Great Harmonia.” The vast majority wed for the wrong reasons and, in so doing, counterfeit and debase what was meant to be, what Spirit Guide Margaret called, the holiest of human endeavors; even the Pope decried this merchandizing of human flesh.
Biological attractors animate the majority, licensing Niko Tinbergen’s “super stimuli,” mere temporary fever, a boiling of animal inclination. Psychological drivers, too, incite to riot not a few: here we find marriage as antidote to fears of never finding happiness, apprehensions of disgrace and not being chosen, terrors of facing old age alone.
All this defines what passes for marriage in our world, but none of it is honored in the “better neighborhoods” of Summerland. It is only the spiritual marriage, the coming together of Twin Souls, which is recognized in the courts of heaven.
true love: of the soul, not body
“The Wedding Song” speaks of a “calling of the heart.” It is a desperate cry of the hidden person, a cry in the night - the long dark night of the soul; a cry to be answered only by a “union of spirits," the authentic accord of mind touching mind. In this "knowing as one knows oneself," the secret desolation within begins to recede.
True love is rooted in the soul, not the body, and therefore only things of the eternal soul will endure; things of the flesh begin dying at the moment of birth. And unless one's affections represent an extension of the soul's purposes, there will be no enduring romantic relationship. This rule stands unmoved and inviolable.
existential beauty, consummate mystical experience, freedom from illusion, full experience of reality
The once “blind poet,” with her “lumbering, ponderous, helpless knowledge of books,” when true love came knocking, suddenly grasped the total field of what it means to be human. It is “not to eat and drink," Elizabeth exclaimed, "but to feel the life in you, down all the fibres of being, passionately and joyfully.”
Yes, "to feel the life in you"; as such, this life, this “truth, is a living thing,” and when it becomes energized with the advent of your sacred beloved -- the "existential beauty," a "consonance with the whole," the consummate mystical experience -- it will not only pulsate with warming vitality at the core of being but brings “freedom from illusion” and offers “the full experience of reality.”
more than one dared wish for
There is but one particular girl to fill his desire; he offers her the same exclusive gift. They find each other in the Dazzling Darkness. Together then, as darling companions, adventuring through eternal life sharing all experiences, they enter a sense of wholeness and completeness attained, of meaning and purpose actualized; of sacred destiny realized, of soul-pledges deliciously satisfied.
They inhabit perceptions of "coming home," of the utterly familiar, of "you are more than I dared wish for," of extreme delight, of "you are just like me," of "soulmate, myself." All this, indeed, issues as final answer to the "calling of the heart," an emergence from the abyss of aloneness, as it fills, to the top, the pleadings of unexpressed yearning, the indictments of unquieted passions.
ready communion and unbroken fellowship, minds in ecstatic union
With greater maturity, we perceive identities revealed - who’s who and for whom. And in that day of sightedness, minds created for each other will live in rapturous and euphoric union; an emulation of the joyous spirit of the Divine Parents.
This ecstasy of ready communion and unbroken fellowship, of sharing all things as darling companions, of "the great relief of having you to talk to," of love "not for a reason," removes the terror of eternal life, provides impetus to unfold the soul's hidden potential, finally satisfies and fills beseeching human desire, and becomes ultimate reason to stay alive for.