Once upon a time, long ago: Lorena and Markus in Lake Michigan as children...
"This is different, Mama. He's really special. He's good to me."
A warm glow spreads like melted butter through my heart. That's really all I need to know. When my daughter tells me new love has found her, I watch and listen for the clues, and all flags flying are a sunshine yellow, signifying gold.
They've known each other for some time, because the paths they've walked seem to be in many important aspects parallel - the switched gears to dating is relatively new. They've both known the rough going in their pasts that teaches valuable lessons to those who are willing to learn. Neither of these two, from all I can tell, are into denial. I listen carefully to what she tells me, the little, shimmering pieces of sunshine, but I hear through and between these bright breadcrumbs the stories of people who have learned how to be accountable, who have embraced change and so grown to become better and wiser and kinder people. A solid place from where to begin. But there is really only one thing to which my ear and heart are attuned. And there, she says it, and I breathe deep and smile.
"He's good to me."
There really is no other rule to follow when it comes to love. Granted, love may not yet be the proper word to use here. Love is what comes, gently, once that first blush of romance has stopped clouding our eyes with a misty and rosy glow. Love is what comes when you have had that first spat, fought clean, then realize you care even when you both get ugly. Love is when you care enough to put things right again, or even better than they were before. Love comes with time. With revelation. With truth exposed, all masks gone, a heart beating out in the open with every scar and vulnerable soft spot offered and received as a gift of self. Love is the utmost vulnerability, and that is its tender beauty.
In romance, we play nice. We turn our best side to the camera. In love, we stand face to face, naked, exposed as who we really are and only for that one to see in such utmost nakedness. We love not in spite of each other's faults, but indeed, because of them, the faults and the qualities combined to make us who we are, because of our fully experienced humanity.
"He is kind."
I nod, although she can't see me on the other end of this phone line. I close my eyes as I listen, feeling the heat of tears beneath my eyelids. Yes, I remember. My heart remembers what it means to love, and to be loved. My heart has been blessed with the giving and the receiving of this gift. I have loved even when I have not been loved back. Yet no purer love have I known than what is in my heart for this young woman, my daughter, and for her brother, my son. For I would trade all love in my life for there to be a true love in theirs.
All religions and all spiritual beliefs seem to hold one basic rule in common. We are to love - others as ourselves. What more need be said? The wonderful trick of love is that we cannot have it when we put ourselves first. We are loved when we treat others well. Nothing drives love out the door faster than selfishness. Even when I loved a man who had somewhere along his life path lost all ability to love, all ability to care for another before putting his own pleasure and wants first, I realize now, looking back: I should have walked much earlier than I did. The least selfish thing I could have done, the most loving, I understand now, was to let a man addicted to his pursuits of false pleasure hit his own bottom. The toughest yet often most valuable love of all is to sometimes step back and not try to save our beloved from the fall he is so determined to take.
Love is that one gift we can get only when we give it away. The purity in love comes from giving love without expectation or requirement of repayment in kind. We give it because it brings us pleasure to see the light come up in our beloved's eyes. We are good. We are kind. To that other, because suddenly, we realize: for ourselves, there is no greater pleasure.
When I hear the happiness in my little girl's voice, all I can think about is that I am happy in her happiness. If I die tomorrow, all I need to know is that my children are loved. Nothing more. I am at peace. Even as I have watched the light come back into my son's life. He, too, loved and lost, and now it comes to him again, a fragile thing slowly, slowly gathering strength. There's a new name on his lips, and when he speaks of how he wants to help her get through a rough patch, what he might do to smooth her path and clear the stones out from the road before her ... I know something good is happening in his life, too.
"Is she good to you?" I ask and watch his face closely. He's not a talker. I watch the corners of his mouth for that slight lift. I watch his long fisted hands uncurl into open palms. I watch for the tension to seep away from his strong shoulders, his chest rise with even breath. I watch the slow blink of his eyes, contemplating, seeing back in his mind's eye. I watch his face lift, as if he has tired of so long looking at the floor.
"Yes. She is kind."
I nod. I feel that heat of tears in my eyes again, and I head for the kitchen to put together a good meal, his favorite, before he goes out again into that welcome night. It's what we mothers do, feed our babes, no matter at what age, as my mother takes pleasure in preparing a nourishing meal for me.
"I'd like to meet her," I tell him, setting a plate before him.
"Mmmm," he hums, digging in. "Sure. Okay. Would you cook for her, too?"
My daughter calls then, inviting us all to Chicago to meet her beau this Easter. Again I say, "My pleasure."
And it is.