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On Extraordinary Love

It was getting close to Valentine's day and a local radio morning show was having a great rant about May/December relationships. All the standard jokes were in place. Robbing the cradle, midlife crisis, making love to one’s grandparent. I suppose it made for good conflict conversation. I usually don’t write rebuttals because they rarely teach anyone anything. But I couldn’t keep quiet so I wrote an essay and later offered it to them to read, off air, when they didn’t need to make fun of something for a paycheck. It went like this...

My time on this earth has taught me that there are an amazing number of people in the world worthy of love. Friends. Family. Lovers. Sweethearts. And these people should not be subjected to the criteria of "this kind" of love or "that kind" of love. Trying to force a sweetheart into a being a lover or denying a parent the joy of their child's friendship because some unwritten rule book says only certain people are allowed certain "kinds" of love, the way LOVE decrees –as if love is an entity. Well, here's the truth. Love is not in the air. Love is not all around us. Love is not an entity that we try to capture, seduce or leave to luck to procure for us.

There is only one kind of love as defined by the depth of the lover and the height of the one who is loved.

At a young age, I discovered that I could fall in love just about every other day. (Dangerous knowledge.) So I developed this philosophy: You can't help who you love, but you can help what you do about it. They have names for people who act on every impulse they have. The first that comes to mind is selfish.

I passionately loved my mother, who was gentle, wise, beautiful, talented, dignified, and miraculous. Had I known this woman in any other capacity other than her daughter, I would have loved her no less. And not with the criteria that one usually is expected to love a mother. I never loved her with that element of thankful duty for her changing my diapers. Many people understood her worth. Men envied my father's connection to her, women emulated her, my friends demanded adoption by her, her friends all titled her "best" and co-workers maneuvered to benefit from her talent and wisdom. In her day, as a journalist and a political activist she probably worked with every notable personality in the state whether they were in education, politics, entertainment, law enforcement, or charitable organizations.

And you've never heard of her because she was not a "glory hound'. Her formidable personality and character struck every person who met her. That she was worthy of my love only because she was my mother is a ludicrous assumption that insults her by reducing your understanding of who she was. You cannot understand the definition of this daughter's love for her mother without knowing the daughter and the mother. And a mother’s “unconditional love” is a miniscule definition of the love she had for me.

I could have had a real loss in my life after meeting my karate instructor 20 years ago. He was a dark, sultry, poet-philosopher. The chemistry was instant. We loved each other madly but not recklessly since I was married. Several years ago, I wrote the wedding ceremony that married him to a beautiful young woman (inside and out) who understands that I will never be a threat to her happiness. Why? She understands why I love him. He is worthy of love by the virtue of his existence that more people than just she and I can attest.

So often, love is about possessing. We can't seem to love a thing that we cannot own. For me, love is acknowledgement, not ownership.

My best friend was a treasure of humor, practicality and courage. She was worldly wise who never lost her naiveté. She was inexhaustible in her generosity. She married one of my best friends (I say "one of" because I have more than one)...and then she became more than a friend. "Sisters" was our definition for want of a better label that could actually fit us. Oh, but the world found one for us. The one most often applied to us by those who don't know the difference between passion and sex was "lesbian."

Had we been lesbians, it would have been true love. As we were not lesbians, it was still true love. For 20 years, the husbands were best friends, the wives were best friends and we said we were raising 5 "mutual" children. When she dropped dead of a stroke at the age of 44, her husband went into a clinical depression for 5 years and her two young daughters were virtually left to me to care for. (A year later my marriage failed and I was left alone to counsel 6 grieving children.) So, not knowing the wonder of this person, who would herself, have been shocked at the over 100 non-family members who attended her funeral - I wonder if you can completely understand when I say that the depth of my grief at her loss is a blessed testament to my good fortune at having known her and having been allowed to participate in her life for as long as I did.

One summer vacation ten years ago, I met the most wonderful cowboy. He was in his 70's with a weathered face that gave structure to the character that lived inside. Kind, wise, loving and full of mischief, it was another love at first sight. Ten minutes after meeting him, he began telling his stories. Charming, funny, sassy, clever, I must have taken a whole roll of film on him and still failed to capture the beauty of his all-man face. We began writing after that summer...

Oh yeah...the topic of the day May-December relationships . . .

No, I didn't go for the old guy...although I can understand why his younger wife adores him.

When I met the love of my life, he was almost the age of my children. I was instantly sure of the depth of my love for him and equally sure that the depth of his love for me--was not "that kind". After all, how ridiculous of me to think that he could NOT see that I was an overweight, middle-aged, mother of six grown or nearly grown children.

My goal for a relationship with him was this: Whatever he would allow -Pseudo Parent/Son or Mother-in Law/Son-in-law or Mentor/Student, anything that the world would allow. As long as I could stand in a small corner of his life, I would be content.

As long as I could watch and know that he was well and growing and being that breath-taking person, who (even after all the blessed people I was allow to know) proved to me for the first time in my life that I was not alone, just because he breathed. It was enough.

He was enough. He. There didn't need to be a "we" for him to exist. And his existence was enough, even if I was never going to be allowed to stand in the corner of his life. (One can't possess a glorious sunset...which doesn't diminishes the joy I have at experiencing one.)

But expressing my love for him would be irresponsible. He kept trying to label us. That's what he was taught do so he could quantify the "kind" of love he was allowed to have for me. The world's opinion still mattered to him, so we were friends. The world would let us be friends...right? No one would judge that I was having a mid-life crisis and that he was having an older woman fantasy? Right?

Well, we ignored the world.

We talked philosophy, art, poetry, personal growth, music, film, nature and beauty. On these subjects, we met in all the same places. It was heady stuff for us both, how much alike we were. When the conversations got more personal, I was perceptive enough to know that I had to dance the high wire and not share too much of myself with him. As long as I controlled the relationship we would be fine. All the way up until the day he changed the rules. Behind my back, without my permission, he refused to be controlled.

On that day, six months after we met, he asked a question I couldn't pretend not to hear. He said he was in trouble and needed my advice. He asked, "We can be in love together or in love apart...what's it going to be?" After I managed to drag my breath back into my body, the very first thing I said was that the world would never allow our love. His mother was already telling him that we were a classic mistake that anyone could see. The whole world would say we were predictable doomed to fail. He said, "You know, sometimes, the whole world is wrong."

So for years we have been writing a love story that anyone who knows us, envies us for. We have been quietly teaching the world about "our kind" of love. Extraordinary love, whether it's between non-blood "sisters," whether it's between a mother and a daughter, whether it's between an old cowboy and a fellow story-teller, whether it's between two different races, or between two of the same gender, or between two of different age groups.

Love with a Capital L.

November - 13 years ago we tested the lessons when we invited every naysayer to dance at our wedding. With all my children, mixed with his/my/our friends as attendants-16 strong-we wrote a Renaissance wedding ceremony that is still being talked about at Rainbow Gardens. (Go ahead...ask them.) All of his family attended (yes, they not only gave in to the idea of us but have become dear treasures).

I made a dedication to him that night; I told him early in the relationship, I loved him so much, no matter what happened between us, that I would dance at his wedding. Then...I thanked him for making it easy for me. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. The world be damned.

As for the snickers about wrinkles, and the psycho-babble about the flaws in our characters to conscience this relationship, and my would-be lovers who might have tried harder knowing now that I liked younger men, and his would-be lovers who might have tried harder knowing he liked older women - it's just so much noise. I didn't love him because of his youth. I didn't love him in spite of his youth. I loved him and he happened to be young.

You can't help who you love. I learned that from an extraordinary woman. Were it not for the love of this daughter for her extraordinary mother or this friend's love for her extraordinary "sister" or this mother's love for her extraordinary children or or or... I would never have had the wisdom, the experience or the face the ignorant labels, narrow views and down right cruelty that some people apply to an extraordinary the one I share with my husband.

© 1999 - 2010 Ardriana Cahill

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