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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A first love...

I don't think I have ever read a more beautiful or truthful description of the experience of falling in love for the very first time than this one.

It is, of course, Frederick Buechner.

"It was towards the end of that second year in Bermuda that I received what may have been the greatest of the gifts the island gave, without any clear idea of what it was I was receiving, or that anybody had ever received the likes of it before.

She was a girl my age [11], with a mouth that turned up at the corners. If we ever spoke about anything of consequence, I have long since forgotten it. I have forgotten the colour of her eyes. I have forgotten the sound of her voice. But one day at dusk, we were sitting side by side on a crumbling stone wall watching the ferries go by, when no less innocently than the time I'd reached up to the bust of Venus [de Milo] under my grandfather's rattish gaze, our bare knees happened to touch for a moment. And in that moment I was filled with such a sweet panic and anguish, of longing for I wasn't sure what, that I knew my life could never be complete until I found it.

'Difference of sex no more we knew than our guardian angels do', as John Donne wrote. And in the ordinary sense of the word no love could have been less erotic. But it was the heavenly eros, in all its glory none the less, there's no question about that. The upward reaching and fathomlessly hungering, heart-breaking love. For the beauty of face formed flesh, for the beauty of earth and sky, for the beauty of the world at its most beautiful - and beyond that. For that beauty east of the sun and west of the moon, which is passed the reach of all but our most distant desiring. And its finally the beauty of beauty itself - of being itself - and of what lies at the heart of being.

Like all children, I had been brought up till then primarily on the receiving end of love. My parents loved me, as did my grandparents, and a handful of others maybe. And I had accepted their love the way a child does, as part of the givenness of things, and responded to it the way a cat purrs when you pat it. But now for the first time I was myself the source and giver of love so full and rich that I couldn't possibly have expressed it to that girl whose mouth turned up at the corners, even if I'd had the courage to try.

And let anyone who dismisses such feelings as puppy love, silly love be set straight. Because I suspect that rarely if ever again in our lives does Eros touch us in such a distilled and potent form as when we are children and have so little in the way of experience, wisdom, prudence to dilute it. I loved her more than I knew how to say, even to myself. Whether in any way she loved me in return I neither knew, nor as far as I can remember was particularly concerned to discover. Just to love her was all I asked. Eros itself, even pinged with the sadness of knowing that I could never fully find on sea or earth or sky whatever it was I longed for, was gift enough.

And then, as unforeseeably as it had begun, it ended. On the first of September, Hitler's armies invaded Poland. On the third, England and France declared war on Germany. The rumour soon spread that the Germans had plans to capture Bermuda for a submarine base and all Americans were asked to leave. It happened very suddenly. And in the haste and confusion of it, I never knew when she left or had a chance to say goodbye. The Monarch and the Queen [boats] were painted grey for camouflage, and on one or the other of them, with the portals blacked out with no one allowed so much as to smoke a cigarette on deck after dark, we set sail for a reality that we were forced with the rest of the world to face at last. Whatever reality is.


In that never never land, that 'Oz' of an island, where we had no roots, I found for the first time a sense of being rooted. In that land where as a foreigner we could never belong, I found a sense of belonging. In that most frivolous place, which travel brochures billed as a vacationer's paradise, I made what was perhaps the least frivolous discovery up till then, which was that Love is not merely a warmth to bask in, like the boatloads of honeymooners who basked on the warmth of Coral Beach, but a grave, fierce yearning and reaching out for paradise itself - a losing and finding of the self in the paradise of another."

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