Two points of reference here, both of them odd. The first is a line from the Whoopi Goldberg character "Guinan" from Star Trek: love doesn't feel the same twice. To have loved and lost, and then to love again, sometimes is difficult to recognize because it feels different. Second is my friend Katlin's experience of life's "great loves", which rise to the surface of her memory of relationships as the ones that most deeply changed her.
In my life I can probably point to three great loves, if by that we're referring to specific women. But a relationship to a life, a community, or a place can sometimes be just as significant, and this would boost my number to five. The imprint of these relationships have left me intensely changed.
But none of them have yet lasted very long or have led to that comfortable feeling of familiar intimacy--the feeling described by Katlin as the "half-bored kiss". Certainly, the excitement of new attachments and new relationships is a thrill; but some of us have been searching for so long that the "thrills" have only become stressful--and exhausting. It is at this moment that one's attention turns away from excitement, towards a sober, abiding peace in the company of another.
There is no such thing as a relationship without drama; how can we expect there to be no turmoil between two souls when we cannot even calm the storms inside of us alone? But an intimacy between souls can be a source of peace. Katlin tells me that it became tradition at one point for the new groom to build an extension to his father's home. A spiritually intimate relationship is like building an extension inside of oneself for the soul to roam. It is allowing one's own interiority to be the host for another soul; to receive a guest. When a relationship has grown so deep that two people feel as two souls in the same interior home (irrespective of literal living conditions), there is a wonderful new experience of freedom.
But the vast majority of people we encounter at random do not inspire us to run and get the tools to start building that extension. They are scared; we are scared; and the insecurities and neuroses create any number of frictions; or else an intangible quality warns me (or her) away; or else the interpersonal exchange is as dry as sand, but with even less salt.
Sometimes, sometimes, however, someone comes along and changes everything. Someone with the warmth and welcome of a monastery; the openness and transparency of a child; the maturity and grace of a professor; and through it all the quiet feeling that she is happy to see you.
There is human love, and there is the divine grace of caritas. The two are utterly different, pouring from two vastly different fonts. Recent experience makes me ask whether there is a third. It is a fusion of a the two. It is a human love, and therefore a feeling, but it lacks the excitement of corrupt concupiscence. It points beyond simple friendship; it is open to exclusivity and romantic transcendence; but it is attended by the subtle, gentle promptings of a divine approval. Those promptings that do not rush, shame, or manipulate; they fill the heart with a new energy for goodness and self-improvement. This love hints at what the next stage of life may hold; it has "calling" as its sober and serenely smiling attendant.
I am intimidated and frightened, doubtful and skeptical. The life of a serial dater is a life filled with hope-disappointment-hope-disappointment-hope-disappointment. Each time, a woman possesses a quality which makes her stand out: here, a charmingly brash honesty; there, a kind heart; over there, a similar personality; next, a steady and successful carreer; then, a shared suffering; now, a shared religious faith--each one to fall aside as my disqualifiers grow more keen. Every hope now is a cautious hope, even if a new hope is filled with promise and novelty.
But can I say it? This hope seems different. So different that its difference is different. There is something here that tugs at me, as though a future happy self reached out to me saying, "Don't let this one get away!"
Future encounters will tell.