|Pea Island, OBX (M.A. Reilly 2014)|
On the sea of everyday talk it's easy to lose track, to tuck a self far beneath the chatter. Here, navigation is less sure. In the absence of a self no position can be determined. Live this way for too long and abject certainty replaces discovery. The self we know is more portrait than flesh. A polaroid that fades over time.
Sorrow cuts a path through the noise of the day and opens us to silence. Too much talk leaves us unmoored--the shoreline a distant memory.
I promised myself after Rob's death that I would not fill my days with tedium, a barrage of meaningless activities. I promised Rob I would not hide away and I have learned these last six months that there are so many ways to hide. I promised my husband I would live brilliantly as he commanded in those last days when he was still lucid. What I could not know then was how important silence would be. Learning to live with and even embrace the uncomfortableness of silence is to lose the self and in doing so--the permanency of love becomes known.
Love changed me. How could it not? Across these 28 years, Rob's love showed me a self I did not know I was becoming. When Rob told me to live brilliantly, he also told me something I could not bear to write here before--to share publicly.
On that snowy February morning, we were alone in his hospital room after the oncologist told us the prognosis. Rob held my hands and in the strongest of voices said, "People are drawn to you. There's an energy about you that draws people towards you." I must have looked down or looked away, because he jerked my hands and said, "Don't you dare hide away."
And in that moment, I felt the truth of his words. At the time I was so embarrassed to write what transpired, but now I know that I write what he taught me to love. The fallible is most beautiful.
Recently Devon and I were driving and I asked him, "What are you most looking forward to this coming year?"
And without hesitation he said, "Making a difference."
My son's response resonated and I thought about the driving need to serve others that has arisen after Rob's death. Who we are is shaped in relationship to other. Thomas Merton speaks about the co-specifying nature of love in the essay, "Love and Need: Is Love a Package or a Message?" He writes,
My true meaning and worth are shown to me not in my estimate of myself, but in the eyes of the one who loves me; and that one must love me as I am, with my faults and limitations, revealing to me the truth that these faults and limitations cannot destroy my worth in their eyes; and that I am therefore valuable as a person, in spite of my shortcomings, in spite of the imperfections of my exterior “package" (p.34).
In the silence of these last six months, I have learned that love sustains. For 28 years Rob and I kept each other's counsel and his passing has opened spaces large enough for me to stand still, be silent, and listen. And though the tears and sorrow that have come alongside much of this silence frightens me, not feeling is more alarming. I knew my husband loved me, but it would be months after that brief conversation in early February when we first learned Rob would die and die soon that I began to understand the immense transforming nature of love. The distance between who I am and who I want to become is illuminated by the silence, defined by love. My husband's lessons in love inspire me to be a better person--to do good in the world--and to measure success by kindness shown to others.