In the meantime

In the meantime, I have to live my life. Isn’t that what you always tell me? Isn’t that what you say, to live for now, in the present moment? But there’s that word: present. Where are you?

I went away, but I took you with me. I thought you wanted to come. I thought I knew about you and me and now, the insignificance of time and places, the perfect continuum of our unbreakable bond. But I didn’t know there was a meantime. I thought now was a constant thing, stretching endlessly from moment to moment, seamless. But nothing is unbreakable, and something broke. And maybe there will come a day when we’ll put it back together, with seams of gold to remind us of our history and everything we’ve overcome, like the Japanese repair their broken things, and it will be beautiful. But now is the meantime, and I’m slipping through the cracks.

How long did I think my imported love would keep? How long did I think it would translate, in this land of foreign words? It’s a different alphabet here: some of the letters do not correspond. Some of the letters are orphaned; they don’t make it across the transition, the divide. There are too many gaps where the words used to be; there is no shoulder to rest my head on. I’m falling through the cracks, and you’re letting me. You’re letting me slip away, but you won’t let me go.

You are my phantom limb and you cripple me with the ghost of your presence. I’m always there, you say, and I know you are but I can’t see you and there’s a twitch where you should, you ought to be. And when I reach out to touch you: nothing – just the echo of our untranslatable words. Love is a blessing, in all of its forms, but my fingers need skin to slide across, my head needs a shoulder to rest on. My body needs a body to click into. Is that too commonplace for our extraordinary love? Is that too physical, too tangible for our higher concepts? Higher up, our bond is unbreakable, but down here, where I place my feet, I am made of flesh and dirt and desire. There is no common place for you and me; not here, in the meantime of now. But this is where I need to be.

There are twitches of pleasure, here. There is reaching out and touching someone; there is skin against skin. There are words that are said simply, words that correspond to common places and times. There is common ground, and dirt and soil and sand: things tangible, unbroken, well kept. You cannot keep me with higher concepts alone; you cannot leave me alone to see where I fit in the cracks. But no bond is freedom, if it binds.

You are my phantom limb, and I must learn to stand without you. You are my sunrise and the colours that make postcards of the sky at the end of my day, but it is June now, and the days are long. There is a lot of meantime.

Nothing is unbreakable, and broken things can be repaired, with gold and history and time. But in the meantime I stand here, without you, flesh and feelings in a language you do not understand. I do not care to translate them; I am slipping away and I don’t want to be stopped. I don’t want to be kept with higher concepts and ghosts and the beautiful golden seams of a love repaired; I don’t want to be bound to that. I am too alive, and the days are long. I don’t want to wait for postcards; I don’t want to wait for nothing. I want to reach out and touch someone; I want the common ground and the dirt on my feet and the twist in my stomach and the words that correspond to how I feel. I want a tangible love, this time. And you, my love, my higher, extraordinary love: you’re always there, but you’re not here. Where are you? It’s only the echo of your words that reaches me, and I won’t bind you to promises imported from the past. Now, this time, it’s me that’s letting you go, as I slip through the cracks that have yet to be sealed with gold.

Faith and water and love conquers all

I wanted to start this story past The End of the one before; I wanted a happy ending to push off from. It was to be a story about how love, indeed, conquers all; I started writing it last night, in my head. I gave it shape, a happy ending shaped like love; I squeezed it into that mould, but I didn’t sleep easy because it wasn’t an easy fit, and the bits that stuck out bit into me and put bad thoughts in my head.

I’m writing this to chase away the fear; to bring about the ending that I want, to call it down here where I think, rightly, that it belongs.

My little cat, my Little One, is sick. It’s been four days now that he won’t eat, won’t drink, won’t look me in the eye. He isn’t tempted by special cat food or chopped-up steak; he isn’t tempted by toys or almonds rolled across the floor or those rustly bits of balled-up paper that he loves. I cannot tempt him off his chair, where he lies rolled up tight but awkwardly, uneasy, hiding his face from the world and from me. He doesn’t lift his head when I call him, he doesn’t respond when I tell him, softly, that he’s gonna be OK, not when I plead with him to be OK, not when I bury my face in his fur and cry and pray to anything with power to make him OK. He doesn’t purr or bump me with his head or nibble my fingers or lick my face; he doesn’t try to climb on me or follow me around or scream at me when I open the fridge. When I touch him, he pulls away, slowly but definitely; he is saying – I can almost hear it – leave me alone.

And here comes the love bit, because I won’t leave him alone. I left him alone for long enough, save when I raised him up and held his head back and trickled water into his mouth through a syringe. I left him alone; I respected his privacy, I gave him space to get better in his own cat way, but I won’t leave him alone any longer, because he isn’t getting better. And I’ve got nothing to give him except water and love. So: love.

I picked him up last night, peeled him off his chair and put him on my lap as I sat at my desk. This is what we do, normally; this is how we spend our days, my cat and I, when he isn’t curled up tight and listless, and I’m not pacing around, restless with fear. He wouldn’t settle at first; he shifted this way and that, weary and worried, and I thought he would jump off and head straight back to his chair. But he stayed, and he settled, with his head on my belly and his body on my lap. And he purred. For the first time in days, he purred, and when I stroked him, tentatively, he lifted his head up to meet my hand, and he turned to look at me and his eyes met mine.

When it was time for bed, I took him with me, lifted him up gingerly, curled up as he was, and placed him on my bed. I got under the covers next to him. “We’ll keep each other company, you and I,” I told him, and he stood up and climbed onto my chest, and brought his face close to mine and pushed his nose, his hot, dry nose, into the palm of my hand. And he purred.

And I thought, this is it, this is proof that love conquers all. That all you need, all we need to survive, is water and love – that’s all we need to get us through. And I thought about the story I’d write, triumphant, on this theme: about water and love and my little one’s miraculous recovery. But I didn’t sleep easy: the curled up cat was a weight on my chest, and my mind was restless with fear. The story didn’t quite fit the mould, and it stuck out, and it kept us both awake, my cat and I, as we tried to fit ourselves around it and each other.

In the morning, he was as listless as ever. Curled up on his chair, as if he’d never left it. He didn’t purr; he didn’t lift his head to say hello. I called a vet in Athens, a kind lady who didn’t remember having met me, once, several months ago, but listened regardless. She said “drip” and “blood tests”, and I said if not those, what? She said the names of drugs and when and how much and good luck, and the girl at the chemist said the same, but it isn’t luck we need, my cat and I: it’s faith, and water and love.

Faith, in the story that will come after the one before, after the fear, past the fear, in the happy ending shaped by love. The story of my little one’s miraculous recovery; the story of how love conquers all. Because it must, because it has to. Because I’m writing this to bring it down, right here, where it belongs, in faith, in love, in prayer to anything with power; because love has made a mould out of me and the shape that fits my lap is a purring cat.


Please send us some love.

The conditions for unconditional love


I’ve been thinking about love a lot lately. My sister is getting married this weekend, and I am going to be her witness, and sign my name on a document officially declaring her and Arek husband and wife (or the other way round, as the case may be). And this makes me feel happy and grateful and proud and a little in awe. But, my own role in this event aside, my bearing witness, both officially and unofficially, to what is truly and unequivocally an excellent thing, I cannot help but question the purpose of such declarations. Weddings, marriages, and their necessity in connection to love.

My sister and I are not wedding people. In fact, the mere mention of the topic as it relates to our own lives is likely to cause, in both of us, an almost phobic reaction. In addition to this, we share a – partly justifiable – mistrust of marriage itself, as exemplified by our parents and society at large. The phonecall in which she announced to me the fact of her engagement could be described, without exaggeration, as one of the happiest and most awkward conversations two people have ever had. We have never talked about weddings; we have never fantasised, as other girls, of dresses and engagement rings. This was a foreign land, full of dragons and booby traps, and we circumnavigated these terrors as best we could, to arrive, clumsily, at a mutual conclusion of joy. We weren’t trying to be obscure, or unconventional; we just don’t have the vocabulary for this sort of thing. None of us really do.

And yet we try. We try, with words, to explain why people get married, to define a marriage, to express love. To capture its essence, to measure it, quantify it, evaluate it – demystify it, perhaps, to make it more manageable, more attainable. We are, as a society, entirely preoccupied with love, endlessly producing quotes, metaphors, clichés and contradictions. They’re in our art and our literature, our everyday conversations, our highbrow theories and our pop songs. And, regardless of whether we subscribe to fairytale endings or take the cynical view and reject love and marriage outright, in our moments of elation and of pain we all drunkenly sing along.

And if you turn to Eastern philosophies in search of a more sober perspective, as I have, it gets even more confusing. The teachings of Buddhism encourage loving kindness and compassion, yet discourage attachment, while Buddhist monks are happy to bless a union that is basically a marriage by another name. The Buddha is quoted as having said: “He who loves fifty people has fifty woes; he who loves no one has no woes.” And I don’t understand whether this is a warning or simply a statement of fact; whether those woes are to be avoided, or accepted – welcomed, even – as a part of love.

It is then suggested that we should love, but love all creatures equally. And I don’t think that’s possible, sustainable or even desirable. I can see the virtue in approaching each person and each situation with love; it takes practice, but it can be done, and I call that kindness. But to enact love, to love, as a verb, is a different thing entirely and I, for one, cannot produce that level of emotion for everyone I meet.

And further: love, in its truest, purest form, should be unconditional. And sometimes it is. But the reason it became love, the reason it grew into love is because certain conditions were in place when it began. Conditions as in circumstances rather than terms, but conditions, nonetheless. Does this negate its unconditional nature, retroactively, once it reaches that stage? Perhaps I’m taking things too literally, and this is just another case of our vocabulary letting us down, but it seems to me that for all their dogma, these philosophies are placing conditions on who and how I love.

But love is not possession: this one I can live with. Yet I have lain in a man’s arms and felt, with my whole, entire self: “I am yours. You are mine.” And it has nothing to do with ownership, but with the fact that something in the way this universe moves has brought us together and that’s exactly where we should be. A place where all the definitions of love cease to matter. But when I try to explain it, these are the words that come out. They’re the only words I have.

But what does all of this say about marriage? Does a wedding validate a love? Is placing a ring on someone’s finger a declaration of ownership? Is it, as Beyonce suggests in the eloquent lyric “If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it”, all about staking a claim? I think in many cases, in many marriages, it is. I may find the notion of ownership incompatible with my understanding of love, but to many people, the idea of belonging to someone, of someone belonging to them, is an arrival, a homecoming – it’s where they want to be. Just like I want to be in that place of stillness and certainty that I have found lying next to a man I love, and most marriages are lands I never want to visit.

But there are other marriages. Ones where love needs no validation. Where commitment transcends the signing of papers, if papers have been signed at all. It depends on where you place yourself in this equation. You can stand next to someone, or you can follow them, or you can lead the way. You can stand next to someone and place a ring on your own finger, not a promise to anyone else, but a symbol for yourself, for how you feel. You can get married, or you can marry; you can be a passive or an active part of the grammar that makes up your relationship. You can have a marriage where nobody belongs to anybody else but perhaps, if you’re lucky, you belong together. And you can hold their hand, but loosely; if they want to go away, they will, no matter how tightly you grip.

Words, grammar, syntax. Xs and Ys and the mathematical formulas that bring them together. The laws of physics, the laws of nature. Symbols and signatures, rings and vows and altars. Faith, fate, god and endless theories. We summon all these things to try and explain the inexplicable, to express something that defies expression, as elusive as it is ever-present, as abstract as it is tangible, as extraordinary as it is commonplace; something that slips through your fingers like your lover’s hand when you squeeze too tight, but will happily settle in your open palm if you know enough to hold it out, and wait. And it’s the human condition that we keep trying, that we will always keep trying, because if there ever comes a day when we stop trying, it will mean we have captured something that shouldn’t be caught, demystified the mystery that keeps our lives in motion. And that, I think, will be the day that everything stops. That will be the day when saying the words “I love you” will express exactly what we mean, and I cannot think of anything sadder than that.

There is no such thing as a universal marriage, just as there’s no universal definition of love. Those are choices we make, each of us, for ourselves, and saying you don’t believe in marriage is not an ideology, it’s a cop out. Love no one. Have no woes.

I still think my sister is very brave, and there’ll be dragons to slay (or approach with love, and convert to household pets), but I’m not worried. I have every reason to believe that she and Arek will have one of those other marriages, the ones that don’t make me want to run away screaming. I think they have it already. Because neither of them is getting married: both are marrying the person they love. Because, at times when I’ve lost my faith, I’ve looked to them and seen that they have built their life in that same place of stillness and certainty, and though they may wander off sometimes, they always know how to get back. Because they’ve shown me that big love doesn’t necessarily equal big drama, and when you’re faced with it, you might no longer need to put it into words.

But words are sometimes all we have, and mine are all I have to give. So this is dedicated to them: in hope, in admiration, and in love. Not equal, but as unconditional as it comes.


Taken from This Reluctant Yogi: everyday adventures in the yoga world. View it on Amazon, or join my readers’ list and get an e-book copy for free.