Saturday, July 16, 2005

Confession of a Thawing Heart

Every once in a while, the past unexpectedly intrudes into the present. People or feelings I thought were long ago set aside knock on the door of my consciousness and demand admittance. With no warning, I am immersed in memories I didn't know I possessed, feelings I thought had resolved themselves, and regrets I had accepted as final. Strange how a gap of seven years can suddenly drop away, bringing past and present together in a single moment.

I was once a very different man. I had chosen – or was chosen by – the archetype of the radical poet as the blueprint for my life. I sought Rimbaud's complete disordering of the senses as a means to mystic, poetic revelation. I sought to transcend reason to achieve higher insights, but more often, I simply succeeded in plunging into the murky depths of my unconscious mind.

My life at that time was creative, passionate, and built around repressing a spectrum of pain and fear I could hardly acknowledge, let alone face. The poetry I published betrayed the image I projected, revealing a deeply tormented psyche and soul.

Most of all, my life at that time was defined by my love of a young woman who was as creative and troubled as was I. The alchemy of our bond conjured great magic, yet we hurt each other in profound ways. Our connection was deeper than anything we had ever known, and we lacked the tools and the strength to contain such intensity in a healthy way.

That relationship ended in pain and a sense of insurmountable loss. For more than two years, I descended into the blackest Dark Night of the Soul I had ever known. Everything I knew about myself began to come unraveled until I felt as though I had been stripped of any identity I could recognize. The best poetry of my life came from that darkness. I embraced the pain and liminality of loss, even as I felt it might destroy me.

Then one morning I got out of bed and I knew it was over. I stopped drinking, and with the wine went the poetry. I began to eat healthy foods instead of doughnuts and pizza. I bought a weight set and started to work out. I imposed structure and discipline on my body, and at the same time, I gave up the life I had known. As I grew stronger and healthier, I became increasingly divorced from my feelings (not that I ever was the most emotional person in the room). My heart had frozen, and now I buried it away, afraid to allow that pain any presence in my life.

A couple of years later, I rediscovered love with the woman who is still my partner. Yet I have not been able to fully thaw the fragile muscle encased in my ribs. Rather than spontaneous, I am disciplined. Rather than creative, I am diligent. Rather than passionate, I am intense. There is energy, but it lacks the full depth and soulfulness I once knew.

It's not all bad, however. I learned how to have a healthy relationship through having had such an unhealthy one in my youth. In giving up the life of the imagination and the soul, I have increased my intellectual skills and breadth of knowledge. What I lack in inspiration, I make up for in education. My health has never been better. And there is an emptiness in my life that led me into therapy as a way to explore a path back into the grief I have hidden away.

To borrow some terms from Nietzsche, I gave up the path of Dionysos and embraced the path of Apollo. I put away a life of the senses and pursued a life of the mind. I rejected a horizontal orientation in the world and have sought a vertical orientation in Spirit.

Strange choice, that. The more I learn of Spirit, the more it reveals itself in all things. I've known that intellectually for years, but it's different to feel its truth, to sense it in my body. It is not possible to embrace Spirit and reject the world – they are one in the same. I am learning to feel what I know, and little by little I am rediscovering the tender heart I long ago put away.


So, one day a letter comes in the mail and seven years fall away. I remember her voice, her laugh, and all the ways she hurt me. Yet, it is only one small voice in my head recounting all the horrors of our years together. I can step away from the pain and hear its message without identifying with it. There is a distance that only time can provide.

She wants to be friends. I feel drawn to contact her, to know who she has become. I hope that she is happy and healthy in her life as a married woman. I wonder if she, like me, carries scars from the years we spent together. I want to apologize for how I was unable to be anything other than who I was – for being lost and confused, for being young.

But the more I think about contacting her, the more I realize it isn't her I want to reconnect with – it's me. I want to connect with the best parts of who I was when I was with her. I want to know the poet and mystic too sensitive to own his gifts, too insecure to trust his vision, too young to know he would grow stronger with age.

I want to reach back through the years and tell him it will be okay – he will survive. I have survived. Seven years feels like a lifetime and an instant.

I miss her some days, but it isn't the painful absence I knew when she first was gone. It's more like compassion – a gentle sympathy for how young and lost we were in those days. In the time since her note arrived, I have discovered a soft spot in my heart where the young woman I once loved will always remain. She is no longer that innocent and wild girl, and I am no longer the young man I was then.

Seven years have passed since I last saw her, and it does feel like a lifetime. Whoever we were to each other, we are no more. My time with her feels no more real to me than last night's dream, yet I know she walks and ages and sent me a note.

This is my reply. I wish her peace and happiness – a long and joyful life. If she should ever read these words, she will know I have not forgotten the magic, that I once promised we will meet again in some other life, that I look forward to it.

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