Living in my grandparents old house, I am constantly surrounded by my past. Fragments of childhood engulf me. Daily I am submerged in the rich feelings of innocence, penetrated by the textures of each thing, each object existing as itself. The fireplace in the living room–once an actual wood burning stove–lays dormant, the blue flame of a pilot light glowing beneath fake logs. As a kid, I used to wake up before the sun and wander out into the living room and post up in a chair by the fireplace where I would gaze into the dancing flames and lose all sense of time. I didn’t plan this ritual, it just sort of happened. And even now, if I’m paying attention, I can walk by that stove and notice wisps of the same tranquility ripple through my body.
Out in the yard sits a rusty oil drum. The lid rests at an angle, covered by a thin layer of slushy snow, and underneath are the blackened remains of years of old newspapers, napkins, and other burnable trash. Grandpa’s burn barrel, as it was known, brings up hundreds of memories that all just blend together. Racing my brother down the two lane path into the yawning expanse of “the field.” Giggling as grandpa let me throw the match into the burn barrel, igniting everything with a whoosh and a poof. Standing by grandma’s side as she sang to her plants, telling me in a whisper that “the plants can hear you” and that’s why her garden was always so good. Wandering to the pond, way in the distance, to inspect the resident goose nursing her young and grabbing a cat tail on the way back to slap against a tree, just to watch it explode. And when I walk by the burn barrel now, I feel the bubble of nostalgia, the lurching sense of something once beautiful, now gone. But sometimes, if I let them, these memories live in me and ignite the flame of love that has lain dormant, like a patient blue pilot light waiting for the right moment to reappear.
The connection between these memories and the feelings they elicit is, of course, presence. As adults, we value and appreciate the world of the child above almost all else. We thrive upon their spontaneity, their freedom, their ease. We reminisce on our own tender years, upon a life of simplicity and play and the open, honest sharing of feelings that comes so naturally to children. And then we get back to the serious stuff.
What will I do, where will I go, how will I afford it, will we go to war, who will be president, do these people like me, am I good enough? I’m definitely not good enough. I’ll get better, I’ll go faster, I don’t know where I’m going but I have to get there.
The world of the adult is everything the world of the child is not. Hurried, important, serious, goal-oriented and status-driven. Somewhere, somehow, we got signed up for a race. It’s a compelling contest with flashy gadgets and fun toys on the line and it’s easy to be mystified by the wizardry of advertising and the insistent tug of endless distraction. To win this game is the goal of the adult, and the stakes are high. Comfort, the assumed respect of others, ease that gets easier all the time, vacations…it goes on. And it’s true, it’s all there for the taking. But it’s not love. It’s not the thing that matters.
Love shows its face only when we do. It waits, buried beneath mountains of thought, for the moment we can drop it all and just be here, now, together. Just like kids. We don’t know what will happen and that’s the whole point. Love bursts through the unknown and reminds us just how important we all are to each other. Love trusts. Love plays with itself. And it doesn’t give a shit how old anyone is. Love is love and play is play and presence is really all there is.
We have to get back to that. We have to remember that we never actually did anything, that actually, life did us. We have to take love, truth, intimacy off the pedestal of the past and remember that it’s right here, right now. It never actually went anywhere. We did. We turned our backs on the best feeling in the world to pursue the objects of cultural passion.
Love has more channels than any deluxe satellite dish package. It can appear as a card in the mail, or a random conversation with a stranger or an uninhibited hug. It can be a piece of art or the simple, effortless decision to really listen. Love is deep, it goes all the way to the bottom, and how could it be otherwise? The riches exist down there in the bottom of the well, so that’s where we have to go. We have to feel it all, the ecstatic and the horrific and everything in between. And we have to do it together.
Love is an agreement to let go. To allow honesty to be the barometer, rather than our misguided ideas of right and wrong. Love is alive, flowing like a river, new in every moment. And if we try to find it through memories, through the yearning for what once was, we’ll never touch it again.
To love is to allow death, to allow the crusty husks of the past to fall away. And to allow death requires trust. Trust that life is a constant offering, an ever-present buffet of fascination, that everything is just as it should be, and that ultimately we are safe because we are a part of the infinite cosmos.