I think I know the moment when I learned what love is.
I was 22 years old. I was on my third or fourth date with the woman who would later become my life partner. My wife. The mother of my children, my closest friend. And then my ex-wife. And then my personal and spiritual enemy. And then the personification of everything I hate. And then my friend. And my buddy. And one of the people who knows me and loves me best in the world. And then, simply, my ex.
But none of that had happened yet. Although, we must have had a feeling that it might. Because the morning after our first date, I went uptown to break up with the dancer I had been seeing. She went uptown to buy a down comforter for us to sleep under.
It was either early morning or late night. A few weeks later. I don’t remember. It was becoming November in Brooklyn. Fall was darkening itself into winter. We were snuggled into bed. Having talked ourselves into a contented exhaustion. We were lying face to face. Her breath tickling my lips. I would open my eyes and see her, fuzzy and distorted by closeness, then I would close them. Then she would open her eyes and see me, fuzzy and distorted by closeness, and she would close them. We continued this game for hours.
(We continued this game for years. )
We lie face to face, a breath apart from one another.
And our bellies were touching.
Soft and fat and round, they hung loosely at that moment like heavy satchels around our hips. Not tightened and guarded as we normally held them on the streets of Brooklyn; but flopped under the bed like lazy dogs. I had never touched my belly to another person’s before. Not so cleanly, so quietly. So safely.
In this moment, I suddenly knew how it was possible to spend the rest of eternity with someone. Because eternity became just a moment in love. Our bellies were touching, and I was safe. I did not hurt. And I simply knew that I could do this with her forever.
We did do it forever. And then we didn’t. And maybe we did. But I think, now fifteen years later, that this moment was the moment I learned what love actually is.
Sometimes I think the animal most closely related to the human being is a mollusk. We carry this calcified exterior, capable of warding off danger and protecting us from the elements. But turn us around, and there is the soft, vulnerable underbelly that we need to keep hidden: that we feel is our greatest weakness.
I think love is when you reveal your soft underbelly. And another reveals theirs. And like that cold Brooklyn night fifteen years ago, you bring the two of them together. To touch each other. To be open with each other, and to protect each other. And in this way, both are free. And both are safe. And in this moment, eternity isn’t such a long time at all.
Every day in our lives we are asked to commit acts of courage. We must face down the outside enemies of oppression, violence, sexism, racism, terrorism. We must face down the inside enemies of fear, lust for power, impatience, insecurity, hatred, and anger. To do this every day, when there is such compelling evidence to suggest that we are fucked, that everything is fucked, takes courage. I believe now, in my life, I have one source of courage, and one source only.
That source is love.
When I am guided by love, I have no choice but to harness the power of everything I am made of and use it to help contribute to a kinder, safer, stronger and more loving human experience for us all. When I am guided by love, it reduces fear and its cousin depression to mere ideas. Memories from a long ago dream. And when my soft, vulnerable, fearful, shameful underbelly is held free and close to yours, then I am guided by love.
May I learn to love and care for the soft underbellies of my enemies. May I learn to love and care for the soft underbellies of my friends. May I learn to love and care for the soft underbelly of myself.
With a warm embrace, I wish you a happy day and a happy year.
-December 26, 2011