A Home for the Heart

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Whenever I leave the country, my mother says to me, “Don’t fall in love with a Frenchman,” or an Indian or a New Zealander – or wherever I am going – and move far away permanently. So far, so good.

But what does it mean, anyway, to fall in love? I’ve been seriously in love twice in my life and temporarily in love a few more times than that. Every time I fall there is the sense that I’ve found something that I’ve never found before, and yet which I’ve been looking for. Of course there’s all the usual suspects: joy, curiosity, the desire to be near. I’ve come to think of love as finding a home for the heart.

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The world is a rough place. Dreams are slow in the making. Disappointment frequently crashes in. Fear wheedles all along the way. Falling in love has the sense of finding a safe place, some one you can depend on. That when you feel weak, there is some one to remind you of your power. That when you are bereft, there is some one who remains by your side. That when you are overcome with doubt, there is some one whose faith in you does not waiver.

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And yet, the older I get – the more love I experience, and the more love I give – this notion begins to falter. What seems like a valid idea in theory doesn’t stand up in practice. What sadness I have is all my own, and no one else can ease it. My fear is fierce enough to take even the most well intended words of comfort and turn them into condescension. Who could cut through that but me?

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Lately, though, something is changing. I am falling in love, in a new way. This time, I have fallen not for a person, but for a place. Maybe it is France; maybe it is the Dordogne; maybe it is the few hundreds of square meters that make up Dhagpo Kagyu Ling. Whatever it is, the effect is this: I wake up in the morning feeling wonder, and I pass through the day feeling gratitude. The trees standing on the hillside remind me to be strong. The chickadees amidst the juniper remind me to be joyful. The quiet corridors of every building remind me to be patient, to be restful, and to take care with what I carry, my own bundle of desires and uncertainty.

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The difference, I think, between falling in love with a place and falling in love with a person is that, with a place, I have a better sense of what comes from outside and what comes from within. Home is not a place you inhabit; it’s a feeling you create. There is no home for my heart other than the one I build myself. From outside I can draw inspiration, but from inside must come strength and faith and the determination to rest with what is whilst working towards ever-greater understanding of what that means. Being in love with a place, I can see that my lover is a mirror in which to see myself and, through that reflection, grow, rather than thinking of it as a separate source of understanding or happiness, and then becoming dependent on it, which I am wont to do when the lover in question is a person.

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But, as with any love, there are pitfalls here too. I’ve become attached. My mother should have warned me against green woods, stone buildings, and places rife with curiosity and care, as well as their inhabitants. I’ve fallen hard for this place, and I want to stay. Sorry Mums. But, as with everything in life, impermanence is a factor. As a US citizen, I get three months in France until I need a lot of paperwork and, either a lot of money, or a fairly particular reason for being here, or I have no choice but to head home. I suppose this is the trouble with falling in love with a place rather than a person.

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Poem for a German Lover

God help us. It’s a poem. I don’t write them often, but sometimes they come on their own. When they do, I let them be. Often poetry is awful; I hope that this is not, but if it is, I can only say, oh well. I had the best of intentions.

Also, blog formatting seriously messes with the spacing of stanzas, but I’m not versed (oy, no pun intended) enough to fix it. Do your best.

Poem for a German Lover

You could sing me eighties songs while straddled on my bed.

You could boast the curling lashes that I have always wanted,

Gaze up from under them and say, yes please,

In askance of my thoughts.

 

You could speak of this, the place that I might hold for you –

Ask if I had made my decision.

When I wondered what you meant, you could rejoinder,

Whether or not to come to Germany, learn German, and to marry me.

 

You could tell me you would leave me for three months of the year

To seek wisdom on your own terms, in retreat,

While I am free to paint my pictures, sow my stories,

And fill the floorboards with my silence.

 

But when night falls and morning comes

I will be found alone,

For solitude is not a timeshare.

Love means letting someone lease time in your thoughts.

 

My thoughts are happy homeless;

My hours unaccounted.

 

My mother’s people name our nature from the Zodiac

And scientists call it psychology.

Take counsel where you will –

I am a snake and still an introvert.

 

The sun will rise on me

Coiled nose to tail inside my burrow,

Roots of dreams dangling overhead,

The soil of self-sufficiency below.