Love in the time of Cholera

Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness,

to put a hand on the brow of the flower

and retell it in words and in touch it is lovely

until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing

– Galway Kinnel

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, talk of Love is in the air. This morning, I read the first chapter from the next book on my stack, a collection of essays, stories, and love poems, released just in time for the holiday, entitled, Earthly Love, by the editors of Orion Magazine. This first essay left me feeling the full spectrum, the bitter and sweet, of Love for- and Love in- this beautiful Earth, which we are gradually losing (whether you believe that loss to be of an individual nature- as each of us will one day have to let go of life in this place at our personal deaths, or of the more global loss of Life on this Earth, as we know it, now perhaps in its own death throes).

Of course, we always have been losing it. Each day, life here marches ever closer to death and we all fall off of that cliff in the end, but somehow, it feels much harder for us to embrace the death of us/it all. Yet, being willing to look closely, it seems evident that this will surely come to pass, as we seem to be consuming the earth so voraciously that She will no longer be able to sustain us.

It seems to be in our nature to live ‘as if’ we are not dying, to turn our eyes away, keeping them trained instead upon the current pleasure or peace, for to do otherwise can send us into meaningless despair. Throughout most of our existence, some ironic survival instinct allows us to live as if we are above it, until we at last are brought low to come face to face.

Perhaps there is something in the idea of our continuity through our progeny that also keeps that ultimate despair at bay, holds off the harsh reality that life leaves us. Subconsciously, perhaps, this is the Hope we cling to, this notion that some part of us lives on through them. So, it’s much harder to look at ourselves as a species coming to an end, as merely one of the Earth’s cycles of life, an apex species that will prey upon the earth until it is subdued.

Actually, sometimes I imagine we are more like an explosion of rodents— squirrels, for instance, proliferating exponentially during a time of apparent, but misleading, permanent abundance to overrun the resource of nuts in the forest such that the forest cannot reseed itself. Of course, in that scenario, the rodents are eventually brought back into balance. Their sheer numbers no longer able to be sustained, they succumb to starvation, or to population drops via smaller litters, or to the influx of predators who follow along behind such mast years. Of course, soon enough, those predators also will starve or move on, having likewise proliferated and consumed all of their resources for food, and the patient trees will once again produce seeds in prolific abundance to replenish the cycle, ensuring that some of their own will survive.

If the entire Earth itself is the ecosystem of the human, when will these cycles tip to bring us into balance, taking care of our numbers by such a natural culling? How will that look? Will we be unable to bear children? Will we slowly starve? Will we be overcome by unknown predators (of the microbial variety perhaps?). Will we merely dwindle to sustainable numbers , or will we simply cease to be, as so many of the earth’s creatures seem to be doing during this period of mass extinct?

This story is a bleak exercise of imagination, indeed…. save that enduring patience of the forest.

For some reason the title of a book, of which I am aware but have not read, is evoked in me. It surfaces from time to time, actually, the seed of its title evidently having nestled itself into the soil of my imagination. ‘Love in the time of Cholera’.

What does it mean to Love during such a time as this?  To witness the one that you love slip so quickly from your grasp, wasting suddenly, spewing the putrid contents of its unwitting contamination, after taking in what appeared to be safe, what once WAS safe before it was polluted with sewage? If we humans are the plague, what does it mean to love the contaminator itself… to let the contaminator in us be Loved?

There was this line that I underscored in this morning’s essay – ‘How to love straight out of my heart without it getting all gummed up in my brain’. If I think about this over much, I can get lost in hopeless but rational despair (hmmm… does despair reside in the head? Or the heart?) for my mind is so small and I know enough to know that I don’t know how to fix this (or even if it needs to be fixed, for that matter!).

Of course, that’s the thing about the head, it gets caught up in the idea that ‘to fix’ is ‘to love’, and while tending, healing, and restoring are indeed acts of love, attempting to fix can sometimes be a way to protect the heart from feeling the full catastrophe of love.  It can be a denial of- a refusal to look at – the one whom I love, slipping away in my arms, when S/he instead begs to just be embraced. As she is. Should I be blessing this one that I love instead, anointing it with Kisses as it passes?

What would it look like to bless this earth, to anoint it with kisses?

Oh! But perhaps the earth is not the one that requires my love and my blessing in this scenario I have laid out. For the earth is not perhaps the one dying, slipping from grasp. E.O. Wilson asserts that ‘we could take the Earth all the way down to her microbes and she would find a way to recover’. Once she rids herself of the plague that is humanity, she will heal herself. So then… what does it look like to bless the plague of humanity itself? To love it with all of its flaws, to forgive it its shame, to kiss its putrid lesions, to anoint it with blessing, to behold it with tenderness and mercy. To open my heart fully to the fatal flaw of our humanity and embrace it as lovable, refusing to turn my face from its terrible beauty, to let it be broken AND beloved.

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Later this afternoon, I read an essay written by an Unupiat woman, in response to the question, “What kind of ancestor do you want to be?” Part of her response was this, “It is taught that our lives are not written in history books or put into archives, but are written in the stars, the rivers and lakes, the mighty ocean, the land that provides’.

While it may be true that my very body becomes these other ones, its elements and essences absorbed and recycled by the earth into something new that retells the story of who i was (and perhaps, if you believe in such things, my spirit may inhabit them as well), this is not, I think, the way We bless them… with our decaying lives….but the way that they Bless us.

What will the rivers and lakes, the land, look like in the future, after the plague that we are has been dumped into them? How will the earth re-member us, with or without our grandchildren in its arms? Will it remember us as Beloved or Curse, or both. What is the fond or horrific story of us that it will tell?

If we have become a toxin, spewing the sewage remnants of our rampant consumption into the waters of life (both literally and metaphorically) how might we clean up ourselves, make of ourselves something safe enough to drink, safe enough for the earth to take us back into its life blood, safe enough to be recycled into blessing, once again, so that our children might drink of her beauty too?

What is the antibiotic for us?

I don’t believe healing ever comes from cursing the one who is ill, by scorning the one who has faltered, by judging with contempt the ignorant. It’s hard to see ourselves as such. We want to believe we are respons-able, that we are capable, intelligent, pinnacles of the earth. But what if we are not. What if we are, as late arrivals in this place, merely immature, merely the unwise, less evolved than our earth’s kin, and their patient tolerance of us is nothing short of compassion for our weakness, embracing the error of our ways and transforming them into Blessing.

To recover from Cholera, one must rehydrate.  Might we rehydrate the blood of this planet with the blessing of being known as Beheld and Beloved as children here, let Love heal us until we are recognizable to the earth once again as something safe, as a source of blessing. Perhaps the Earth itself will do the healing, receiving us as we are, transforming our brokenness into its wholeness, cradling us in its patient arms.

Or…. perhaps not. Perhaps we return dust to dust, our time in this place run dry, and we will be forgotten, nevermore. If that is so, then how do we grace-fully say ‘goodbye’, ‘thank you’, ‘forgive us’ with both grief and love in our hearts.. How do we, at least, leave this place with Love intact.

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