And Now A Few Words About Love
AND NOW A FEW WORDS ABOUT LOVE
(Excerpted from my new book: JACOB’S CHILDREN)
As Jacob left the bakery, he was surprised to see a middle-aged couple standing in the cold with their back to each other and stamping their feet to stay warm.
“Ah Jacob, finally,” said the man. “We were hoping to speak with you when no one else was around.”
“Well,” said Jacob, looking up at the few pigeons still on the rain gutters, “I think you are successful.”
“Good,” said the woman, “we want to ask your opinion about some things that are not good in our relationship.”
Jacob wanted to be helpful but was also feeling a little trapped by the circumstance. “Look, I’m just a man who used to be baker, and now….”
“We know who you are,” said the man, “and we know you are wise.”
“Nobody’s perfect,” said Jacob, turning sideways to the compliment.
“Come on,” said the man, “we just want to ask you a couple of questions.”
Before Jacob could respond, the man began. “For as long as we’ve been married, my wife has always told me what to do. And I don’t like being bossed around. What should I say to her?”
“Say thank you,” said Jacob.
“Say thank you?”
“Yes, thank her, for her opinion,” said Jacob, “and do what you want to do.”
The man look puzzled.
“It’s not confusing,” said Jacob. “Don’t do what she wants you to do and then blame her for controlling you.”
“But she is controlling me.”
“No,” said Jacob, “you are an adult, if you choose to do something, it’s your choice, and you have no choice but to hold yourself responsible.”
“Well,” said the woman, less thinking about what Jacob said and more waiting for her chance to talk, “please tell me why this man I married won’t love me the way I want to be loved.”
“Not, ‘won’t,’ can’t,” said Jacob.
“What does that mean?”
“He is who he is,” said Jacob.
“The world,” said Jacob, “is filled with men; this is the one who stepped forward, or God pushed forward, or you plucked from the crowd.”
“And,” said Jacob, “he can only love you the way he can love you. But how he loves you isn’t the real issue behind your heartache.”
“It isn’t?” asked the wife.
“The issue,” said Jacob, “isn’t how he loves you but how you love you.”
“How I love me?”
“Yes,” said Jacob. “And, no one can love you now the way you wanted to be loved when you were a child.”
“Because, you can’t get now what you didn’t get then.”
“Well, would it hurt him to try?”
Jacob half-laughed. “Listen, if your husband treated you now the way you wanted to be treated as a child, you would ask him, ‘What are you, my father?’”
“But,” said, the man, “I do want to make my wife happy.”
“Good,” said Jacob, “but right intentions don’t always bring right results.”
“So, I’m sorry,” said Jacob, “but it’s not your work to make your wife happy. That’s her work. Just like making you happy is your work.”
“And that’s how it works?” asked the wife.
“When it works,” said Jacob, now also stamping his feet to stay warm.
“And when it doesn’t?” asked the husband.
“And when it doesn’t,” said Jacob, “it is just work.”
“What about all the lonely people?”
“Feeling alone is different from feeling lonely,” said Jacob.
“I don’t understand,” said the wife.
“Solitude is the opposite of loneliness,” said Jacob. “Solitude is the company you have with yourself.”
Together now, they asked, “And?”
“And,” said Jacob, “people in love guard the solitude of the other.”
“That sounds so alone,” said the man.
“Not as alone as it feels if you don’t like yourself,” said Jacob.
“But,” said the husband, “what if two lonely people meet?”
“Two lonely people,” said Jacob, “don’t necessarily make one happy couple.”
“But, when we met we were so in love. What happened?”
“Very little begins at the beginning,” said Jacob. “Across time people can cling to what they no longer value and wind up disliking someone for the very save reason they fell in love with them.”
“Do you mean ‘hating’ the other person?”
“No,” said Jacob, “the opposite of love is not hate but indifference.”
“But when we were young,” said the man, “we promised to love each other forever?”
“When we are young,” said Jacob, “forever is next week.”
“That doesn’t sound very romantic.”
“The poet reminds us, ‘Sometimes love is short and forgetting is long.’”
“And what do you say?”
Jacob’s own heart ached a little when he drew on his reply.
“I think the poet got it sort of right. Brief love can live long. But great love is always too short; and forgetting is never.”
“So what do you suggest we do if we want to sustain this relationship?” asked the husband.
Jacob looked back, at them and within himself. And then speaking very slowly said…
“Life is brief.
“Being kind makes us kind.
“Love is kindness regardless of the weather.”
“So you’re telling us that’s the reason we should stay together?” asked the husband.
“No,” said Jacob, turning to head home, “I’m telling you the reason for love is not reason. When you find love, be loving.”
“That’s all you have to say?” asked the couple in unison.
“What else is there to say?” asked Jacob.
Noah benShea, JACOB’S CHILDREN
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