(This is the second part of my last post. If you need a little refresher, here it is.)
I walked back to the hotel room and out onto the balcony, where my wife was waiting for me. I explained to her what had happened. For the next two hours, we scoured the crowd below for a glimpse of either Alex or Lauren.
We spent the rest of that day on the beach reading and cooling off in the surf. But Alex was never far removed from my thoughts. Around lunchtime I offered to go get a couple of slices of pizza, which was mostly just a ruse to get back up on the boardwalk and keep looking. I asked the lifeguard there if she knew either of them. Their names did not sound familiar to her. I tried describing them, but that didn’t help. Apparently Virginia Beach was full of muscular men with tattoos and beautiful women who wore sun dresses.
Guilt set in. I could not help but think I had failed him. I couldn’t accept that it was merely by chance that I happened to be standing at that particular spot at that precise time. I had believed for years that God had sent angels into my life from time to time, but that day was the first time I ever thought that maybe God had wanted to use me as an angel for someone else. And I had failed. Miserably.
As the day wore on, I began to piece together what I could have said to Alex. Should have said, really. I wrote it down in fragments at first, bits and pieces of random thoughts and observations. I wrote, then rewrote, then rewrote again, until I had what amounted to a letter. A letter, of course, with no recipient.
But I wrote it anyway with the faith that sometimes you just never know. Maybe, just maybe, Alex is out there somewhere. And if he is, this is for him…
I hope that somehow, sometime, this letter reaches you. I know it probably won’t. In fact, I’m writing this more for my comfort than yours. But life can be funny, and sometimes even the most improbable things have a way of surprising us.
You walked away from me this morning before I had the chance to tell you what I was thinking. I can’t blame you. I imagine I was just standing there looking like an idiot. I promise you, I was trying to find the words. But something kept me from saying anything.
I suppose it was for the best. Maybe you didn’t need any words. Not then. When people are hurting, the last thing they want is advice. I don’t think you needed words as much as you needed time—time to fall apart, gather yourself up, and move on. I’m sure you’re not there yet, but I’m also sure you will be.
Don’t feel embarrassed because of the way you handled yourself this morning. Such situations tend to bring out the worst in people. You did, however, ask some serious questions, and you deserve some answers. I’ve seen my share of love, both the good kind and the bad, and though I am neither philosopher nor poet, I’ve been around the block enough to know where everything is.
For thousands of years the wisest and brightest of us have pondered the very questions you now face. What is love? Why does it sometimes hurt so badly? And why, if it hurts so badly, do we always go back for more? Despite their vast knowledge and unparalleled wisdom, they haven’t come up with much in the way of answers. In the end, those people were just as lost as you and I.
No one can say what love is all about. It’s beyond words and description. You can hint, you can analogize, but you won’t get it quite right. I never understood why it had to be that way. Now I think I do. It has something to do with the fact that we’re all describing love, but we can’t seem to agree on exactly what love is.
Are you sure it was love you felt for Lauren? I don’t mean to call you a liar, nor do I want to seem as if I am belittling your feelings for her. But from the few things you said, I had to wonder.
You asked me if I knew how beautiful she was. I did. You were right, she was beautiful. But that was really all you seemed to dwell on, wasn’t it? You never mentioned her kindness, her charm, her intelligence or humor. I cannot believe that the only lovely features she possessed were those on the outside. Maybe I’m over analyzing. But you made it seem as if you weren’t going to miss her nearly as much as you were going to miss her body. And that is exactly the point I’m trying to make. It didn’t sound to me like you were in love, Alex. It sounded like you were in lust. You don’t fall in love through the eyes; you fall in love through the heart.
You no doubt felt something, and that, I suppose, is good enough at first. I remember you telling Lauren that you professed your love to her every day. With words, I believe you said. And that is, of course, a good habit to adopt. But words are not nearly enough.
Love is the most overused word in the English language. We can say we love anything: chocolate or a shirt or a pet or a picture. We love cars, houses, movies, even certain days of the week. Is it any wonder, then, that when we say we love someone, the true meaning of those words becomes lost? If I say I love steak and then say I love my children, what have I really said? Sure, it might simply be a matter of semantics, but that’s why love cannot be fully communicated in words alone.
It took me all of five minutes to tell my first girlfriend that I loved her. It took almost a year after I started dating my wife. Why? Because between those two were many others who showed me that words aren’t enough, and that what I thought was love really wasn’t.
I’ve known a lot of Laurens, Alex. I’ve given my heart away, just like you. And just like you I’ve had it handed right back. I swore each time that I would never allow myself to fall in love again. That vow usually lasted about a month, at which time my heart would meet another’s and the dance would begin anew.
Why would I continually subject myself to this torture? Easy. I wanted someone to love, and I wanted someone to love me back. There’s nothing wrong with that. Most of us couldn’t imagine not having someone to share our lives and our hearts and our dreams with. The hurt that comes from losing someone we love can be unbearable. But the hurt that comes from closing ourselves off from the world is much worse. Pain isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Numbness is.
We are meant to love and to share, and if we do not allow ourselves the opportunity to do so, we become less than we should. Any time not spent on love is time that is wasted. Why? Because the more we are able to love, the more we are able to do. We can lose anything else in life—hope, desire, even faith—but when we lose our love, that is when we truly die.
I don’t think the love you had for Lauren was the love you are looking for. Your feelings for her were like the waves we watched crashing onto the shore. It was a love of action, of ups and downs, of surging forth and falling back, here one moment and gone the next. Such love is wonderful and exhilarating, but it is also frail and passing. The love that matters is like the waters we saw farther out—calm and deep and abiding. Eternal. That is the love of wonder.
Even though you might feel like you’re all alone in the world right now, you aren’t. A broken heart is like the common cold. We all know there isn’t a cure, we all know someone who’s suffered through one, and we all know that despite whatever precautions we take, sooner or later we’ll have to suffer through one too.
We are the only creatures who sometimes hurt our own loved ones for no other reason than just because we feel like it. Falling in love comes with a price. It means fully giving all of yourself, warts and scars and all. That’s the only way it can be. If it isn’t head over heels, it isn’t enough. And we give all of this to someone who is bound to one day at least disappoint us and at worst make us wonder if we can ever love the same again.
Is it, then, worth all the risk?