Originally written on Jan 22, 2012.
by Pat Nogoy SJ
“My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.
The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.
I no longer love her, that’s certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.
Another’s. She will be another’s. As she was before my kisses.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.
I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.
Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms,
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.” [Pablo Neruda]
Whenever a relationship reaches its breaking point and eventual demise, the feared reality of pain burdens the lover and beloved. This pain rises up from the choice to separate—breaking the promise of togetherness bound by forever; a vow that, at present, can never be sustained. What follows is one of the darker experiences of love: a solitary winter that does not reveal an immediate end. Warm nights suddenly turn cold. Morning sunshine surprisingly reflects shadows of gray. Passion becomes pain. Desire rises up as anger. Hope is overshadowed by fear. Often, the question is asked: For how long?
How long a winter lasts may be different for each person. For some, it is as quick as a click. For others, it takes weeks. For a few, it eats up years. However, time’s length does not define the lover’s overcoming of winter. In love, time sheds into an entirely deeper shade of meaning. Reality hits that love is its own time.
Overcoming (of which time is an immediate indicator) is best told in depth. Indeed the question of time transforms itself into a deeper question of being. To be able to move on presents itself as a problematic greater than chronological time. Time may be the lover’s witness, the horizon where the lover’s becoming happens. The more relevant question reveals itself—how does a lover overcome the time of winter?
The Approaching Twilight
Once the reality of separation settles in, things become a blur.
The lover experiences a blur of contradictions: tears that bear happiness and sorrow, weight and lightness of freedom, bittersweet places and events, a self that is finally free yet rejects the very same freedom, and likewise a certain and rational choice that brings about irrational and unbearable pain. I no longer love her yet how I loved her!
The same time that embraces the lover and the beloved presents a different ordeal: We, of that time, are no longer the same. My heart looks for her and she is not with me. The lover is caught up in a transition, a kind of dispersion of self—a scattering. Yet if one looks at it, isn’t this not a scatter since the lover was able to regain what was lost and that is his whole self? Isn’t this more of an acceptable situation since this is the very treasure that the separation awarded to both and that is their own freedom? Why is it that the lover is caught in a quandary—still searching for the beloved when the mutual decision is to break up?
The lover experiences a scatter because of the shattering of the greater whole, a perfection that he can no longer live without. The promised narrative of this greater whole now includes (and perhaps, concludes with) the dark reality of separation that commands bittersweet pain. Separation does not accompany within it a sudden erasure of emotions. The one who has surrendered his entire self to the other, when separated, undergoes a scatter. The dispersion of self happens precisely because of the broken bond that united him to the beloved. The depth of such bond is beyond calculation and even reason. The love that exists which made the bond possible is no longer there. Thus, the lover going through a winter of separation can never be consoled even by rational explanations. His longing can only be filled by a beloved who is no more. No reason can satisfy a lover’s longing.
A lover’s longing lingers. The lingering adds weight for the lover to carry. The lover bears the burden of a longing that groans much, pushing him to hold on to a present that should already be a past. The lover’s present is still the beloved’s presence. Yet she will be another’s. As she was before my kisses. Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes. The lover tries to cling to that which is no longer there–the presence of an absence, the absence of the perfect togetherness. Such presence heightens the cold of winter. We, of that time, are no longer the same.
For how long? The question is a cry of anguish of an unwanted exodus unto an uncertain desert. If moving on is only as easy as changing one’s online relationship status, only as quick as deleting online social network profiles, only as instant as turning switches, then perhaps more people will not shy away in giving themselves to others. If pain can only evaporate as swiftly as sweat or rain. Alas, love is its own time; pain seems to indeterminately remain. Time sheds another skin: duration. Duration, as Bergson notes, is different from measured time. Duration resembles more the inner rhythm of things—our being, taking being as a verb as in the manner of exist-ing. We can never escape duration since it is part of who we are. We cannot also lengthen or shorten it however it pleases us unlike the mechanical hands of a watch. Lived experiences, though we usually measure by time, impinges on our duration. The summers of love are measured by the intensities of our be-ing, of our exist-ing as we go through (experience) them with our beloveds and in experiencing them, our beings are taken out (ecstasis). The same wind hollers in the winters of love. This time, pain and suffering take us out, shake our whole being, making us scream in pain and restless for comfort. Describing experiences of pain and fear, Bergson notes our penchant for escape: “Fear, when strong,” says Herbert Spencer “expresses itself in cries, in efforts to escape, in palpitations, in tremblings.” Further, “Darwin has drawn a striking picture of the reactions following a pain which becomes more and more acute. ‘Great pain urges all animals . . . to make the most violent and diversified efforts to escape from the cause of suffering…’” In the bosom of Time, the lover faces not only his existence but more importantly, gropes with his existing (duration). The weight of such experience is opposite to the lightness of being experience in the summer of love. If the summers reward the lover ecstatic joy in togetherness, winters punish the lover with almost unbearable ball and chains of pain. Found in the clearing of time is the lover, none other. Standing in time, as Heidegger remarks: it is actually us that pass away when we say time passes away.
Groping in the Dark
Forgive and forget. This is the often given and accepted advice for the lover who suffers separation. Yet can the lover ever forget? Can he actually erase the beloved from his memory, be rebooted anew? Can he overcome the past by annihilating it? Forgetting is made even tougher by the memories that torment in every place or event the lover shared with the beloved. The lover asks: If forgetting is the reaction, then how is it possible to forget a beloved?
Forget comes from the Old English forgytan which means passing by or letting go. In a deeper sense, to forget means to let go, to let things pass by without holding on to them. For people who decided to call it quits, letting go is the most arduous of all tasks. Since the lover experiences scatter given the shattering of the bond, he cannot help but to put things together (reconciliar, reconcile) in order to prevent his dispersion. The gift of perfection found in togetherness is the refuge of the scattered lover. However such perfection ceases to exist because of separation. It is no more. The lover must let it go. He must forget.
Forgetting as letting go takes time. In trying to let go, the lover overcomes his burdensome clutch to a past that halts his acknowledgment of the future. The past can really be tempting; the present filled with the beloved’s absence is tormenting. The nights where the lover holds the beloved in his arms are presently the nights filled with loneliness and confusion. If efforts have been exhausted and still the lover and the beloved cannot put things back together again, then it is time to let go. Love is so short, forgetting is so long.
Letting go does not mean rebooting a memory or erasing events in one’s life. Though one wishes so, the reality is that the beloved leaves a space in the lover’s life. Henri Bergson writes in Time and Free Will, when it is said that an object occupies a large space in the soul or even that it fills entirely, we ought to understand by this simply that its image has altered the shade of a thousand perceptions or memories…it pervades them. The beloved has pervaded the lover; she has altered him in many ways. The unwanted accident has caused change in one’s being. Change is irreversible and unforgettable. Letting go, then, cannot reverse or delete the past but aids the lover in letting things pass by. To un-grasp the past means to be free to embrace possibilities. Only in this poverty of letting go will the lover be enriched with possibilities.
The lover chooses to let the memory of the greater whole, of a once perfect present be washed away as he wanders. When he looks over time, the lover realizes that he is not the same anymore. The gift of a new self has emerged yet it would remain irrelevant and unnecessary (as all other gifts are) as long as the lover is fixated with the past, as long as he fails to let go. My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her. Indeed, forgetting can be so long.