I am a writer, words are my thing. But sometimes pictures have an eloquence that mere words alone can’t quite capture. I saw a picture like that this week that has stayed – and will forever stay – in my mind.
It was one of a collection of hundreds of sad, shocking and terrible images from Aleppo. It was a photograph of a child, probably about six or seven, lying dead on a street, his foot at a weird angle, his leg obviously broken. What struck me so powerfully about this photograph was the fact that the child was dressed up against the cold as you would expect any child to be at this time of year. He (she?) was wearing a coat and a hat and gloves. The poignancy of the fact that he was wrapped up warm against the cold, presumably by loving family, was in stark contrast to the fact that he was lying dead and alone on a street. I can only imagine the pain of loss and grief endured by his parents and the terror that drove them to run from his body. For me, this image alone encapsulates the agony of loss when the object of our love is gone from us. It was played out again a few days ago in the images from Berlin – the sickening contrast of families enjoying a Christmas market turned, within moments, into a scene of unimaginable pain and torment.
I feel particularly attuned to loss right now and, as we know, once one is attuned to something we see it everywhere around us. I met up with a friend this week whose wife is dying of cancer. She is in the final months of her life. He spoke of knowing that the love he has for her will transcend the loss of her physical being, that this love will still be there long beyond the time that her body has perished. I could feel this love flowing from him as I held his hand. I wanted to put my arms around him and make it alright and, of course, I can’t. This is the deal we make with the universe when we choose to love. In return for the exquisite joy and connection of love, we accept the unbearable pain and grief of loss. There really is no way around it unless we choose is to build a wall around our hearts and not really love anyone or anything. I’ve known one or two people like that, who opt out of the pain game but it seems to me they live shadow lives, grey and rather meaningless.
As you may or may not know, I am dealing with my own sense of loss right now. It is nothing on the scale of the examples above but, nevertheless, it is raw and it hurts. The man I loved chose to be with someone else rather than with me and is, in effect, gone from my life. He ended our relationship in a brutal way and now won’t see me or speak to me. The grief of this is as raw now as it was five months ago when he made his choice. To all intents and purposes, he is dead to me and I miss him being in my life. Coping with this loss is a day by day challenge and there seems to be no guidebook I can follow. Every day I am making it up afresh. Some friends have suggested that the best way of getting over the loss is to allow the love I still have for him to turn to hate. If I could detest this man and see him as a worthless individual, I would feel grateful that he is gone from my life. I can see the logic of that and sometimes I can access these feelings but mostly I can’t. In truth, I don’t really want to hate him. I would rather continue to feel the love even though it is now accompanied by pain and grief and a knowing that it is not reciprocated.
I wonder sometimes, what happens to all of this love when the object of our love is gone from us? Where does it go? Does anyone benefit from it or does it just float away like pollen on a breeze?
When our love is focused on an individual or individuals, they experience it as warmth, connection and care for their wellbeing – like little boy in Syria dressed in warm clothes to keep out the cold – but when that person is gone from us, there is no outlet for our love. When there is no loved one there to receive it, maybe all of this love goes into a kind of collective pot that anyone can access at any time if they choose to. If that is the case and you are alone right now or lacking love from your life, I hope you can find a way to tune into the collective love of humanity. Maybe more than ever right now, we need to wrap the collective love of humanity around ourselves like a blanket to keep out the cold of winter and the chilling evidence of so much inhumanity in the world.