"I could swear by your expression
that the pain down in your soul was the same
as the one down in mine... We call it love"
that the pain down in your soul was the same
as the one down in mine... We call it love"
The Origin of Love
I spent the morning writing Valentine's Day notes to the girls, C. and N. Bahr. It is special that this year (unlike last) that we got to spend the day together as a family and I wanted to make sure they knew how they complete our love. The Reverend had taken the girls to Church, telling me I could take the morning off to get things ready. I posted a piece on how Power Rangers was helping me parent my gender queer youngest daughter (which actor David Yost responded that he liked). I also found and posted a very fitting picture of our oldest being an amazon that could illustrate much of my appreciation for my young warrior women. With the public displays of affection taken care of I went and made sure the private gifts were ready. For C. and N. both received personalized pocket notebooks and a pack of sugar-free gum (they had both stock-piled candy from school and friends). For the Reverend, I had ordered flowers and a signed 1st edition book by black liberation theologian James Cone. I laid out some snacks and everything seemed ready when the girls and my partner arrived home. We got some hugs in just before the baby sitter showed up, letting me know that I was excused from parenting and that the Reverend was waiting to whisk me away for the afternoon. There was a brief stall. Before we could get going, my partner insisted that we drop off some supplies at a mutual friend's house with the excuse that she was helping with some fundraiser for Church. Such stops and projects were commonplace for our family so I thought little of it. Soon we were off!
The one thing I had expected of this Valentine's Day was that the Reverend said she was taking me to the movies (our usual private get away) and to lunch. In all seriousness, I thought the story of this Valentine's Day would be "we saw Deadpool." Don't get me wrong, I was more than thrilled that this was how I was going to remember it. The year before we had a bountiful dinner and show at Medieval Times. This year, going to see a Rated-R super-hero comedy that had received 10/10 by critics and 100% on Rotten Tomatoes seemed like an excellent way to spend our adult time. Walking out, the film was everything it was cracked up to be. Afterwards, we had some time left before we needed to relieve the babysitter so we decided to go for a drive. There had been a filling lunch of steak and mushrooms before the movie so we weren't very hungry but I asked if we could stop and pick up some cheese, chocolate, and smoked meats. With out goodies in hand, we drove up and along York Beach. The sun had gone down on the winter evening and the snow frosted waves looked hauntingly beautiful. As we drove, we talked about love. I said how grateful I was that we had met at this point in our lives. She was a complete person, I was a complete person, and together we made something bigger than the sum of our parts. More importantly, we both are people we strongly believe in something bigger than ourselves, meaning that we faced our lives as partners on a journey further up and further into the world rather than ending our lives at one another's doorsteps. We had a nice moment and then laughed. How different this sentiment was compared to the film we just saw. Indeed, perhaps fittingly, Ryan Reynolds now has an unexpected and uncanny presence in the story of our love.
Throughout the drive - and indeed throughout the film - the Reverend's cellphone was constantly going off with texts. Again this was not uncommon. Being a Pastor means that someone or other is nearly always reaching out to you. At one point, seeing a text from the babysitter who was getting anxious about an errand, we drove home to the kids. Except the girls were not at the house. At some point on the drive the Reverend had mentioned that the babysitter couldn't wait on the errand and was forced by circumstance to bring the girls with her. Unloading the salty and sweet snacks, I stretched out on the couch. The Reverend mentioned that once the babysitter got back she was going to ask her to take a Valentine's Day photo, then asked if we should put on anything special for it. I decided that I would touch up my make up and run a comb through my hair. As I did, the Reverend checked her phone and groaned, "ugh, I forgot to send a report to one of the officers at the Church. She needs it by tomorrow morning. Would you mind if I run out really quick and get something from my office?" Obliviously, I told her that it would be fine. This sort of thing happened fairly frequently. Suddenly alone in the house, I put my feet up, turned on a film critic show to hear all the spoiler-filled reviews of the movie I just saw (again, in my head, this was a "Deadpool Valentine's Day") and played a game on my phone. Halfway through a level, my phone buzzed. It was the Reverend telling me her car battery wasn't working and asked if I could give her a jump. Once again, I agree obliviously because this sort of thing also happened regularly with her old beat-up car. Putting on my coat, I drove to the Church and chatted with my equally oblivious mother on the way. Seeing my partner's car, I ended the call and parked in a way to jump her vehicle. Then running up to the Church office, I knocked on the door but found it locked. I checked a window and no lights were on inside.
The Origin of Love
At this point, standing outside the Church office, I was freezing in the 1 degree air and my brain was not working on anything besides getting warm. Looking back at the vehicles on the street, I considered waiting for the Reverend in there as I thawed. Stubbornly, however, I stayed at the office door and called my partner. It rang several times then she answered, "Hey, you here?" "Yes," I told her, "and I am very cold. Where are you?" "Some people were at the office when I arrived and we wandered over to the Sanctuary. Can you come over?" she asked. More cold and unthinking than oblivious, I speed walked over to the front door of the Church sanctuary. Only as I climbed up the front walk and onto the stairs did my analytical side hit me like a bag of bricks, bricks full of all the little clues (frequent texts, very specific schedule, lack of kids, lack of babysitter, paperwork that needed to be finished on a holiday night at Church, a broken down car, moving from the perfectly warm office to the Sanctuary). Suddenly, on the steps, I broke into a run. I opened the door with equal anticipation and dread of something that I had so failed to anticipate. Then I saw it through the windowed entrance, a whole mass of people in the front of the Sanctuary with my partner in the center. Just after I finally got my brain working again suddenly my mind was utterly and completely emptied, filled only with what was happening.
From here my recollection is spotty and I was probably not totally conscious. Somehow I moved forward, legs on autopilot, like a gnat transfixed by a lightbulb. Halfway through the vestibule I became aware of another person, a good friend, standing there with arms outstretched and saying something that made me feel good. My brain did not compute words anymore, only significance. This was a very strange experience for a woman devoting her life to the study of language and literature. What came of the good feelings and outstretched hands was my friend taking my coat from me. Then she disappeared behind me as I walked into the Sanctuary transfixed by my partner as she began to sing. Once in the aisle, listening to my partner heartbreakingly singing, my brain became overwhelmed by the feeling that my legs and body were no longer functioning right and I was about to fall to the ground. I've fainted a couple times before and I knew the signs. To brace myself I reached for the pew to my right and used it to prop myself up. Then I became aware of song the Reverend was singing. It was "Origin of Love" from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. And at that realization, something like meaning but not yet words came back to me. I understood the what and the why enough to be undone by the song. I began weeping. The song told an alternative history of gender, sexuality, and love. Drawn from Plato's Symposium of Love it sets Aristophane's myth to music, singing of early humanity before the dawn of Love. At this time, the philosopher and song says, there were three genders: the Children of the Sun (which were like two men glued together), the Children of the Earth (same but with two women), and the Children of the Moon (same but with a man and a woman). Fearing the power of these collectives, the gods slice each in two leading to the halves of each constantly looking for their partners. It at once suggests that all of us might be either a bit transgender or a bit queer, or both.
Clutching the next pew I regained enough of myself to launch myself forward a few steps. The Church was a blur as my eyes were half shut (because my smiles also crinkle my cheeks and cover my vision) and filling with tears. As I reached the next pew, my crying shocked me enough and gave me enough catharsis to become slightly more aware enough of myself. My walking became more steady, however slow and stilted. I briefly realized that I was feeling my make-up running but I didn't care. All I cared about was taking each step that would bring me closer to my partner. By an impulse I wasn't consciously controlling, I found myself stopped a few feet away from the Reverend as she launched into my favorite stanza from the song: “You were looking at me. I was looking at you. You had a way so familiar I could not recognize 'cause you had blood on your face, I had blood in my eyes. But I could swear by your expression that the pain down in your soul was the same as the one down in mine. That's the pain that cuts a straight line down through the heart. We call it love.” Somewhere in there I found myself singing along. It was an automatic respond to the song that I had first heard beside my partner, a song I listened to on jogs, a song that I've taught in multiple seminars. I was being carried along by the music and I was responding to the music. The heart song that came from my partner was echoing out of me. Facing the song reflected back at her, the Reverend finally began to break down, her voice cracking and stumbling over words as she cried. She had kept herself together, following her plan, but my singing had surprised her and suddenly she was awakening to the awesome power that neither of us were able to contain or control. We got through the end of the song together, sniffling the rest of the way. As the music subsided, my partner got on her knee and everything went silent again. Maybe it was just the sudden vacuum in my head but it seemed as though the whole Church and the whole winter night was holding its breath.
We become resistant to the power of metaphors, so we don't expect that when they are true, like "my heart was beating out of my chest," that they can actually hurt. This is a feeling we also call "ecstasy." Ecstasy is the experience of being pulled out of yourself. While in the throws of ecstasy, it is a break in the consciousness from feeling resident inside your body. In the moment when she fell onto one knee, I was being torn half in and half out of the limits that usually hold onto me, my nervous system, my senses, my sense of time and place. The only thing that felt real, my tether to the world, was my partner's hand holding mine as she slid a ring onto it. When the ring was revealed, my fingers were shuffled around as the Reverend asked which hand to put the ring. The crowd burst into laughter and I felt called back to reality for a moment by the question and response. My partner was evidently out of her mind too. With my sense momentarily returned, I listened as she said to me things which were so true I felt like I had known she was going to say this forever. The words felt inscribed inside my bones and looking into me, she was reading them aloud for us to hear and affirm. The words were so personal, it was almost as though the others in the Church were not there to hear them. Or if they could hear the words, they wouldn't understand. It is as though the meaning of what was said was being revealed to us alone; we dwelled in a significance just outside of language...
[The words of the proposal are omitted]
... After our moment together, the Reverend stood up and she gestured to the crowd who all flipped over posters in their hands which spelled a summary of what had been said, "Will you be mine?" Yes, in speech that other people can understand, this points people in the right direction, even if it can't get anywhere close to the place where we shared our meaning. Briefly glancing at everyone's signs, the power of common speech came back to me. Aided by this simplicity I was able to turn to my partner and say, "Yes! Of course, yes!" My partner embraced me in her big arms and I think I was swallowed whole for a time. The sound of cheering and crying and laughter beat on us from outside while I rested inside her like a cocoon. Eventually, yet again, I emerged back into the Church space. I looked at my partner who smiled and laughed and cried as I smiled and laughed and cried. We turned to look at our daughters, who shared private looks that as soon as they were over made them self conscious at their vulnerability. C. rolled her eyes and smirked, looking at the Senior Pastor of the Church. N. came over and hugged us both, then ran back to her friends who embraced her. Suddenly I was aware of all the people who were there. Each of them erupted out from being extensions of my partner into their particularity. There were faces I knew well, some I knew not as well as I would have liked, and some who were only now just meeting me face to face. Each came in turn and embraced me, saying words that again took on the form of understanding rather than language. Some had gifts, some took pictures. Each exchange felt good but were blunted by the presence of an even greater Joy. It rattled me around until I was back in my partner's arms. And then, at last, I collapsed.
Falling together like this, I don't believe is the end of our story and nor is it the beginning. I don't know when our love began exactly. It has been falling into place since we moved to Maine to raise our daughters, her developing as an Associate Pastor and I as a burgeoning scholar and writer. Pieces certainly fell into place when we first began dating in Chicago, her and I, a Youth Minister and Ph.D. student. Yet these felt more like buddings of growths that have roots and preparations that go much deeper and further. In a sense, our whole histories seem different in their wake like our love effects our pasts as much as our futures. Our love, like the Origin of Love, I don't believe is about finding your other half in order to be complete. We do not long for a return to a prelapsarian wholeness because if that ever existed for any of us that is not the world as we know it. Rather, our engagement and our love is a celebration of our incompleteness. Our proposal story is an affirmation that we don't know what is going to happen in our lives or (especially in my case) what is going to happen in a single day. In each other's arms, we don't come to the end of our meaning but witness the means by which our meanings will continue to unfold. We are more ourselves and called to be more than ourselves by our love. As we are affirmed and sustained, we are queered and transformed. We are, in a sense, Children of the Earth, like spirits and minds. We are also, in another sense, Children of the Moon, complimentary and even comically diverse as partners and within ourselves. Incompleteness is not the failure of love but, as Hedwig attests, the making and the makings of Love. What love and my beloved have taught me is that I won't get the Valentine's Day, the proposal, or the life that I expected, I will get something much better instead.