It must be a midlife crisis, but at the age of 54 I’m questioning my ability to love. Could it be that what I’ve been calling love all these years has been nothing but lust, insecurity and the need for control?
I knew I was in trouble when I couldn’t tell my wife Elizabeth “I love you” back. Something about this overused phrase rings hollow for me. Apparently for me love is more complicated.
No problem making my wife happy if it’s something I can buy, build or plan, but much harder if it involves giving something that flies against my logic, values, emotional or physical needs. That’s where my love needs help.
I found myself grappling with this question on a recent road trip. First stop was Omega to immerse myself in yoga and camping, which I hoped would do the trick.
At last year’s retreat a women camping next to us picked up her guitar and played an old Dylan tune called Wagon Wheel about a hitchhiker thumbing his way to his lover which instantly transported me to a place in my life where all roads were open for the taking and love was around the bend. It stuck with me ever since.
This year one of the yoga students, Brie, also brought a guitar. One day she played in the middle of our empty yoga hall — a massive space with vaulted ceiling — the same Wagon Wheel song, but with an added Dar Williams verse — that I never heard before. I was dumbfounded — the space her voice created was magical. The familiar song nestled into my soul and remained there like a well-worn mantra. And the new verse really hit home.
“…I’ve never had a way with women
The hills of Iowa made me wish that I could
And I’ve never found a way to say I love you
But if the chance came by, oh I would [D. Williams]
So rock me Mama like a wagon wheel
Rock me Mama anyway you feel
Hey Mama rock me.
Oh, rock me Mama like the wind and the rain
Rock me Mama like a south bound train
Hey, hey Mama rock me.”
That night one hell of a windy rain storm pounded my tent and I sang to myself to keep the darkness at bay: “so rock me Mama like the wind and the rain, rock me Mama like a south bound train…”
Somebody above is clearly sending messengers my way with this song to revive the feelings of hitting the road to find love. Heck that’s how I found Elizabeth in the first place. And listening to Brie in that empty hall brought it all back. It was time to get back on the road and visit Isabella Friedman Retreat Center, where my wife is facilitating an art program. Like a Zen monk she’s been cleaning and creating an art space with a focused passion while living under Spartan conditions. Her room has a stack of bibles; much-needed bug replant and a rice cooker. That’s about it.
Why Elizabeth is secluding and devoting herself to this task with such a reverence is not entirely clear to me. I’m thinking we have a few projects at home that could use some elbow grease and pay about the same. Where is she going? I take a breath and wait for my control, fear, judgment and expectation triggers to announce their arrival. They are going to eat this up. And they don’t disappoint.
I take another breath and snap a picture of Elizabeth sitting in the art space she just created. She appears so content and proud of her new classroom. Clearly this is where she needs to be. She is doing her work — so who am I to second guess these things. For me this is where love is pitted against fear. And since they can’t occupy the same space, one has to go.
Next to the art room, there is a yurt. Not just any yurt. Several years ago this is where I first witnessed Ashtanga yoga being practiced. It was to become the beginning of a profound physical and spiritual adventure. This place is where I found my yoga. I’m thinking someday this yurt will become a Yaari shrine 😉
Early the next day, I set down two rugs and cushions in the yurt, put on the Wagon Wheel tune recorded by Brie and waited for Elizabeth. She slipped next to me, took in the haunting tune and whispered that she loves me. And when our meditation ended, we sat in silence holding on to the sacred space we created.
For now I still could not say “I love you” back, but the next day when I headed home leaving Elizabeth to continue her work, I cleared out the fear in my heart and created more space for love. Maybe for now that will have to do. The words will come later.