Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy St. Valentine's Day

The writers one loves become our friends, and revisiting my beloved Laurie Colwin is like seeing a great friend again after many years, and finding that your conversation is as easy as if there had never been a pause in it. This is from her story "The Lone Pilgrim":

You get used to a condition of longing. Live with it over time and it becomes part of your household . . . . You cannot fantasize being married if you are married. Married to Gilbert, what would I long for? I would not even be able to long for him.

Woe to those who get what they desire. Fulfillment leaves an empty space where your old self used to be, the self that pines and broods and reflects. . . . The feelings you were used to abiding with are useless. The conditions you established for your happiness are met. That youthful light-headed feeling whose sharp side is much like hunger is of no more use to you.

You long for someone to love. You find him. You pine for him. Suddenly, you discover you are loved in return. You marry. Before you do, you count up the days you spent in other people's kitchens, at dinnner parties, putting other people's children to bed. You have basked in a sense of domesticity you have not created but enjoy. The Lone Pilgrim sits at the dinner parties of others, partakes, savors, and goes home in a taxi alone.

. . . . [N]ow the search has ended. Your imagined happiness is yours. Therefore, you lose your old bearings. On the one side is your happiness and on the other is your past -- the self you were used to, going through life alone, heir to your own experience. Once you commit yourself, everything changes and the rest of your life seems to you like a dark forest on the property you have recently acquired. It is yours, but still you are afraid to enter it, wondering what you might find: a little chapel, a stand of birches, wolves, snakes, the worst you can imagine, or the best. You take one timid step forward, but then you realize you are not alone. You take someone's hand . . . and strain through the darkness to see ahead.

Above, the cover of the book of the same title in which "The Lone Pilgrim" was published in 1981. The image is "Love Locked Out" (1889) by Anna Lea Merritt.

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