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Monday, August 24, 2009

Love is never wasted – CREDO LXXXI

A helpful friend was aiding me in clearing out and reorganizing my stationery cupboard, which, before my stroke, was my secret delight and an example of a triumphant Virgo Prunefiddle. However, since my stroke thirteen years ago and the resultant loss of the use of my right hand, the cupboard has become a shambles. The task triggered my memory and the origin of my passion for stationery.

Seventy-nine years ago, I was sent to an English boarding school, St. George’s, in San Remo, on the Italian Riviera. It was a so-called Christian school set in a marble mansion built as a winter residence for Russian nobility. It had a glorious garden and view of the Mediterranean. There I was physically and psychologically abused. Cut off completely from my parents and unable to write an uncensored letter, I suffered in despair. I was eight and a half years old. (I have written about this in a separate chapter and would be willing to send it as an attachment to anyone interested.) The whole experience turned me away, big time, from Christianity. But hidden, it was my first experience of love from two strangers, and since then I have realized that such love is never wasted or even diminished by time.

These two women have a special place in my heart. One was the Italian seamstress who mended our clothes. I first encountered her when I was sent down to the supply closet for fresh paper. This closet had the marvelous fragrance of stationery stores. I could see stacks of pencils and pads, notebooks and drawing paper, clips in boxes, all neatly in place. When I ventured further into the basement room, there sat a voluminous woman all dressed in black. She smelt of honest sweat and garlic and unabashed affection. Seeing how small I was must have touched her, because she would never fail to put aside her sewing and sweep me onto her lap for a swinging hug. She would croon, “Che bella piccola! Che carina! Aleechay, vieni qua!” which translates loosely into words of endearment and approval. I would curl up and cling to this earth mother and shower her with kisses and laughter. Pretty soon, I would learn to rip the hems of my uniforms on purpose to be sent down for more doses of maternal love. I still love and bless that dear woman for understanding the needs of a lonely child. Dear Maria, you taught me to love the smell of garlic! Not only that, but a passion for stationery, and my first lesson that no love is ever wasted. Such was the gift she still gave me yesterday as I gazed into the past delights of my very own cupboard.

The other woman was called Matron. She was the school nurse. She was Scottish, and dour, and had a purple nose. She growled and she twinkled; she was gruff and caring at the same time. She made you feel safe and secure. Perhaps we each understood the suffering in the other.

After a few months, a terrible thing happened. At assembly we were told that Matron had suddenly died and was no more. It came as an enormous shock. It was, perhaps, the turning point for me. My best friend, Patsy Cliff, also my age, knew what biblically was called for: sackcloth and ashes! So we locked ourselves in the playroom, dumped our toys out of burlap bags, stripped and sat down in the fireplace and covered our faces with ashes and wept grimy tears. Never was anyone mourned more sincerely for about three minutes. Then we looked at each other and saw what a mess we were and began to giggle. After cleaning up in the bathroom, we went out in the hall and played leap-frog and were reprimanded severely by a teacher for irreverence and given two demerits each! But today almost eighty years later, I can close my eyes and feel the love that Matron gave me. It was her knowing look of secret recognition of the potential good seen in a naughty child. My soul felt realigned briefly in her presence. These were two strangers.

Since then, I myself have loved and lost in numerous hopeless love relationships and yet in every case turned them into lifelong enduring friendships and vice-versa. One of them described himself as offering “stepping stones” to the real thing that would come along, as it finally did when I was fifty-eight years old and met my so beloved Walter, who was sixty-nine!

In years of counseling others, I have heard so many versions of lost loves and have noticed the difference between those who react with anger or bitterness and those who truly try to understand and want the best for the other. The first group love out of hidden need, which is not the love that lasts, but the second group send out the message that their love gathers itself into a gossamer container, impervious to time or even future lives, that somehow is or will be available to the recipient when ready to receive. Such love is never wasted. Trust me!

As a teacher of kids, I had love for many of them. It is the fate of so many teachers that they give of themselves to their students only to lose them forever. But not always. One of my sixth grade students, came back, now a mother herself, and reminded me that I had told her that she had a flame inside her that no one could blow out! Am blessed to still be in touch with quite a few.

You can see what I learned from discovering Bronson Alcott’s book which, I was able to republish more than 150 years later as How Like an Angel Came I Down. Alcott loved his students and was rewarded by a letter from an eight-year-old boy, which Elizabeth Peabody added in 1834 to the appendix of the original Conversations with Children on the Gospels. Here is how the boy concluded his letter:

The comparisons in your letter, I think were very good – the one that struck me most forcibly and which I have before mentioned in my journal, was the Looking Glass of Circumstance, which I think meets the subject. In this letter you have fully convinced me, that we should not too often commit the dreadful sin of seeking all good without, and not beholding it within our imagination.

From the Jungian perspective, true love comes from the Self of one to the Self of the other. Alcott demonstrates that true teaching does likewise. Most relationship functions on the ego-to-ego basis, including that of teaching. It might be helpful for any readers of this to take a moment to reflect on those people they can call to mind who have recognized the Divine Guest in them or who have tasted the enduring joy of love that lasts. Esoterically, this is the nature of the catena aurae, the Golden Chain, the one of lasting, living filaments that links us forever with the wisdom and love of the great Givers of Gold, those Teachers, all composers, in different fields and times, of lasting inspiration. .

God’s grace is like an ever-blowing breeze, all we have to do is lift our sails to catch it! – Sri Ramakrishna


1 comment:

Roslyn Ross said...

Dear Alice,
A delight as always to read your words... like returning to a friend now that I have read the books. Ros Ross