Oh, August. The sun is shining, the kids are mostly back in school, and summer is ending, along with that hallmark of summer teenagehood: the summer romance. Not that I actually had one this year, mind you, I really had more of a succession of unreciprocated summer crushes, but the thought is the same. There’s just something about the heat, the sunshine, and the carefree attitude of summer that lends itself well to promulgating new romances. You see that special someone, and maybe they say a word or give you a compliment, and boom, a crush is born. Amid the golden sand and leafy branches, you fancy yourself in love, and you build your castles in the air about romance and roses and happy memories to come. And when the romances inevitably end, you’re disappointed and hurt that the dreams that were only true in your head never even came true in real life. It would have been love, you say. It would have been a lifetime of candlelight and ballroom dances, a living romantic dramady. And now it’s gone, swept away by the chill of the first autumn winds and the sound of school bells. Really, what is it about summer that makes us cling to the brightly colored veneer of love, and ignore the strong, tough realities beneath?
This summer, I had a chance to visit my aunt in Boston, and while on the plane ride there, I sat next to a nice older couple. The man, Lee, was a very nice person who helped me stash my cane and carryon. He was also remarkably accommodating to his wife, even for a married couple. He was unbuckling and standing up every few minutes to open the overhead bins and get her a drink, a snack, a book, her glasses, and then put each item away as she finished with it. The woman, Sue, revealed to me while he was again opening the overhead bin to get her a drink that she was suffering from brain cancer, and they were traveling to Boston, as they had every two weeks for months, for her treatment. At one point, she needed to use the restroom. She couldn’t walk very well at all, and her wheelchair had been put away, as she couldn’t use it on the plane. So Lee became her crutch. He all but carried her to the plane restrooms, then waited to do the same on the walk back. And you could see the absolute love in his eyes when he did. His wife was no longer the beautiful, strong woman she had been when they fell in love, years before. Her body was shriveled and pale, her hair thinning and falling out, her hands shaking like leaves in the wind, her sense of balance gone. Her summer had faded, borne away in the cold sweep of illness and human frailty. But their love remained. It wasn’t a fragile and haphazard construct, built like a sandcastle, ready to be swept away when it got boring or too hard to continue. It wasn’t a forgettable summer fling. It was a strong, enduring love, that stood one of the greatest tests that life could throw at it.
And that really made me think. We glorify romance, but not love. We worship the candles and flowers, and try to forget the work and the sorrow that is a hallmark of real love. The culture thinks that love means opening your legs, but closing off your heart, holding on as long as the good feelings and good looks and sex lasts, then moving on to the next prospect. As breakups get us all practiced and ready for divorce, we get accustomed to leaving behind the people we thought we loved because the novelty wore off. So why don’t we stop? Why don’t we hold out a while, wait for the person that we can imagine helping us eat when we can’t feed ourselves anymore, the person that we can imagine carrying to the bathrooms because their mind is slowly being eaten away? The romance is secondary. True love is hard, nasty, boring work. Sure, there might be candles and flowers sometimes, but those days will be far outnumbered by days of little sleep and less good humor, and have infinitely less rewards in eternity. Real love gives up its life for its beloved. And for all that it might seem less fun… it’s something that we should definitely want more than a fleeting summer romance.
Love to all!