May I have this dance, please? 🙂
The lyrics of this beautiful, melancholic song, performed by Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, relate, I hope not in my mind only, to what I will now try to put orderly to paper. And it’s this –
I think I’ve found out why the topic of the impossible/forbidden/hopeless love has been so heavily exploited by writers of all epochs and has been so insatiably absorbed, in the form of more or less exquisitely-crafted narratives, by more or less discriminating audiences across the centuries. 🙂
It is because the impossible love is a Meeting – capital M – which, unlike similar meetings in the past, and because of a (divine?) concurrence of forces and circumstances, comes loaded with power to shape events, challenge beliefs, attitudes and routines, thus leaving a lasting trace in lives and Time.
Such a Meeting unleashes a tide – “a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune” – to quote Shakespeare. 🙂 (I treat the word “fortune” figuratively.)
And watching/reading about others riding the tide is what’s so interesting. It is some sort of a vicarious therapy by exposure – one reads and (hopefully) learns how to ride their own tides, once they’ve hit them.
A tide starts small – an ordinary everyday occurrence – but is perturbing and memorable because it unforeseeably brings about dramatic changes that reveal human nature, expose weaknesses, hypocrisy, hidden wounds and secret longings. (For there is nothing hidden that shall not be disclosed…;))
I wondered what was so fundamentally attractive and important about such Meetings or tides that might account for their constant presence in literature, and came up with the following – we want them, over and over again, because they relate to our deepest core imaginable – they are one of the ways in which God communicates with us.
Now don’t laugh at me. 🙂 You may be annoyed by all the Jesus talk, but your feelings do not cast the least shadow on the fact of the Maker’s existence, nor diminish another fact – that Christianity has profoundly shaped many of your perceptions and attitudes, regardless of whether you actually practice the religion or not.
So let me try to sell you this – the entire Christianity is such a Meeting – between people and their ultimate hope – the possibility of salvation, literally embodied by Jesus Christ, whose earthly mission was to meet people and proffer know-how on, roughly speaking, riding the tide.
So there – the impossible love is a Meeting, a small re-enactment of another Meeting of paramount importance. It is also a moment in time bringing with it the possibility of a change. And whatever choices we made before that moment had gone away, the tide it has unleashed is ultimately a good thing, as it is an opportunity, lovingly bestowed by God, for us to grow (by cultivating moral qualities that we might be lacking). 🙂
The importance of milestone Meetings in shaping people’s lives is also highlighted by one of the 12 Great Feasts in Orthodox Christianity – The Presentation of Christ in the Temple.
The event, celebrated each year on February 2, is a meeting between the young Jesus and an old man, who had lived and waited for centuries to see Him and die in peace afterwards.
Given that death is the most important event in the life of every Christian, this Meeting, in Bulgarian called by the old-fashioned and very poetic word сретение (sretenie, accent on the second E), was the high point of this old man’s life.
In addition, the meeting took place after a very long period of faithful waiting, perhaps highlighting how the quality of people’s faith might be paving the way to whatever meetings they will have. Had the old man decided that enough is enough and quit waiting, he would never have had his Meeting. So by waiting for it, he cultivated patience, humbleness and resilience against despair. Have you ever considered what the moral precursor to despair is? Pride, which is a deadly sin. I learned that from the Bible.
So Meetings or tides bringing about the possibility of a change are a call on us to choose, or maybe an opportunity to fight a sin. Or plunge deeper into it, depending on our inclination. 🙂 Or do whatever we like and, similarly to Scarlet O’Hara, whom I admire, decide to think about it all tomorrow. 🙂
Now, theorising about choosing and fighting sin on paper is easy, but here comes a selection of fictional Meetings/tides, highlighting how difficult it is to safely steer your ship to shore in the midst of a roaring tide. 🙂
- Romeo’s meeting Juliet while in love with Rosaline;
- Novel An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, in which a young man meets a girl, gets her pregnant, she refuses to let him go and he ends up killing her during a boat ride, while the reader actually ends up sympathising with him during the meticulously described murder trial.
- Another book by Dreiser, Sister Carrie, where a well-to-do settled-down man meets a chorus girl, elopes with her, is unable to find a job and ends up being financially dependent on her as she becomes an increasingly popular theatre actress. Eventually she leaves him and he kills himself in the cheap room of a beggar hostel.
- Book The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy – exquisite, slow-moving and as rich as thickly embroidered brocade. In it, the chief female protagonist Irene flees a loveless marriage, spends years in solitude and ends up being emotionally involved with two other men of the same family, a father and a son (does that remind you of the Brook character of The Bold and the Beautiful? :)) Irene makes up her mind to leave her detested husband after a man she had truly, madly and deeply fallen in love with has suddenly died. That’s the Meeting. However, until the end of her life, Irene fails to escape the influence and shadow of her first husband, in a meandering and subdued existence that is really heart-breaking.
- Short story The Colonel’s Lady by Somerset Maugham, which I have already mentioned here. In it, a plain-looking middle aged wife of a colonel publishes a much-acclaimed collection of poetry. People start gossiping and the husband is hinted to read his wife’s book, which he has automatically rejected as a woman’s thing, unworthy of his attention. He reads it, and is amazed to discover that the poems suggest his wife has had a very passionate affair with a much younger man, who had subsequently died, plunging her in insurmountable grief, of which she had outwardly betrayed nothing. The colonel is amazed that he had not noticed anything and is appalled at how little he actually knows his wife.
- Short story Virtue by Somerset Maugham, which I have also previously mentioned. In it, a person accidentally crosses the street, meets a long-forgotten acquaintance and introduces him to a family where the wife falls in love with him. This makes the husband start drinking and eventually commit suicide. Sounds melodramatic when summarised so concisely, but actually isn’t, when you read the whole thing.
- Novel The Queen of Tarnovo by Bulgarian author Emilian Stanev. In it, a young women’s doctor returns to his native town of Veliko Tarnovo in central Bulgaria, after having completed his medical studies in France in the 1910s. He starts a medical practice and employs a local woman to be his assistant. He grows attracted to her and she eventually becomes his lover. The town people call her, half-mockingly and half-enviously, The Queen of Tarnovo, to highlight the new-found poise in her bearing, stemming from her sensual emancipation and new, western-style clothing.
The doctor is perturbed by this affair as he realises he’ll never marry the woman because he has higher social aspirations that would require marriage in wealthier circles. He meets the sick daughter of a local tradesman and contemplates marrying her, but is put off by her tuberculosis, which might never be cured. The girl falls in love with him too and refuses to go abroad for treatment. The doctor feels trapped between these two women he is attracted to and has in a way seduced. Gossip around town becomes unbearable and the assistant quits both her job and the doctor’s house. Her ex-husband shoots the doctor in the leg, leaving him limp for life.
The rich girl is hastily sent abroad by her parents and the relationship with the doctor is severed. The Balkan War of 1912 starts and the former medical assistant becomes a battlefield nurse, while the doctor is fully occupied with the sick and maimed soldiers flocking to Tarnovo. At one point the doctor and his former assistant work side by side but never speak to each other. A cholera epidemic breaks out, the former nurse catches it, dies alone and is buried in a common grave. The doctor, jaded and embittered by all he has been through, marries a rich girl from Plovdiv and starts leading a secluded life, not unalleviated by drinking.
A catalogue of sticky situations, n’est-ce pas? 🙂 Leave you wondering what the right thing to do might be.
Guidance and consolation may be contained in an excerpt of a poem by William Blake (1757-1827), whose tone of almost cheerful resignation I find most soothing:
A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.
It is right it should be so;
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know
Through the world we safely go.
Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born.
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.
Looks like every Tide comes along with two rafts – one sailing to sweet delight and the other – to endless night, shallows as Shakespeare said, or a flickering existence at best. The raft to damnation must definitely be far more comfortable, as surely far more people are hopping on it to ride the tide, aren’t they? 🙂