A few months ago we wrote a blog called Desire Transformed. Now we want to explore another complexity of human emotion, one also transformed so to speak by the situation in which Brooke and those around him find themselves. This is about the different sorts of love that have emerged—forms of love we didn’t, in our conventional lives, know existed. This is just one of them.
It should be perfectly clear from the writing we’ve been doing in this blog that the bond between the two of us, Brooke and Peggy, is enormously strong, and is the result of years of intimacy on all levels—physical, emotional, intellectual, and more. It sounds entirely conventional to say this, but it’s a love between two adults who have lived together for thirty-five years, maturing over time. But it has also been an enormously powerful friendship, one among the several kinds of love. It is usually assumed (at least in contemporary times, though not for example by Aristotle) that friendship is inferior or subordinate to love, that love is the most important thing, but we don’t think it’s as simple as that.
My accident, says Brooke, has produced a different kind of growth. It’s Love Under Trial---that’s the title we project for whatever book we might eventually write—and even the darkest moments have opened up to new clarities. We’ve become aware, of course, of how much we owe each other. We are each profoundly amazed by the other’s courage, even though weakness and the risk of defeat is always lurking around. We admire each other’s connectedness to others and ability to give to others, Brooke especially, even when in pain. This in turn has strengthened our love-bonds with others.
If this accident hadn’t taken place, or something equally challenging, our lives would have been played out within a network of friends, relations, acquaintances, colleagues, that was eminently satisfying. We hadn’t any complaints, and knew how lucky we were.
Now, however, friendship is coming more clearly into view, fused with a kind of love that it is difficult to describe. It’s about reciprocity, in part, sometimes a kind of reciprocity of anguish and suffering.
Yesterday afternoon, we were visited by a couple, R. and J., whom we knew years ago as backpacking and skiing partners—we camped in the Uintas and skied in the Wasatch—but we’d been out of touch with them for a number of years. We’d get Christmas cards showing how their kids were growing up, and we’d run into them occasionally at parties, but with brief contact. You could say that our friendship had lapsed, like a religious belief that fades and loses force, though it doesn’t entirely disappear. But circumstances have changed for them too: R. was diagnosed about a year ago with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or what the British call motor neurone disease. It produces gradual loss of all motor function, including speech and eventually breathing, ending in death. It’s always been my idea, Peggy says, of the disease you’d least like to have. And now our friend R. has it.
When they first brought dinner for us at South Davis, R. looked at Brooke, lying motionless in bed and then still on the ventilator, and said, That’s me in a couple of years. If I’m lucky. R. and J. have come several times more, and each time R.’s disease has worsened a little—a hand loses function, an arm, then the muscles of speech weaken. But yesterday when they came, there was a new depth between these two men, both of whom are learning the ways in which one’s body can slip out beneath you. We are our bodies, it is fashionable to assume in contemporary thought; but it doesn’t feel this way: one feels as if one’s body had failed you, while you’re still there. Brooke says he feels as if the phantom of his old body was still trapped within him, trying to get out; R. feels his slipping away. But even though they’re not in quite the same circumstances, these two victims of the frailties of the body nevertheless communicate at a level the rest of us can barely understand. They know, or are coming to know, how one both is and isn’t one’s body, something mere friends wouldn’t ordinarily discuss or even understand. That it’s something these two men do both understand is perhaps the basis of the deeper love that has begun to flower between them. One lies there in the bed, talking but unable to move; the other stands there, moving but less able to articulate his speech; but they speak to each other in a way transformed, far far beyond the light banter of trail gossip or skiing talk or the superficial greetings at parties that were our previous fare. Is it friendship? Is it love? Is there any point in trying to distinguish between them?We always knew how lucky we were; we just didn’t know that in certain ways, even in the face of tragedy, there’s a way in which, in a very special sense, you can be even luckier.