The Realm of Love

There is an interminable space between us, and when we lay in silence, our eyes lost in the indescribable mystery of an infinite sky, we are more akin to mingling souls than mere lovers. Our fingers might entwine, or our bodies press together, but nothing arrays our infiniteness so aptly as the confluence of her gaze and mine, which, when held in silence, alternately subsumes us in rapt hypnosis, or frightens us to look away.

She came to me in the numb softness of days when, suspended between two cities and growing false even to myself, my ambitions had paled and what remained of my soul’s longing was nothing more than an ember, slowly cooling in a hearth grown anxious with disuse. Soullessness is impossible, but far from impossible is the callous disbelief that sets in when we no longer take the time to sit by the hearthside and listen, when we no longer lose ourselves to the enchanting whispers of the flames of our soul.

She came to me without assumption, barely more than a stranger. And nor did I think anything of her coming – even as the hours passed and we fell as easily as snow into a familiarity that felt ageless and true. We drove through the day, and later through the night, toward something neither of us had expected, and away from things entirely different, things made silent in the corners of our minds. Lightening fell and the windshield became bleary with rain. We spoke in a continuous stream of unknowing. We drove half blind. And as the hours fell behind us, and the road, soon encased in ice, became impassable, we paused – still not knowing.

Had things been different, we would have fallen in love along the highway and relinquished ourselves to something beyond our frail individuality. Instead we only walked toward the edge of love, curled our toes over the brink of it, and stared down, with astonished relief, at its endlessness. We did this unconsciously. We did it with an authenticity untouched by thought. Several weeks passed like this, and for several weeks we gazed not so much at one another, as at the space between us, which was not vacuous but full of light, and mystery, and things long forgotten. Not long after, when things were different, we unfurled our toes, and leapt.

We fell, and lost ourselves to that which is indescribable, sacred, and impossible to possess. I found in her an endlessness that could never be repeated; I was both mystified and entranced. Had I continued to fall then, I could have fallen forever. Had I known for certain that I belonged to the endlessness that pulled so gently at my heart, I would have released myself to it indefinitely. And indeed, I felt at first I had. But time passed and something ancient and familiar began to voice its surreptitious presence in my heart and all the calloused disbelief, and all the cold disenchantment that I thought I’d left behind forever, resumed its thick presence around my heart. Just as the snow reaches the threshold of the earth and can go no farther, so too did I reach a threshold upon the surface of my being, barring me from the infinite depths of all we had discovered.

Fear suspended me in defiance of love, and sentenced me coolly to the belief that the infiniteness of love I had found in her was an infiniteness to which I could never fully belong. This is shame: that I, despite my soul’s urgent appeal, would be stricken by the dismal belief that I do not belong innately, and eternally, to love. Shame means nothing else.

We fell in love, as people would say. But shame, with feigned compassion, compelled me then to avert my gaze from the depth of her beauty and linger instead upon the threshold where something still akin to beauty lay, and where I, avoiding the truest depths of love, could tarry undisturbed by my illusionary lack of belonging. She remained a mystery to me for a while, as even along this thin membrane of her being, so much was unknown to me. But time passed, and what shallow love I had believed in myself enough to fall to, mystified me less and less. My ego, convinced of the validity of shame, had compelled my gaze from the endless depths of her soul, arguing easily that I could never belong to such a place, and offered me instead a view of her to which I could feel more at home. It offered me the same frail dissemblance of love from which my ego itself was also born.

I have wanted love all my life. And all my life I have been deceived by the belief that although love was an endless sphere of light, as infinite as the night sky, I could only ever hope to reach the brink of it and gasp with disbelief before turning away. Knowing only the arresting hesitance of my own disbelief, I have stood at the same threshold again and again, choosing a dissemblance of love wherein egos remain at play in ever cycling dramas, emotional patterns, insecurities, and trivialities until frail bonds tethered to shallow places have come undone, and again I’ve drifted out, not knowing.

She came to me over two years ago. And this is how it differs: in the early days, when she was still a mystery to me, I was drawn at first to her infinite soul, but found myself withdrawing to the threshold, where I tarried for awhile in disbelief. I wove a dissemblance from egoic thoughts, convinced by shame that love could amount to only this frail parade of emotions, and it too, as it always had, came undone, came crashing all around us until the ground was covered with shattered masks, and the empty shells of colorful balloons, and the discarded fragments of garish costumes, and the rustling pages of repetitive scripts, and the silenced horns of a once-continuous din, and the broken locks of once-held secrets; and every game of pretend was suddenly laid bare. And this is how it differs: we stood amidst the chaos of all our extravagant and fallen charades, naked and ashamed, our infinite depths exposed and devoid of all glamour; and rather than drifting out again, not knowing, rather than turning in fear and running with utter desperation, we held one another’s gaze. We stared into the endlessness of one another’s souls and though we were frightened, we did not look away. We did not scramble to the ground to gather the pieces, and build them up, to once again be lost in a cacophony of endless stories. We held one another’s gaze. We stood at the brink of the endlessness to which we belonged. And we surrendered.

Entering the realm of Love, we leave behind the coarse dissemblance of egoic pride; we release our shame and open the places within us most in need of love. We reveal hidden shadows and cover them with light; we call out the demons and finally see them as frightened children in need of our embrace; we arouse to fierceness the dragons we have feared and bring them at last to our loyalty. In Love our souls whisper their thin ribbons of flame and everything becomes illuminated. We roam through infinite meadows and endless forests and discover the full beauty of who we are. In Love we are home.


Permit me Love


In the corner of a crowded bar I sat down with a friend I hadn’t seen in several months. It wasn’t the first time we had met there and as usual we shook hands upon meeting and then gripped the tall glasses of dark beer that stood between us. The weather was cold that night. The winter had barely begun and the beer immediately chilled me. At first, our dialogue closely mirrored the conversations we had had the year before, and the year before that. We revisited past events – contemporizing our understandings – and introduced one another to the details of our new relationships, jobs, and homes. It was a good dialogue, and it interested us both, but there came a point when I broke away from our usual anthology of themes. There came a point when I chose to deviate from what I knew to be safe and introduce our friendship to a new level of vulnerability.

We did not know each other very well. Our meetings were infrequent and though our experiences of life had often been eerily similar we had experienced them quite separately. There was a sense of innate understanding, but it had only been communicated at an exterior level. We sat across from one another, gripping our tall beers, and I chose to share with him the happenings, and the thoughts, and the questions of my interior life. I chose to be markedly more vulnerable with him than I had been before and in doing so I not only allowed him to see me more clearly but I gave him permission to respond to my vulnerability with his own. By my own decision to be vulnerable I introduced the possibility of vulnerability to our relationship and permitted him to participate in it.

Last week, I sat beside a stretch of rapids along the Bird River and absent-mindedly lifted a piece of deadwood from the water’s edge. At first I saw the chrysalis, which was perfectly intact so that it appeared to be its own fragile creature. A few centimeters away the dragonfly clung to the upheaved wood and slowly unfurled his wings, which were then barely visible, pinched and gathered as they were against his shoulders. He had no choice but to remain where he was, patient in the light of his own becoming. And I – fascinated and apart from him – watched in wonder until it was time to move on and I returned him to his place by the water. I continued to paddle along the river, and all along its edge; on the rocks and the limbs of fallen trees, I saw them in tremulous repose, waiting for their wings to unfold, and I wondered what bell had rung to signal this chorus of revolution. Who had permitted them to change?

In the early spring I watched the crows arrive and then the gulls. Later the leaves emerged and the grass turned green. The mosquitoes came in what seemed a single wave and the dragonflies followed. Last night our windows swarmed with a breed of flies I had never seen before. They seemed to come all at once, but in each case there must have been a first. Even if only by the slightest of moments, one blade of grass began to turn before all the rest. One mosquito hatched before any other. We are listening, all of us, all the time, for the moment when we are allowed to begin. We are listening for permission to act, to speak, and to think. We are listening for permission to live the life that we want to live and be the people we want to be. We are listening even when we do not know it.

I stood across from a man who I perceived to be my enemy. I stood in silence at a distance and I saw him do the same. At his approach, I built a wall to defend myself and the presence of that wall permitted him to build his own. When I raised my voice against him I permitted him to shout back. When I reached forward to strike him I initiated the possibility of violence and gave him permission to strike me in return. The more harm I did to him, the more harm I permitted him to do to me. My attacks carried intrinsically with them the words “you may now attack me.” And after years of hatred, and distance, and fear, I finally fell, exhausted and defeated. I let the walls around my heart fall. I unfurled my fists, forgot my hateful words and chose instead to be utterly vulnerable in front of him, without fear. In that moment, I gave him permission to do the same. I introduced the possibility that we are not enemies at all, but dear friends. I opened my arms, and he opened his. We embraced. We were redeemed.

When we are gracious, we permit those around us to be gracious. When we are malicious, we permit others to be malicious. When we smile, we permit others to smile. When we cry, we permit others to cry. When we curse, we permit others to curse. When we hate, we permit others to hate. When we fear we permit others to fear. When we attack, we permit others to attack. When we are vulnerable, we permit others to be vulnerable. When we forgive, we permit others to forgive. When we love, we permit others to love.

I awoke in the dead of winter, when the lake was a frozen plain and my heart was laid bare on its bed of ice. I listened, through the din of voices permitting my escape, for the single whisper offering me something more. I listened for the voice that gave me permission to exist not in fear, but in love. I listen even now, and though against this love my ego offers its continual consent to escape reality and enter the delusion of self-hatred and the fear of inadequacy, my true essence, my divine nature, continually permits me to live the life that I deserve. Fear says, “I permit you to escape, to abandon love, to disregard truth, to hide, to despair, and to slowly die.” Love says, “I permit you to embrace your life, to love freely and generously, to speak your truth, to follow your dreams, and to experience the fullness of life.” In everything we do, we have the choice to be the voice of love in the lives of others, or the voice of fear. By our words we can grant others the permission to experience life, or to experience death.

We live amidst a myriad voices, each with its tone, its volume, and its frequency. There are those whose permissions we seek and obey with unwavering readiness, and there are those whose permissions we consistently resist. There are the people to whom we are closest. There are those on the periphery of our lives. There are the strangers with whom many of us spend much of our time. We sit and we stare and we listen to the steady stream of permissions embedded in the movies and television we watch. We permit one another to do so by the normalcy of our indulgence in it. We are given permission to be materialistic, to strip sex of meaning, to do violence to one another, to abandon our purpose in life, to destroy our bodies, and to mock truth. We are given permission to waste the hours of our lives as if we had nothing better to do with them.

I want to stand beside the people in my life and speak truth, that they would also be permitted to speak truth. I want to abandon fear in my relationships, that my companions would also abandon their fear. I want to love and permit those around me to love. I want to be vulnerable, that I would permit others to also be vulnerable. And when I am permitted to hate, I want to respond not with willingness, nor merely with silent passivity, but with reactive conviction.

I know that it can be easy to remain in patterns that do not serve me. It is easier still when I enable those around me to do so, or when they enable me. We permit one another to live out our patterns of fear. However, we are permitted by love to abandon all patterns that do not serve us. We are permitted to learn new patterns. In moments, I must have the courage to defy the permissions of my egos and my fears and choose instead to permit love. In moments, a radical voice must cry out within our own hearts that we would have the courage to be the first, that as we act in love, in defiance of fear, we would grant permission to others to do the same. Life is brief, and it is eternal. We exist as mere children in the midst of children, forever listening to the voices that surround us, forever waiting for permission to be the love that exists in all of us. We need only listen, and in turn speak its voice.


Nothing is Lost


I withdrew from my father when I was young, long before I was aware of what I was doing, long before I was conscious of fear. I do not remember the moment it began. I do not remember if it was because of something that happened, or something that I imagined. I do know that it continued by degrees intermittently through every year that followed and that every degree perpetuated the next. Some moments are memorable and others are forgotten. Most of them happened quietly within my own perceptions. I believe that all of them left my father feeling partly confused and saddened. I believe that it was my silence that created the most distance. I became less available and maybe he did too. My father is a deeply loving man. I always admired him and was always grateful to have a father that was both consistently present and consistently kind. My withdrawal from him was not warranted, and I do not fully understand it. But I can say with confidence that we have continually loved one another unconditionally despite our varying degrees of separation. At the heart of our feelings for one another I know there is perfect love. And yet, there is this quiet distance, as if we remain unsure of one another.


When I was young I loved being in the woods. I had dreams of living in the country where I could take myself on adventures through wild fields and across shallow creeks to encounter creatures in the trees and climb up to meet them. I had dreams of breathing life into my own natural spirit, which felt cloistered and out of place in the city. I had dreams of a feeling of freedom I so rarely encountered amidst the bungalows and the hum of streetlights, the cars driving by and the pavement beneath them. The closest I came to experiencing my vision of idyllic boyhood was along the length of an old railroad line at the outskirts of my neighbourhood. In the summertime my father would wake me early Saturday mornings, while my sisters still slept, to ride our bikes down the trails between the trees, through the cool air and the shadows cast by the dancing leaves that consumed my vision. These were quiet moments. These were the moments when my father and I were closest to being one, the moments when our presences were most intertwined.


I cannot say that my father has failed me without admitting that I have also failed him. In our twenty-nine years there have been times when I felt disappointed and even hurt. There have been times when he was not the father that I wanted him to be. But there were also times when he felt disappointed and hurt by me – long before I knew I even had the power to disappoint or hurt him. There have been times when I was not the son he wanted me to be. I can say that he failed to be a perfect father and that I failed to be a perfect son, but that would be to accept the perspective that we are both inherently flawed. More truthfully we, who – stripped of all our egos and our fears and our false perceptions – are inherently perfect, share a relationship that has not always reflected our deepest truth. He and I are, most truly, perfect. And our true desire, and our true nature, is to express perfect love to one another without reserve, without anything getting in the way. I try to remember this.


When I was sixteen, I spent a day with my father in London. He had invited me to travel with him to Bulgaria where he had been asked to sing with a group of musicians. He invited me with an expectation and a hope that this shared experience would bring us closer together and restore us to the father-son relationship we had both so often wished for. He envisioned companionship and closeness. I imagine he prayed for these things. I had my own selfish vision, born of my growing sense of seclusion. After a day of walking through London, jet-lagged and desiring solitude, independence, and freedom, I felt my father’s hand on my shoulder and heard his saddened voice asking me to stop. I had been walking ahead of him all day and when I turned to meet his eyes I could see his disappointment and his hurt. I felt tears rising in my own throat, but more than the compassion that was then welling up within me, I felt afraid. I was tired and in a strange and busy place. I have never liked crowds and Trafalgar Square is far from sparse. I was overwhelmed and I knew that he was too, but in that moment, when my own exposed vulnerability could have been an opportunity for love to unfold, I chose to harden myself again, despite my tears, and withdraw even further. We walked the rest of the evening side by side, but I was apart from him. We were no longer standing within one another’s presences.


I love my father. I am blessed to have grown up with a man that has been present and available, caring and thoughtful, and ultimately loving. I have seen his weaknesses and his strengths and know that I can still embrace him. When I reflect on our relationship I am aware of all the times when our relationship has suffered from delusions of separation. I see the times when I have needlessly withdrawn from him. I remember the disappointments that I have felt, of which there are many that are completely unfair. Maybe all of them are ultimately unfair. I remember the way I looked up to him as a child. I think of the ways I have not become the man I imagine he wanted me to be.


A father is a powerful thing and we must have all, in some deep-rooted way, in our earliest years and maybe even now, expected something divine from them. Whether they are in our lives or not, the idea of a father carries an archetypal weight that promises strength, authority, love, kindness, wisdom, integrity, and steady goodness. We want a man in our lives that models divinity, one that will teach us perfect truth, guide us away from every danger, and love us without fail. We want a man we can look up to, a man we can aspire to be, and a man who fills us with awe. We want a god. Some part of us expects it, or did once. But what we have is inconsistent. We have felt their love, and seen something god-like in many of their actions. We have heard the deepest truths in their words and we have admired them in moments. But we have also felt disappointed in the moments when they have not been god-like. They have not always understood us. At times, they have not truly seen us. As much as we have held them hostage to some idyllic version of what it means to be a father, we have sensed the times when they have tried to impress upon us their own idyllic version of what they imagine it means to be a son, or a daughter. We feel disappointed, and we believe they are disappointed in us, and we push one another away sadly, angrily at times, failing to realize that our disappointments are born not of failure but of expectation.


My father and I spent two weeks together in Bulgaria. It was memorable and impacting and I will never forget it. But although I walked beside my father down the same streets, although I saw the same things he did, and although we smelled the same unfamiliar smells and heard the same unfamiliar language, I remained silently insistent on having my own experience apart from him. I was taught, subversively and without accountability, to believe that it was natural for me as a young man, coming of age, to intentionally set out on my own, to become a man independent of my father and begin to develop an understanding of my own identity apart from him. I was taught to believe that at a certain age, boys become men and everything must change, that distance must be maintained, and vulnerabilities protected, that other men represent the threat of disappointment, and pain, and competition, and that to be a man, I must stand alone, firmly, defiantly at times, without wavering. What I have learned now, is that on that day, looking into my father’s eyes, standing in the middle of Trafalgar Square, seeing his pain and knowing that my years of distance had caused it, I should have let down every guard, released every fear and false perception, and yielded to the love of a man who wanted nothing more than to be in the presence of his son. I should have wept in his arms and known his closeness.


Nothing is lost. Moments pass and are swept back beyond my reach. Trafalgar Square is far from me and it is unlikely I will ever stand there again with my father, seeing in his eyes the pain of separation and knowing the same pain in my own heart. It was a missed opportunity, and when I think of it now I feel saddened by my failure to respond in love. I imagine what could have been. I imagine how every moment since then could have been different. But nothing is lost. Every missed opportunity remains in safekeeping. Circumstances change and opportunities take new forms, but whatever it is that could have been; the love that we failed to reveal; the closeness we failed to return to, remains held for us within gentle and willing hands, waiting for the moment when we finally discard our fear and embrace the love we truly believe in.

– C

Blessed Wounds


The night passes slowly across the lake, spreading its weight over the water and climbing the shoreline to meet the trees, and in the wakening leaves, and in the rising grasses, there is the crawling movement of life reaching back – back from languorous roots and hidden burrows, back from the frozen months of winter, back from antiquated dreams now rebirthing, back from the aged memory of beginnings. Beside me my beloved lies, breathing her calm, quiet breaths, which become to me the mantra I cannot ignore. They become to me my own rising chest, my own sense of calm. I begin to fall asleep and the sensation of nostalgia passes over me, as if I were returning to something forgotten but to which my heart belongs, as if I lingered in the space between heaven and make-believe. We conspire, which is to say, we breathe together. Her breath becomes mine, and mine becomes hers, and the room fills with our recollected dreams as I begin to fall away. I fall asleep. I fall into an awareness of something just out of reach, a vague memory that is both prehistoric and nearer to me than any feeling I’ve ever known. I am falling, and in falling I experience a moment I cannot describe.


I have dreamed all my life of knowing God. I have listened to the falling rain in hope of gleaning a discernible whisper. I have watched the woods in hope of seeing some movement between the trees. I have looked to the minds and the hearts of men to be my teachers. I have waited. When I was young I knew a prophet who heard the voice of God. He taught me repentance and the necessary pain of redemption, and I offered him my mind with the faith that upon its malleability would be impressed the knowledge that I sought. He became to me a conduit of divine love and I turned to him in supplication, listening with earnest hope to the words I felt to be so true. And then the voice of God told the man to leave. And I was alone and in silence. And I did not know God. A second man appeared, and I became his disciple, and my want of knowledge was no less insistent, but my mind was far less pliant and this man’s words did not reach my heart as the prophet’s had. The thought of God became far from me. And I left the second man and again I felt alone.


I begin a list on my hand of all the men who have failed me, and on the other are the women who have caused me pain. My life becomes a slow account of all the people who have fallen short of giving me the perfect love I have always wanted. Their names form a line down the lengths of my arms. They cover my body with their indecencies and I approach the mirror to see, with deep conviction, the ledger, made red against me. I see the proof that I am unworthy of love.


I am falling, and in falling I feel no fear. For a moment I recognize the deepest truth. Between wakefulness and sleep I grow nostalgic for God. I am falling, and the place to which I am falling receives me with an open palm. Held there, in love, I see the truth I have always known, the one I’ve been trying so hard to return to. Held in love, I see that all of them have been my teachers, and every imagined wound was a lesson not yet learned. Held there, I begin to understand that though I imagine myself to have suffered by the words and actions of those around me, the truth is that my suffering was chosen, and that every time I chose it, I was failing to see an opportunity to relinquish some aspect of my ego, and instead accept a necessary truth, the only truth, the truth of love.


We looked to our fathers and our mothers as the men and women responsible for our wellbeing. Later, we looked to our friends, and our lovers, and our children. We may have never believed them to be saints, but we were disappointed when they acted in any other way. They disappointed us by withholding affection, or criticizing us, or abandoning us, or being too forceful, or being too weak. We experienced the pain of their disapproval, or their disregard, or their disdain. They were not perfect, and though some seemed close, we still emerged from our experiences of them with a list of wounds to be carried with us through the years that followed. We may not have blamed them, but we looked at their actions or their inactions as explanations for our wounds. We justified our feelings of inadequacy by our analyses of the ways they loved us or did not, of whether they did so too much or too little. We lived our lives believing that the actions of those around us could be understood only as either blessings or wounds. We disregarded the possibility that even the wounds could be blessings. We disbelieved that we were safe.


I look to my beloved, that my eyes upon her would be a light, which, with patience and intent, would seek to pierce the hidden shadows of her soul where fear conceals love. I offer myself to her, to also be seen, to conceal nothing, to know the blessed pain of her light upon me, to know the gift of a wounded ego, to know that beneath every fear is hidden love, to know that I am safe. There is nothing more terrifying than this holy love. To allow it upon us, to allow ourselves to fall into it, to move into the scorching flames where our egos cry out in pain and all that can remain is our truest, purest selves, is the gift of life we have always been wanting. It is the gift of life to which we have been longing to return.


If my essential self is love, and if that love is divine and perfect and unchanging, and if everything else is merely ego, than the only wounds I can bear, the only wounds I can really experience, will be wounds inflicted upon my ego alone. My truest self remains safe. When someone teaches me that I am unlovable, expressing disapproval, or disdain, or disregard, I have a choice, as I always do, to respond in love or to respond in fear. My ego cries out in agony and resorts to resentment or despair. But my essential self understands that the wound, if it is felt as a wound, is trying to teach me something.


If I am told that I am ugly, then I hold in my hands a potential lesson, which I can either learn or discard. To discard this lesson is to do one of two things. Either I dwell in the belief that I am ugly and therefor unlovable, or I react with defiance and hold more strongly to the belief that I am beautiful, and that it is because I am beautiful that I am worthy of love. Either way, I am reacting at an ego level and ignoring my essential self. Being told I am ugly can only wound my belief that my value is in any way affected by being physically beautiful. To feel wounded, is to learn that this belief still exists within me. The lesson then is not to succumb to the accusation of ugliness, nor to defy it with claims of beauty, but to recognize that it is ultimately meaningless. To discard this lesson, on the other hand, is to further thicken the layers of ego built up around my truer self. To discard this lesson is to invite it to return, and not with malice but with genuine concern, that I would again have the opportunity to shed my ego, and open myself to love.


The names of men and women pass through my mind. I see their faces one by one, and I become aware of the imaginary walls risen up between us, walls born of the pain that I have felt, or the pain that I have caused. There are few for whom I feel resentment, but there are others from whom I would keep my distance. Their names pass through my mind and for a moment I glimpse the love hiding quietly behind our collective fear. We wait, and in silence we tend to our walls with covered whispers and unseen glances, with worried minds and cautionary hearts, becoming ever more deluded by the belief that we are separate, and unsafe, and that anything but love exists between us. Time passes and we grow tired and forgetful. Enemies are born. Grudges lay root. Pain sets in. And love continues to implore us, calmly asking us to look into our open palms and see them filled not with grievances, but with lessons waiting to be learned. They are our blessed wounds, given to us that the walls so carefully tended to by our fear, would dissolve, revealing something true, and invulnerable.


I lay awake imagining the slow breath of trees. Beside me, my beloved lies. Her own breath rises and subsides, and by the calm weight of her presence I begin to fall. The walls of our bedroom disappear and all around us I hear the restless birds shifting in their branches, and the rain making circles on the lake, and the cool wind touching every blade of nascent grass. I give in. I let go. And there, on the periphery of my falling mind I remember something ancient and unimaginable. A wave of nostalgia moves through my mind, dissolving my body and hers, dissolving the bedroom, and the night, and the blankets of rain, until I remember, in the faint moment before falling asleep, the synonymity of being in love, and knowing God.


In Tremulous Wonder



Nahr el Bared, Palestinian Refugee Camp, North Lebanon.

His gesture was reluctant, as if he was practicing it for the first time and was unsure that it could belong to him. By it he beckoned me to him, and I approached the window where he stood looking out at me. He had things to tell me, he said. He wanted to talk, he said. I came the following day as I had promised and he led me into his home, which was nothing more than a series of brick walls arranged neatly by the seashore. He stooped in the corner over a small fire and boiled the coffee he had been steeping for days. He sat me down in an old car seat, quite low to the ground – one of only two chairs that constituted his entire furniture collection. I waited. Above me, in the absence of a roof, was the open sky. It was grey and damp, framed by the tops of the empty walls and suddenly obstructed by the loom of the man, a mere silhouette handing me a cup of thick, gritty coffee as his voice lowered to a twitching whisper and he began divulging his scattered and dubious stories.


His name was Ahmed. I listened to his words in the place where his home once stood and his family once lived. He told me of the war and of his family’s departure, how they live now in another camp and he remains amidst the rubble, slowly rebuilding what was lost. He told me of the violent devices he had built and the conspiracies he had schemed, of the training he had received from unnamed factions in far-off places. His eyes shifted constantly, and his tongue darted from his mouth between each expulsion of the secrets I could not discern to be truth. I listened to the words of a frightened man and I remained distinctly aware of my disadvantage, sitting as I was beneath him, and I was also afraid.


Fear is familiar to us all. We fear abandonment, failure, each other. We fear our dreams and our potential. We fear illness and violence. We fear death. For those who have brushed up against it the fear of death can be constant. Even for those who have never experienced it directly, those for whom it remains an abstraction, the fear of death can be a steady presence. It follows us each time we walk out the door, get into a car, or look into our own aging eyes. The inevitability of death is a quiet thought in the backs of many of our minds, and for some a blatant fact less easily ignored. But for all of us, it is real.


I remember my grandmother’s accounts of the nightmares she endured before dying. I remember the grimace that came over her face and the cool dampness of her forehead where I pressed my lips in the moments following her last breath. I remember holding my father’s sobbing frame moments later. I remember his grief. I remember the weight of the coffin, which I shared with my cousins. I remember crying after we let her into the hearse.


I have only been afraid for my own life on a few occasions, but I have never been so close to dying that I can claim to have felt its touch. Of physical death, I have only a distant perspective, but of spiritual, emotional, and relational deaths, I am more familiar, and in all of these, I discover my fear. The death of a relationship reveals my fear that I am unworthy of love. The death of faith reveals my fear that I am alone. And the death of my dreams reveals my fear that my life is without purpose. In all of these things, I discover that my fear of death is not a fear of the unknown but of separation; separation from my body and my mind, separation from the people I have cared about, separation from my beliefs about God and myself, separation from life, and ultimately from love. I fear death because I am afraid to lose that which is most valuable to me. I am afraid to exist in the absence of love.


With each moment, in every circumstance, we are asked to choose between love and fear. Despite our feelings of despair, or hatred, or helplessness, we are never so limited in our circumstances that fear is our only option. The choice to love might not always deliver us from suffering, it might not result in euphoria, but it will elevate us, if only enough to endure the next moment. It will lead us closer to becoming who it is that we really are. I have not experienced what others have experienced. I have never been diagnosed with a terminal illness, nor lived through a war, nor grown up in an abusive home. I cannot claim that I would have the strength to choose love in the midst of such hardships, but I do know that there are those who have, and my belief in them becomes a belief in myself, and in all of us.


I remember a hateful thought. I look at it now and turn it over in my mind. It is unattractive and shameful and it happened within me. When I consider it for what it is, I can see that it was born of fear. I can see how afraid I was in that moment to look at the hate I bore for myself, which would have then led me to look at the thing that I hated within myself, which would have, I worried, led me to confirm my deepest fear: that I am undeserving of love. I made the unconscious choice in that moment to be afraid, and thus allowed a hateful thought to rest in my mind where love could have penetrated every layer of fear, to the very beginning of fear, and assured me of my value. I feel remorse for this thought, and regret. I see its complete lack of truth. And now, knowing that such hate existed within me in that moment, I am asked again to choose between love and fear.


When we experience an absence of love within ourselves, we might find clarity by questioning what it is that we are afraid of. Similarly, when we experience the absence of love in another, we would do well to look at them with compassion and see them not as hateful but as frightened. We can then attempt to show them the love that exists within ourselves in the hope that they will be reminded of the love that exists within themselves, the love that is fully capable of guiding them out of their fear and into their truth.


In every state of brokenness there is some fear preventing us from healing. For every wrong action that haunts us, there is some fear preventing us from experiencing redemption. And for every failed dream there is some fear that prevents us from returning to our purpose. We stand poised in tremulous wonder, either moved by love toward life or deceived by the fear that holds us in death. So many times, we have forgotten. So many times we have allowed fear to dissemble our true selves and have then resigned ourselves to despair, and the deaths of our spirits. But despair is merely a symptom of amnesia, and when we remember who we really are, we can then behave more truthfully. We can see fear for the shadow that it is and watch it vanish by even the faintest light.


In the weeks before her death, my grandmother’s fear surprised me. My memories of her had been of her constant warmth, and her joy, and her care. I remember her hugs and her kiss on my cheek. I remember the love she had for her family and for my grandfather. The confusion we witnessed in her last days was disheartening, as were her accounts of the dreams she had where some devil pursued her and she fled and did not know if she would escape. She was afraid of death. She neared it trembling. But her fear did nothing to separate her from love. It was mere amnesia. In her last moments, we surrounded her bed. Her breath became sparse and hollow and we counted the weighted seconds between them, until they did not return. My grandfather, with solemnity and grace, stated that she was gone and someone there began to sing. I was not afraid. My grandmother had returned to love and we, in a single voice, echoed her remembrance.


I met Ahmed in Lebanon, in the ruins of a Palestinian refugee camp called Nahr el Bared. In the two months that I spent wandering its muddied streets, I learned only a small part of what had happened there. I talked with the men and women who had been expelled from the camp in 2007, and returned several months later to find the frail remnants of what had once been their homes. For four months the Lebanese army had shelled the camp, eventually destroying virtually every shop and house belonging to its 45,000 residents, all with the claimed intent of capturing a group of 400 out-lawed men. Ahmed had little to say of them. He sat in the chair above me, smoking cigarettes and refilling my coffee. We had become a little more comfortable with each other but his vaunted claims continued to unnerve me. I could see his fear. I could feel its hatred. And I have to believe that even for a man like Ahmed, who has allegedly done terrible things, and has evidently had terrible things done to him, the choice to love remains constantly available.

– C

To read more about my experience in Nahr el Bared from 2008, visit my website: