I’ve been thinking about the relationship between distance and love in these past few weeks that Dar spent mostly away from home. I realized that after more than a year together, I was still very much in love. I had butterflies at the expectation of seeing him and still felt a surge of gratitude for every look of his eye. Being apart, I was surprised to discover, made me love Dar more.
The internet is overflowing with beautiful quotes about distance and love. Roger de Bussy-Rabutin, a French memoirist (and by his very French-ness an expert on love) said, “Absence is to love as wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small and kindles the great.” The romantic poet Khalil Gibran stated, “And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.” More recently, inspirational author Richard Bach wrote, “Can miles truly separate you from friends? If you want to be with someone you love, aren't you already there?”
I grew up believing that proximity is important for love. Mothers’ and children’s hearts, my mother explained when I was young, are connected by a string which tugs at them painfully if the distance between them grows too great. When I left home at eighteen and enlisted in the Israeli army, the five thousand miles from my parents stretched that string nearly beyond bearing The experience affected me so greatly that I now have little tolerance for separation. I dislike being far from anyone I love. I miss the kids when they are at their father’s and my family and friends in Israel. I see my parents at least three or four times a week and call them on the phone every day, sometimes twice. I like the stability of presence, being together, companionship. I like the security that comes from knowing a person I love is near.
And yet here I am, claiming that being apart from Dar has made me love him more.
Two years ago, my cousin and I visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and we stopped to look at the site of the mysterious petroglyphs which the old Hawaiians carved into the lava as it cooled. As I walked through the lava desert, the voice of Pele, goddess of the volcano ,sounded deep in my love-longing heart. “You will have great love,” she promised me, and a year later I met Dar.
These past few weeks made me realize that opening my heart to love and to the pain of separation increased my inner awareness of love. Absence touched my heart, spanned the distance between me and Dar, creating both suffering and joy, promising happy reunions and teary farewells. Maybe the Buddha’s first noble truth should not be “Suffering is,” but “Love is.” I like that better, though I could argue that suffering and love are at once opposite sides and the same side of the symbolic coin of life.