Young Love

August 12, 2009 | By | Add a Comment

She was a girl going on thirteen as I was, with a mouth that turned up at the corners. If we ever spoke to each other about anything of consequence, I have long since forgotten it. I have forgotten the color of her eyes. I have forgotten the sound of her voice. But one day at dusk we were sitting side by side on a crumbling stone wall watching the Salt Kettle ferries come and go when, no less innocently than the time I reached up to the bust of Venus under my grandfather’s raffish gaze, our bare knees happened to touch for a moment, and in that moment I was filled with such a sweet panic and anguish of longing for I had no idea what that I knew my life could never be complete until I found it. “Difference of sex no more we knew / Than our guardian angels do,” as John Donne wrote, and in the ordinary sense of the word, no love could have been less erotic, but it was the Heavenly Eros in all its glory nonetheless–there is no question about that. It was the upward-reaching and fathomlessly hungering, heart-breaking love for the beauty of the world at its most beautiful, and beyond that, for that beauty east of the sun and west of the moon which is past the reach of all but our most desperate desiring and is finally the beauty of Beauty itself, of Being itself and what lies at the heart of Being.

Like all children I had been brought up till then primarily on the receiving end of love. My parents loved me, my grandparents, a handful of others maybe, and I had accepted their love the way a child does, as part of the givenness of things, and responded to it the way a cat purs when you pat it. But now for the first time I was myself the source and giver of a love so full to overflowing that I could not possibly have expressed it to that girl whose mouth turned up at the corners even if I had the courage to try. And let anyone who dismisses such feelings as puppy love, silly love, be set straight because I suspect that rarely if ever again in our lives does Eros touch us in such a distilled and potent form as when we are children and have so little else in our hearts to dilute it. I loved her more than I knew how to say even to myself. Whether in any way she loved me in return, I neither knew nor, as far as I can remember, was even especially concerned to find out. Just to love her was all that I asked. Eros itself, even tinged with the sadness of knowing that I could never fully find on earth or sea whatever it was that I longer for, was gift enough.

Then, as unforseeably as it had begun, it ended. On the first of September, Hitler’s armies invaded Poland, and on the third, England and France declared war on Germany. The rumor soon spread that the Germans had plans to capture Bermuda for a submarine base, and all Americans were required to leave. It happened very suddenly, and in the haste and confusion of it, I never even knew when she left or had a chance to say goodbye. The Monarch and the Queen were painted gray for camouflage, and on the Queen, I think, with the portholes blacked out and no one allowed so much as to light a match on the deck after dark, we set sail for a reality that we were forced, with the rest of the world, to face at last.

– Frederick Buechner, The Sacred Journey

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Category: Quotes

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