Love like Gravity

You breathe in, you breathe out, and that quickly, everything you know about love changes.

We were driving home today from Phoenix, where the whole family had gathered to celebrate my Grandmother’s 90th birthday. People flew in from all over to be together, to share memories, to hold her hand and talk softly. She’s not doing very well – she had to be wheeled to the birthday party in a hospice chair, with an attendant nearby most of the time – and the unspoken thought of the weekend was that we might not have another chance to talk with her before she’s gone from us. She fell, early last week, and had surgery to pin her hip together. There’s no such thing as a minor fall or a simple surgery when you’re 90, and you can see some of the strength ebbing from her eyes when you talk to her.

She met Sophia for the first time, and Sophia reached out for her, and her Great-Grandma kissed her, as old women and young girls have always kissed, and they shared that secret joy called family, even though one is too young to know what it means, and one is so old she sometimes forgets, and even though they share none of the same blood, and have only just met – love sometimes works that way.

There is a lullaby that my wife and I sing to our daughter, and as this weekend unfolded, I kept singing the words over and over in my head.

Sophia, my beauty, I love you,
But you don’t know yet what that means

Love always works that way – it is given to those who are ignorant of its full value, in a thousand private acts of sacrifice. My daughter doesn’t know that we love her – she has no knowledge of its absence, and so, to her, it is just life. It is just what Mom and Dad are to her. May it never be otherwise!

This is the great mystery of love – that my Grandmother and my daughter can be caught up in its grasp, even though they had never met, and may never meet again. It is a force of nature, like gravity, and even though it might never be played out between them in those thousand acts of patience, of compassion, of sacrifice, it still binds them together.

My daughter doesn’t know this yet, but it is also true – I don’t know what love means either.

We all love in ignorance. Truly. We give in ignorance, and we receive in ignorance, and by these commissions we practice the art of love, knowing nothing of the force that compels it. It is the strongest force in the world.

There are deep rivers
beneath these still waters
and this love is more than it seems
this love is more than it seems

On the 210 freeway, driving home from Phoenix, at 80 mph, our left rear tire separated. The tread peeled off from the tire, and in an instant the steering wheel jerked loose from Gretchen’s hands, and we started to skid across 4 lanes of busy Sunday afternoon traffic.

As Gretchen fought for control, she grabbed the wheel, struggling to straighten out the van. We swerved sharply in the opposite direction, and as we did, I felt the van start to break loose – I saw the mountains sink below the window, and the pavement rise up on the other side, and felt my stomach turn upside down. The van started to tip over.

Your mother and I both had tutors
In heaven, and down here below

Sometimes Sophia decides she wants to do something, and nothing can dissuade her. If I push the matter, I can see her eyes flare up, and I see a glimpse of how strong her personality will be.

My dear daughter, you have no idea.

As the days of your life unfold, your mother and I will sit with you, and tell you the stories that you are a part of. My girl, there is fire in your veins – you are a daughter to strong women, women who love fiercely, and live deeply. You are the daughter of women who boarded ships to sail to strange lands, who forged homes in dark and inhospitable corners of the earth, who built businesses and fortunes in times when women were not allowed in boardrooms, who worked 12 hours a night to pay for their children’s medical care and schooling, who sent husbands and sons off to war and prayed for their safe return, women who never finished high school but whose daughters hold master’s degrees – my dear little girl, you are the daughter of strong, beautiful women.

And the strong and beautiful women who are your heritage have always taught their sons and daughters how to practice the art of love. They love like breathing in and out, like gravity, and it is a force that compels the world to turn.

Whatever we know of love, we learned at their feet.

You weren’t old enough to understand the words that Grandma said as she held you, but I will repeat them to you until you are.

“Love them.” She was looking at you, and at your mother, but she was talking to me. “Love them – you know that’s your most important job, don’t you? They are God’s blessing to you. Love them.”

They taught us the meaning
of love without ending
and, baby girl, that’s how we know
baby girl, that’s how we know

Gretchen was driving, my brother was in the front seat, and I was in the back seat next to Sophia, who was strapped into her car seat. We had all of our luggage in the back of the van, along with a big TV that my dad had sent with us to drop off for him at home.

As my stomach turned upside down, and the van tilted further and further, as the tires screamed and horns around us blared, I threw myself across Sophia, grabbing the far side of her seat with both hands, crushing her little body beneath my chest.

All I could think about was the massive TV spinning forward from the back of the van, crashing into us.

Sophia, my beauty, I love you,
But you don’t know yet what that means

You can’t possibly understand this yet, but I have never loved you more than when I was crushing your face into my chest, and you were screaming and beating me with your fists.

I can’t make you understand this yet, but everyone in that car would have done the same thing. And so would Papa, and Grammy Weiss, and Grandma Lee, and Grandpa, and your mother’s sisters, and their husbands, and your Uncle David, and Auntie Kim, and your dad’s aunts and uncles, and his cousins.

And even though she can’t move her legs, and even though she has to have help feeding herself, and getting dressed, and even though she sometimes gets confused and can’t remember where she is, even though her body no longer obeys the commands of her heart and mind; in her heart, and in her mind, your father’s father’s mother would do the same.

And behind her, a hundred generations whose bodies gave out before they could demonstrate their love for you.

There are deep rivers
beneath these still waters

My grandmother’s love was almost always the peaceful sort – the still waters. It was gentle, and compassionate, and it usually was accompanied by simple cards, and gifts, and thoughtful words.

And it was poured into my dad over 60 years of simple recurring acts of love.

Which was how he taught it to me.

And I will teach it to you in that same way – by simple repetition of silent sacrifices.

What I cannot explain to you, the deep mystery of love, is this: the still waters of simple repetition and silent sacrifice are the ripples on the surface of a raging torrent.

I will swing you in my arms just to hear you laugh, and to share in your joy.

I will also raise my arms to shield you against any onslaught, and will spend my last breath so that you can draw one more.

And though I cannot explain to you how, it is the same thing. Both acts are drawn from the same well. It is love.

At the last moment, when the van pulled itself upright once more, and as your mother guided it across 4 lanes of traffic to a safe stop on the side of the freeway, the first thing she did was reach back to touch you. You quieted instantly, and reached out and took her hand.

this love is more than it seems,
this love is more than it seems

In a few days, or weeks, or God willing, a few months more, Irene Lee will breathe her last breath, and someone beautiful will have gone out of the world.

I’m glad you got the chance to meet her, and I’m glad that you reached out to her, and that she kissed you.

When you grow, and you begin to imitate your mother, and she shows you how to live in that secret strength that the women in both of our families have always carried, and you begin to practice the art of love, it will not be something new that you do – it will be something very old. It will be something handed down from generation to generation, lived out in a thousand acts of patience, of compassion, of sacrifice.

Love is learned by imitation, and taught by repetition, and as my Grandmother leaves this earth, I pray you will take her place in this dance.

sophiasong.mp3

Sophia’s Lullaby
by Michael Lee

18 thoughts on “Love like Gravity

  1. Morphea

    Michael, you’ve kicked off my Monday morning with (I’m not kidding) tears. Good ones, obviously. Your description of your close call gave me an honest-to-god stomach ache.

    Good writing. Amazing subject matter. I’m so glad you’re all safe. And Gretchen, well done.

    Cerise

  2. june

    Like the others, I’m sitting here crying with a stomach all aflutter. Thank you for writing this Michael. This should be required reading for weary parents.

    I think I need to go breathe in a bag now. (That’s a part of love too. hehe.)

    Thanking God you’re all safe and sound!

  3. Sharolyn

    Pass the Kleenex, please.
    What beautiful writing.
    SO GLAD you are all safe.
    Give that baby a kiss from me!

  4. harmonicminer

    So, Mike…. next time you have to warn me. When people come to my office and find me in tears, they think something’s wrong… when the very opposite is true.

    What every parent knows who loves their children… but inexpressible, though you did an amazing job.

  5. aly hawkins

    Speaking as one who doesn’t [yet?] have kids, it’s weird to me that I still get it…there’s something so universal about the journey of learning to love and the journey of understanding what that even means. Thank you.

    And I’m SO relieved you’re all okay. To be egocentric about it, I just could not have handled you guys biting the big one. I love yous.

  6. Chad

    This story has forced me to be aware of the profound connection I feel with my friends. I echo what Aly said. This story, with a different ending, would have devastated me (us).

    Thanks, Lord, for righting that van.

  7. Erica

    Wow…this post caught me at a very emotional time in my life. I just received word yesterday that my beloved grandfather’s days are numbered. For the last two days I have been keenly aware of life, as we know it in relationship to our unavoidable mortality. You see, I am overjoyed and quite high on the completion of a lifelong goal…the recording of our art project. And yet I find myself very saddened by the reality that the musical patriarch of our family, the one directly responsible for my love affair with music, will be unable to celebrate with me. At least on this earth =)

    Thanks for the beautiful portrayal of generational love. I needed this.

    And I am so glad you are safe. I have had the recent misfortune of being in a car accident with Ella (not nearly as dangerous, but still very frightening). The feeling that came over me at that moment was completely overwhelming…I was instinctually more concerned with Ella’s well being than my own. Parenthood, baby…what a trip.

  8. Gretchen

    3FTA just in time for Valentine’s day. I loved rereading this post. Amazing how easily detailed memories, and feelings come back to you.

  9. Pingback: Rest in Peace, Irene Lee | Addison Road

  10. Chad

    Hehe… oops. It was perfectly innocent, I swear.

    $2 it is… can I have that in writing?

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