Every February, when red and pink hearts begin to decorate shelves, aisles, window displays, I find myself reminded of Rita Dove’s poem “Heart to Heart”. Dove makes it her business in this collection of mostly 3 or 4 word lines to deny the cliched fanciful imagery of love and hearts that we perpetuate. Instead, she refers to the heart in this way:
“just a thick clutch
I’ve always felt like her purpose is to show that the reality of love stretches far deeper than metaphors about a shape, a symbol that doesn’t actually exist inside of us. I’ve always felt (especially at the end when she writes, “Here,/it’s all yours, now—/but you’ll have/to take me,/too.”), her purpose is to show that while we can express our emotions in fluffy language, the truth contains the complexity of human beings…the complexity of human emotion…the complexity of love not in a vacuum but rather of love in a complicated world.
As an engaged couple, my husband and I were asked to attend a weekend retreat as part of our preparation to be married in the church. I’m sure a good many important things happened that weekend, but there is really only one thing that I remember. One of the couples leading the retreat spoke to our group the first night we were there and shared this bit of wisdom: Marriage is hard. Love is hard. Sometimes you will have to decide to love each other.
Now, this quote has become a long standing joke in my nearly 20 year marriage. Whenever either of us is even mildly annoyed with the other, “I’m really deciding to love you right now” is uttered and suddenly the tension breaks a bit. But, honestly, those words represent some of the best advice anyone has ever given to me. They granted permission for things to be less than perfect, which makes it easier when things get downright hard. Because, in this life things are going to get hard…people are going to get sick…loss will be suffered…finances will fluctuate…jobs will change…but in knowing that no one’s love is red and pink hearts all of the time makes those moments feel more like challenges and less like failures…makes those moments feel like just that, momentary, rather than a conclusion.
I think that Rita Dove knew this.
I know that I am far from perfect and that I come with a whole lot of “stuff,” and I also know that the last couple of years when I was sick and miserable, I was really hard. But I also know that my husband has decided “to take me,/too”…that he had decided to love me even when he had to make that decision multiple times a day because, well, I couldn’t hear very well or see straight for a long time.
In a world of social media that allows us to craft and reveal only the moments that portray perfection, this poem offers an invaluable illustration of what we are really asking for when we seek the love of another. To be truly seen, to be fully accepted, to be deeply rather than superficially loved.
I got pretty lucky. Marriage is imperfect, but somehow I found someone who got that and is happy to spend all these flawed years with me…someone who keeps deciding to love me.
(day 28…so this was going to be a 100 word challenge because I really love this poem and didn’t want to kill it with too many of my own words…then as I wrote, it sort of became an early Valentine’s Day gift…sorry not sorry for the sap.)