Not Love:

October 25, 2007
By Brigid Strait, Waterloo, IA

I think of true love as being 80 years old, married for over half a century, and still looking forward to seeing their face over the breakfast table.... Every time I think I know what love is, it grows, and then I realize I only had the faintest idea.
Journal entry, 4-24-2007

I may have found him charming, but it was not true love. I knew it even then. Love is something that grows over many years' time, and we dated for less than three months. Still, I cared for him as wholeheartedly and faithfully as I knew how, and my view of the entire world deepened during the time we were together. Yes, he eventually ended the relationship, but I have no regrets: In the time we spent together and apart from May to July I learned and grew and changed more than I could have imagined. I saw the entire world become more glorious, I felt the heartache of missing someone so close to me but so far away, and I found the joy of striving to give all I could and become better for someone else's sake.

I met Corwin in middle school and liked him immediately, although we didn't become friends until years later, after I had moved away. He was witty and kind, and I was captivated by a story he was writing. In truth, our friendship blossomed from that story. We helped each other through tenth grade, a rough time for both of us, and developed a close relationship. In May of that year, we began dating.

My entire world burst into Spring. Corwin, so funny and gentle, was like a ray of sunshine that suddenly lit up my world and showed me how incredible life truly was. I had appreciated it all before, to be sure, but not like this! I hadn't known it was possible. Everything on Earth became more wondrous, miraculous, beautiful. Each tiny detail became worthy of being called God's creation. I was amazed by the sunshine, astonished at the smell of a garden. The smallest kindness left me awe-struck. One day in late June I asked a stranger, an employee at Panera Bread, what the soup of the day was. He gave me his only copy of the weekly schedule, refusing to take it back afterwards, and my heart melted at the gift like snow warmed by a flame. It was nothing, I knew, but it astounded me nonetheless. Somehow, the happiness I felt when around Corwin translated to joy in all of life.

And yet, at the same time—sometimes in the same instant—I'd have a heart full of sorrow. We lived two hours apart, and we both had filled our summer schedules months before, but he was never far from my thoughts. I remember studying the cardiovascular system during a summer nurse's aide course and thinking of how much I wished I could simply lay my head on his chest and listen to the beat of my sweet drummer's heart. His absence was so strong, even when I was genuinely enjoying myself. Watching Wicked, a brilliantly-done musical about the world of Oz and the Witch of the West, I was at once struck by two feelings on opposite ends of the sentimental spectrum: Wicked was immensely entertaining, one of the best productions I had ever seen; and, it would have been ten times more delightful if Corwin had been by my side. In my life tears have always been rare, but the weeks seemed long, and the times we spent together were far apart and all too short. I went to sleep on a wet pillow more than once that summer, even as I thanked God for having Corwin in my life. But I couldn't feel as sorry for myself as I wanted to. I kept remembering soldiers' families, and I knew my loneliness was a slight thing—not worth comparing to their pain. My heartache didn't magically disappear, but it was tempered by newfound compassion.
And yet, even that isn't the most amazing of the lessons Corwin taught me. He opened my eyes to life's beauty and helped me to develop empathy for others' sorrow, and he also showed me the pure happiness that comes from putting another first. I was so surprised at what gladness, what satisfaction I found when I could help him even in the smallest of ways, by bringing him a glass of water or helping him fold his laundry or listening to his troubles. It was a different kind of joy than any I'd ever experienced. It was pure, it was simple, and—somehow—it wasn't at all about me. It was, quite honestly, one of the loveliest feelings I've ever had. I never wanted to lose that feeling, so my choices in my family and my home began to change. I became a better daughter and contributed more to my family. I began to feel, more than ever, that I would need practice in keeping a pleasant home for the husband and children I hoped to one day have. I adored my Corwin, but I knew full well that the love I'd have some day for my husband would dwarf the feelings I had now for my beau. My affection for Corwin inspired me to learn and practice skills needed to keep a house and be a true “second half,” from ironing to patience, from dishwashing to listening. I was so overjoyed by Corwin and the things I liked about him that I wanted to give him the gift of a more pleasant, kind, and helpful person to spend time with; eventually, I hoped to give the same gift to the whomever I would marry. It would be a lie to say that I did not occasionally hope, deep in my heart, that that man would in fact be Corwin.

Yes, indeed, I learned quite a bit from him that summer. My Corwin caused me to change in ways I hadn't expected. I learned awe and compassion and the gift of being a helpmeet. I only hope that I continue to keep those lessons close to my heart, and that someday I apply all the lessons of that summer to create a happy, pleasant, lovely home together with the family I will someday have—whoever that family is.

Author's note: “Corwin” is a pseudonym, used to protect the privacy of the one who said the spark was gone.

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