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“I thought I knew what love was. What did I know?” ~Don Henley

01_Robert-Indiana_LoveI first told a girl I loved her in 4th grade, when she stabbed me with a pencil and decided to go out with my enemy. These three things were unrelated. Or at least I think they were. I never really asked her to explain. I was too busy drowning in my tears, in the relative safety of my room, trying to forget her. Trying to forget love.

Love means many different things to many different people, but to me it means being always appreciative. That girl who I said I loved, she didn’t appreciate my love. To her I might as well have told her I was an albino for all she cared, but it was 4th grade, and I gave her a mulligan for it. She never came back to take me up on the idea of a second chance, which was just as well.

To me, when you love someone you show it. Not by flowers and candy, because anyone can get flowers and candy, but by being there, by letting them know you’re there, whether they admit to needing you there. Love means coming through for someone else even if they don’t realize that’s what they needed. It’s doing the little things because there really are no little things when it comes to love.

I’ve learned that love needs to be patient…

I realize now that I didn’t really love that girl in 4th grade. It was never really love because I had no idea what love was back then. What I felt for her was sheer infatuation, that kind of Romeo and Juliet feeling that would have petered out had they not been in a volatile situation that pushed them toward each other… and toward the abyss. That girl was lucky she didn’t reciprocate my infatuation because I’ve always been prone to exaggeration of emotion. Thank god she looked the other way.

But I’ve learned a lot over the years, because of heartache and a plethora of other issues and mistakes, on both sides. I’ve learned that love needs to be patient, that it isn’t about the physical, that the physical comes along for the ride when it is indeed requited, that it’s better to have loved and lost than… well, not quite. It’s better to love and keep loving, because love can shift. It can change, not precisely with the wind but sometimes it is buffeted. I’ve learned that love is complicit, if just because it makes you more vulnerable than anything else ever could.

Love is revolutionary, no matter how often it occurs…

I’ve been sparing with the word itself. Even with my closest of friends it took a while before I felt comfortable enough telling them how I felt. Even with my closest of relationships I haven’t been the first one to say it, not usually, not because I’ve been afraid but because I’ve been resistant. I’ve been resistant to the way saying those words changes things. It doesn’t change things for me. I already know how I feel long before those words escape my lips. But it changes the relationship in subtle ways that only I can tell.

Or maybe they can tell too. Love is revolutionary, no matter how often it occurs, no matter how many people know the feeling. It acts. It doesn’t react. But love is worth it, even when it’s not returned, because without that feeling life is just not as good. And I don’t mean the romantic love. I mean all the many forms of love that can shift and change, that can undulate around you like a snake, but that can keep you safe and warm, secure in its comfort.

But what do I know?

Sam

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478213335The girl at the Bagel Grove looks exactly like Amanda, or at least like Amanda when I knew her, 20 years ago, back when the world was fresh and new. The girl at the Bagel Grove looks fresh and new, as if she has been in a state of stasis for 20 years, as if she has been waiting for this day, and this time, to return. At the Bagel Grove in Utica, New York. I’m sure stranger things have happened.

Her nametag says “Kina,” and I’m wondering if the “i” is long or short, if she is long or short, if her name is her mantra, or if she prefers to be called “Key,” or “Ki” for short. She has a gap between her top two front teeth, just like Amanda, and I want to ask her if it affects her whistling ability. I don’t ask, but I want to. I tell her I want a garlic bagel with garlic and herb cream cheese, and she looks at me like I’ve grown two heads.

“I’m not kissing anyone in the next couple of hours,” I tell her, by way of explanation for the question her eyebrows asked.

“That’s still a pretty strong combination,” she tells me, and there is a lilt to her voice, like it’s normally an outside one but she has forced it to come inside, where she is.

The woman behind her laughs at that one, a joke, just one among many that I think the place hears during the course of an ordinary day. The Bagel Grove seems like one of those places, all cinnamon and ribaldry, baked together and warm to the touch. This other woman makes a joke about the Target shirt I am wearing, and I have a snappy comeback ready. This is not my first time. Kina smiles at the joke and hands me my change. I never realized I paid her.

I can’t help staring at her, even though I know I shouldn’t. I mean, Amanda really was my first love, and the resemblance is uncanny, especially for a girl who has such a mixed ancestry as this girl obviously does. I can see European descent in her eyes and skin, African in her nose and hair, a touch of something else in her bearing that I can’t quite place but that Amanda had as well. But Amanda would be 40 now, and this girl is only 21, at the most. I still can’t help staring.

“Toasted?” she asks, and I have no idea what she’s referencing. She points to the bagel in her hand, and I notice she isn’t wearing gloves, although they are nearby on the low counter. Amazingly enough, I don’t mind.

“Yes, please,” I answer, and I consciously try to stop staring. She will think I’m some kind of lunatic, not that I’m remembering a time long ago, and a girl long gone, lost to the overwhelming ether that has been life.

“Name?” she says, sharpie poised over the folded paper bag she is now holding, the bagel already in the toaster oven, forgotten for the moment as it browns.

“Sam,” I tell her, because it is my name, and because she did ask. She writes it down using stock letters, the “A” starting before the “S” finishes, which is not how Amanda wrote my name.

I blink, and the resemblance fades as quickly as it manifested when I walked in. The ghost of a girl I used to love fades along with it. I slide down the counter to wait for my bagel, humming to myself a tune I know by heart.

Sam

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“Love is mild, except when it isn’t. Except when it’s a raging inferno with the sole intention of destroying every ounce of sanity you have left. But yes, it’s mild. And that other stuff too.” ~Anonymous

0612d8fcf89e1f08abc66fc7fc6b92f6I made the mistake of telling someone that my next book of poetry is going to be full of love poems. It seemed to me a stroke of genius, but I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to create a whole book of 50+ poems exclusively about love. In my mind it was going to be difficult because my brain creates poetry quite organically, so how was I going to shift my thought patterns and make the poetry cooperate? I needn’t have been worried, because she said:

“But most of your stuff is already love poetry.”

Which of course made me laugh, but she was deadly serious. And she would know because she’s listened to a lot of my poems at poetry night, she’s read the vast majority of the ones on my poetry blog, and she’s purchased both of my other collections of poetry. So I took stock of my poetry. I dug as deep as she probably didn’t have to in order to find out that she was absolutely right.

I write mostly love poetry. No, not the treacly sweet love poetry that would make a 1950s poet proud. Nor even the devoted, puppy dog love poetry that dominated the 1980s. No, I write the love poetry that is intense in its own analysis of itself, that drives all night to end up in the same place where it began. I write the love poetry that wishes it were something else, but it can’t help being about love.

So that makes it easy, I guess, compiling a book of my love poetry, even if it’s not the book I thought I was going to make when I started on this journey. Because this is my reality. It’s the love I’ve seen more often than any other in this world. It’s not the mild, “I want to hold your hand” kind of love, not the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse inspired love, but is instead the persistently desperate, sad love that strives for something more, the love that needs acceptance but usually breeds regret.

Which means my job is a lot easier than I thought it would be. Just write poetry and it will probably fit the mold.

Sam

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easyloveLove is easy… when it’s reciprocated. When it’s neither tied down nor coerced. When it’s head and heart entwined together. When it’s not long distance. When it’s two-way street. When… well, when a whole lot comes together in perfect alignment… then it’s easy.

I’ve had two loves, and neither one was easy, not when things counted anyway. Both were easy at the beginning, when everything was shiny and new, because we didn’t know any better. We basked in the warmth of an emergent love, secure in our notion that love was all we needed.

Which is the major issue, isn’t it? Love is never all we need. It’s never the salve for everything that ails us. It can never do the heavy lifting because love wasn’t built for that. It is the emotional component to our relationships. Necessary? Yes. Independent? No. Love can be a foundation, but it can’t be the only support for a relationship.

So yes, love can be easy when everything else is in place. When a relationship also has honesty, cooperation, trust, and a host of other supports firmly in place. Obviously, bracing your relationship with all of those supports takes time and effort, takes trial and error, takes hard work on both sides.

Unfortunately, that’s why so many relationships these days fail, because we live in a world where not many people are willing to work through the struggles, to talk out the issues, to be completely honest with each other, not just about their feelings, but also about what they need from their partner. So it’s not easy, and instead of working harder on it, they let it go. They let it drift away when they should be diagnosing the problems so they can get to the next step.

11743693133_c154198945So yes, real love is easy, because it’s surrounded by a scaffold of everything necessary to keep it alive and to help it flourish successfully. My first love was young love, which thought itself self-sustaining, but all the love in the world wouldn’t have saved it. Because we weren’t on the same page, both of us thinking that love would be enough, that we would be together forever because we wanted to be together forever. When the end came we were still scratching our heads, wondering what went wrong.

The second time around, though, from the start it was difficult because we were both older, and we both knew that love wasn’t enough. We both knew that it would be challenging, but it was a challenge we were ready to take. Because we knew that if we got through the tough times, the challenging decisions, the difficult confessions, we would emerge together at the end.

So yes, love is easy. When you know that it’s not enough.

Sam

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There She Goes

“There she goes. There she goes again. Running through my brain… and I just can’t contain the feeling that remains.”

Rearview mirrorSo, there I was, driving up Route 12, heading home when I saw a pair of headlights behind me. I glanced in the rear view and vaguely recognized the make and model of the car behind me — because it was the same as my wife’s. But I try to stay focused on the road ahead when I’m driving. Yet something kept dragging my eyes back to that car, and I saw the driver waving at me.

You guessed it. It wasn’t just the make and model of the car my wife drives. It was my wife, in the last place I would have expected her at 3:15 in the afternoon out on Route 12, directly behind me. My heart leapt in my chest because it was her, it was really her, and I can’t explain just how I feel every single time I see her. It’s especially true when it’s an unexpected encounter.

I’m sure it’s just me, that not every man has those first encounter flights of adrenaline like I have when I see my wife. I mean, it’s been 15 years since we first started talking, and we’ve had our ups and downs, but that feeling never goes away. Perhaps I’m just a sentimental guy. After all, I celebrate the day she first emailed me, the day she first told me she loved me, and the day I first moved here to Central New York. So why not celebrate every time I get to see the woman who chose me?

I try to tone it down from time to time, because I know she’s nowhere near as sentimental as I am. Which is okay. I knew this about her when we first met. And I have to admit it makes me that much more excited in those moments when she is sentimental. Of course I hope she doesn’t get overloaded with my exuberance, but she knew this about me when we first met. And she’s stuck with me nevertheless. I think it makes for a good combination.

So, there I was, driving up Route 12, heading home when I saw my wife behind me, waving as if she was excited at the coincidence. In that moment I could feel her excitement that rivaled mine. In that moment. And I felt a thousand warm and fuzzies coursing through my body as I waved back and blew her kisses. She makes me want to sing a karaoke duet with her, but I wouldn’t because she would hate it. But it still makes me feel good even wishing that we could.

We parted a few moments later, me still heading home, and her going about the course of her day, but there she was, and there she goes. Which always makes me smile.

Sam

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Okay, so I’ll admit I hadn’t really jumped on board with all of the challenges that seem to have exploded over the internet in the past few years. All this bandwagon stuff, and whatnot. So I wasn’t dumping ice water all over myself back in 2015 even when it seemed like everyone else was. There’s miles of video to prove it. I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten behind any quick moving movement like that before.

Until now. My best friend was participating in what is called the “Love Your Spouse” challenge, in which you post a photo of you and your spouse once a day for seven days. The photos can be from anywhere and from any time period, so long as they show both of you. Some people do it differently and take photos specifically for the challenge, while others have pictures that include them and their spouse, but aren’t necessarily just the two of them.

For me I felt like if I was going to do it I was going to plumb the depths of photos we have of ourselves (most of which I begged to have her take the shot with me — bad hair days be damned). So that’s what I did, and every day so far I’ve stayed true to one thing and one thing only. Does the photo encapsulate who we are as a couple in some way? If it did then I included it.

Today is Day 6 of the seven-day challenge, and I’m quite proud of the 6 photos I’ve chosen so far to represent us. I’m so proud of them that I decided I don’t just want to post them to Facebook and see how many likes they get. I want to display them out here, in a medium of my choosing, in my own world, and so that you (my dear subscribers) can observe them as well. I’m including my motivations for each one as well. Oh, and I’m sorry you won’t get to see photo #7, but I decided I do want an up-to-date photo of us for that one, so I’ll be taking it first thing tomorrow. You know, if it’s a good hair day…

Bruzzy's Reception

Photo #1. 2002. We had just met the year before — online — and I had just moved to upstate New York. One of the first things I did was to accompany this lovely lady to a wedding. It reminds me of when everything was still fresh and new. Look at our smiles. It’s one of my favorites.

Before Rob's Wedding (2)

Photo #2. 2012. I fast forwarded to 10 years later, and to another wedding. We were in Philadelphia getting ready for my oldest friend’s wedding. I was a groomsman — the first and only time I had such an honor — but my wife stole the show. I forgot how much I loved this dress, but that smile is eternal.

Ireland Pictures 067

Photo #3. 2003. Here’s to jumping around in time, but this one spoke to me. Glendalough, Ireland. These ruins of ancient monks’ quarters were breathtaking to behold, and I would have never seen them if not for the planning of my wife. Married less than a week, we enjoyed our honeymoon on the Emerald Isle, a place I have always wanted to go. I wish we could go back.

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Photo #4. 2013. I don’t even remember what we were dancing to here, but my wife reminds me that apparently this was her “wedding dress” for a few weddings we were invited to over the course of a few years. Don’t be fooled. I have no rhythm, but she dances with me anyway. That’s love.

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Photo #5. 2012. Somehow I feel like this was 2011 instead, but my phone said 2012, so I’m going to go with it. My wife doesn’t like to take photos with her glasses on, so I decided to try it on for size. I couldn’t see a thing, so I just directed my smile toward the blob I thought was the phone. I think it came out okay.

Grad Party Day Pictures 032

Photo #6. 2003. This picture was taken two days before our wedding, two days before we would embark on our Irish honeymoon journey. I believe my mother took it. It was at my undergraduate graduation, a wild endeavor that was supported 110% by this lovely lady here. It’s fitting for the challenge because even though she wasn’t quite my spouse in this picture, she was.

Sam

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“Loveless and cold, with your last breath you saved my soul. You smiled at me like Jesus to a child.” (Jesus to a Child) ~George Michael

black-jesusI remember a story about Jesus taking out his aggression on the moneylenders who were turning the temple of God into a marketplace. He supposedly overturned tables and used harsh language in running them out of the place in disgrace. It was a life lesson I’m sure many of them never forgot, or it was a blip on the radar of their lives that was over almost before it even began. I reckon it was the former. I imagine Jesus could be quite domineering when he wished.

There’s another parable about a woman with an issue of blood who only wanted to touch Jesus as he passed through the crowd. She was only able to get her fingertips on the hem of his garment, but she was instantly healed. The story showed that even if Jesus wasn’t paying attention the power still emanated off of him in waves, saving those who had purity of heart and righteous wishes.

These stories of Jesus are contradictory on the surface, but they go hand in hand to explain the character of the man known as the Son of God. He wasn’t some hellion who used his brawn to force people out of someplace for kicks. He was instead a man who had strong beliefs and the will of God backing him up, a holy terror when something of this world incensed him. This same man was superhuman, but only used his power when it was to right a wrong. Sounds like some guy.

If Jesus was indeed God made flesh and bone, then he was the perfect mix of power and mercy. Unlike the God of the Old Testament, the so-called “King of the Jews” was a gentle giant who used stories as lessons to hopefully help those around him, and through the Bible, to help those for generations to come. If God was the stern father who destroyed the world with a flood, Jesus was the wandering son who had more wisdom than people could see at the time.

love-like-jesus1

That’s usually how it works, right? People are blind at the time, but later their vision is 20/20, hindsight conquering all blind spots they previously had. Jesus was like that. After he was put to death, was resurrected, and returned to heaven, after the earthly access to him was gone, that’s when people began to study him, to observe his teachings, and to properly revere him. And others like him have suffered similar fates throughout the years, never honored until it’s too late.

But for Jesus it was never about accolades, if his teachings are to be believed. It was always about love. Love makes the world go ’round, doesn’t it? It’s not this romantic love that is so popular these days, though. It is the love for our fellow man (and woman), that he espoused so long ago, and that still remains a missing piece for so many of us today. The love of Jesus was perfect in its all-encompassing ability to bring everyone in. Yes, even those moneylenders who he chased out of the temple, he inspired to bring love back with them when they returned for services, not for business.

I imagine if Jesus were alive today he would speak of imperfect love as the standard. That means recognizing the imperfect nature of our love, but doing the best we can regardless. Because while everyone is not worthy of love, neither are we, and he loves us anyway. That’s the glory of love like Jesus’ love, and even if we can’t match it, we can certainly emulate it, and he can do the rest.

You know, if you believe in things like that.

Sam

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