CHAPTER 20 (love)
“Hello, Bobbie, how are ya?”
“Well, thank you.”
I sat on the sofa, and Bobbie moved from behind her desk with her yellow legal pad in hand. She sat down in the straight-backed chair.
“Let’s see, did you come today with a goal in mind that we can work towards?”
“Actually … no. I got very busy, what with the election [2004, Bush v. Kerry] and then there was a bridge tournament, and I had some cleaning to do … and I switched bedrooms with Katy. And, well, today I want to talk about leaf blowers. Is that all right?”
“Leaf blowers?” Bobbie looked perplexed and just a little impatient. She tapped her pen on the tablet. “We really need to focus on a specific goal, or at the least, a behavior that you would like to change or improve on?” She lifted her head slightly and the pitch of her voice elevated, inviting me to agree.
“Well, that’s not as easy as it sounds. I actually like myself and don’t particularly want to change anything. I don’t want to change me—I want the world to change.” Uh –oh. I thought I saw a look of “Oh, no” on Bobbie’s face. I dismissed it. “It’s just this general dys-ease I feel, if you will. And depressive moods, of which I’m in the midst of one now. Isn’t your job to extract from me, that which is disturbing me? A sort of exorcism? If I knew what it was, I could do it myself.
“And I don’t want a prescription, a drug. I can do that myself, too, alter my moods with drugs. No, this is not going to be easy, and I want your help. Will you … help me?”
Bobbie sat there for what seemed like a long time, looking down, and writing. I wondered, did I do something wrong? She finished and looked up.
“All right, Joe … leaf blowers … do tell.”
I adjusted myself on the couch, lifted a leg up and laid it across my knee, then said, “I think leaf blowers are symptomatic of what ails society. I have yet to see a situation where a broom would not be a better tool, or a rake. But always today, there is the leaf blower, even at the lighthouse park. What do they do?
“They make an incredible amount of noise—they disturb the peace, which is, by the way, one of the most precious things in the universe. They pollute the air. They stink. They isolate the user, who has to wear ear guards. They create envy and social pressure to acquire them. They consume oil and gas. And they don’t even perform their task very well. They blow the leaves from one place to another … usually from a walk or driveway off to one side. Then what? Sooner or later, the wind blows them back. It’s crazy.
“What do they do? They make money for the manufacturer and oil and gas companies, that’s what. There is no general benefit for the common good that wouldn’t be better served with a guy or girl with a broom and a rake. There is at best, a short-term benefit for the individual. The task of clearing the path may be achieved quicker. That’s it.
“Let’s take the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Or anyone, anywhere out cleaning off their walk or drive.” I began sweeping a walkway out in front of me with my hand, my hand being the broom, and slid my leg down, closing the gap there—neatening up my appearance.
“Instead of isolation, pollution, and irritating, tension-inducing noise … you have rhythms … swish, swish, swish … and the opportunity for conversation and engagement. I could go out and chat with Christy …” Bobbie’s brows lifted. “She’s a gardener the landlord hired. She uses a weed whacker and a leaf blower. I don’t know if she even owns a rake. Just think if she did, how much more pleasant it would be….” I was still sweeping.
“We could talk about the different kinds of plants, flowers, trees, whatever. The different kinds of birds at the lighthouse. The ranger could be sweeping as he kept watch over things, chatting to the visitors. There would be a wonderful rhythm to the experience. People probably leave the lighthouse all stressed and don’t even know why. It’s insidious.”
Bobbie just sat, listening. The pen had quieted. I got up from the couch and paced back and forth. Now, I was holding the broomstick, and the walk was laid out on the floor. I swept away the debris in front of her. I stopped to catch my breath, watched the birds at her feeders, leaned on my broom, and continued.
“Consider this,” I threw the broom aside, “I judge an instrument’s value by its ability to raise or lower the love quotient in the world. Does its use make love more possible? Does it allow for love to flourish and thrive? Is it neutral? Or does it hinder, inhibit?
“The leaf blower is an irrational machine and not only that, an inhibitor—a barrier to love. It should be banned!”
Bobbie spoke: “What is love, to you?”
“Ha! I know what it is, and I’ll tell you.
“When I was working with disturbed children, we explored it – in a girls group. And these girls, despite perhaps never having had experienced it – knew what it was. I simply asked them: ‘What does love look like?’ They knew, intuitively.
“Let me see if I can recall. … Love is not a concept, an abstract thing, a feeling … that would be something else again, which we can talk about some other time. Love is observable—it is a set of specific behaviors. Now, write this down …” I was still into an animated pantomime. Bobbie straightened and did begin to write.
“One, it is gentle touching. It has to be gentle. So, the touching. Absolutely there must be the touching.” Bobbie paused, and massaged the Tiger’s Eye tenderly. It was picking up light and would flash when it did. I felt a surge of energy. “Loving from a distance fades.
“Two, would be listening. Listening with full attention, not just sitting there nodding or doing some chore or task.” Bobbie tilted her head. Her eyes were dilated. I was encouraged.
“Next would be spending time, yes. You give your time and attention to that which you love. I think a lot of people love their jobs or their things or their money—more than they love the people that they say they love.” I took a deep breath and slowly rotated counterclockwise, 360 degrees. It was a graceful pirouette in the center of the braided rug. I heard music in my head. Then I was facing her again, caught her eyes and proceeded.
“It is also watching out for danger, yes. You can’t be in some stupor or oblivion, or obsession. You can’t not pay attention. You must be alert in love. There is a protective component, watching out for each other. And being there when things go bad. Just being there, in good and bad times. Everyone has bad times, and you must support the ones you love when things go wrong for them. That’s essential. None of this sink-or-swim crap. Who would let someone they love sink?” I pointed at her. “Don’t say it if you don’t mean it. You know?
“And there’s truth. You must be truthful, to the extent that you think you know what the truth is. If you tell the truth as you understand it—then you never have to try and remember what you said. Simply tell the truth, and you will be consistent—your story won’t change—unless, of course, your understanding of the truth does. And then you might say … that was then, and this is now—and now I see things differently. See? People can understand that. And you must be honest; and be willing to be vulnerable. And … maybe this is part of the honesty thing, but you must set limits. Say this or that is not okay, it makes me uncomfortable, or whatever.”
I paused again, trying to think if I’d covered everything. Bobbie steepled her hands in front of her face, the thumbs acting as brackets for her chin, the fingers obscuring her lips and the bottom of her nose. She wanted to talk, but I wasn’t finished.
“So … there you have it. Love is basically giving a person your time and attention, sharing yourself and being honest. And all the while watching out for each other and being gentle. Okay? And of course, it probably helps to be compatible in areas of interest. Of course with parents and children, that’s not as important as with lovers.”
I looked at Bobbie with my very best “got it” look, and spread my hands out, palms up, pivoted, and sat back down on the couch—the performance over. She applauded—sort of—more like a trained sea lion clapping its flippers at San Diego’s Sea World in slow motion.
“Very good,” she said. “I liked the dance, but … it sounds like a lot of work.”
Self consciously, I adjusted myself, my clothes, my composure. “Yes, it is, a lot of work. A full-time job, really. So, you’d think that maybe a leaf blower would be a good thing, because it would free up some time. But that’s a ruse. Most of the so-called timesaving devices are. I read once that the more timesaving devices a society has, the less time it has. That isn’t, I don’t think, a law, but a description. It describes a capitalistic society, where time is valued—not as something to be enjoyed, as in loving—but a commodity to be used in the pursuit of more capital.”
“You are painting a depressing picture.”
“Yes, it is. But it’s what I see. What choice do I have? I cannot not see, what I see. If I have a choice in this, it is whether or not I speak out about what I see. No, I don’t even think I have a choice about that. That is who I am. I write. Did I tell you that? Yes, I write … poems, essays, a book, or two. I write about what I see.”
I slid back into the comfort of the couch and sighed.
This was entirely different than what I had expected. I had come here seeking some sort of relief from the constant ruminating and analysis that was forever going on in my mind. I had some vague notion of getting permission to lie. To invent someone I was not, who would be more acceptable and pleasing and comforting to people. To be an attractant, not a repellent. Bobbie did, however, look intrigued. She was working the pendant pretty good and scanning her notes. I think I had just given her some homework, although that wasn’t my intention. This therapy thing had taken on a life of its own. It was organic—in the sense that a plant grows toward the light source.
She said, “It looks like our time is up.”
“Uh, yeah. That went quick. I’ll uh, yeah, see you next week.” I laid the three bills on Bobbie’s desk, turned, walked slowly to the door and pulled it open. With my hand still on the knob, I paused and turned back to look at Bobbie. She was writing something in her notes. Apparently she felt my presence still in the room and looked up.
I said, “Yasir Arafat died. That might help.”
“Change the world.”
She grimaced and shrugged her shoulders.
The above therapy session is from Attachment: A novel of war and peace, written in 2004-6 when I was living on the Oregon coast.
Yesterday, the sixth of March, 2020. I was sitting on the balcony watching the world, and noticed a man sweeping up debris on the sidewalks and street. He is on staff here at the apartment complex.
It was a warm, sunny, and very quiet day and I remembered the chapter from the novel I’d wrote sixteen years ago. We are still at war because of that war, and I’m still struggling with the war inside my head. However, it is quiet here, unlike before. And for whatever reason, the leaf blower was not being used. The man worked at his task for hours which allowed me to sit and reflect – about those sixteen years. About technology, time, love, attachment – what has changed and what has not.
Love has not changed. Gentle touch and attachment are still needs, but now, because of time-saving technology, seem more rare.
speaks to this. She posted that video just in the past year. Watching the world and people, as she suggests we do, I see exactly what she means. We humans have become distracted, detached, dissociated, and full of dissolution. Social media has made our relationships shallow and superficial, and void of touch. FaceTime is not an adequate replacement for the bonds of love and touch.
along with Terror Management Theory seem to describe what we have become.
Briefly, we did not become who we are, via evolution, to thrive in the world we’ve created. In short – we are overstimulated, overwhelmed, and over medicated. Because we’re so smart. In other words, too smart for our own good.
And then this happened
My iPhone jingled. It was five o’clock and my friend was calling from southern California. He’d just gotten home from work and wanted to have happy hour with his old, longtime pal, me.
We’ve been friends since college in the sixties. We’ve been through a lot, off-and-on for those fifty years. Drugs, drinking, traveling, marriages, divorces, children, funerals – just the usual stuff. He recently upgraded to an iPhone, as did I; and now we FaceTime on a fairly regular basis.
We throw down a few shots of whiskey and sip beers. Reminiscence, as well as talk about our health challenges, death and dying. Happy hour is as it’s always been – terror management. It’s not the same as face-to-face, at the bar, on the deck, or around the campfire, but it’s not bad. I’ll take it. It’s almost love.