Love is a loaded word, used to describe so many variations and interpretations.  Maybe we should follow the example of the Inuit and their many words for snow, it being such a large part of their environment.  Or is love more of an obsession of Western society?  A friend read a study that suggested that art tends to focus on what is scarce.  There are nomadic tribes whose songs and writings are all about food.  Our society writes and sings about love – an elusive commodity that we search for and a fleeting feeling that we lose.

As I reflect on 2023, I think of love found and love lost.

Conversations on Love by Natasha Lunn

Love Found

My friend Kate got me onto a book called “Conversations on Love” by Natasha Lunn.   I dove into it over the holidays – reading aloud parts to Nick, silently tearful at other parts.  She had me by page 7, when she described the process of making yourself smaller to gain love:

At the time, I recognized this suppressing of the self as a private, graceless shame; only now do I understand it to be an unoriginal problem.  I’ve spoken to countless people who – despite feeling confident at work, with family, with friends – have lost themselves in relationships.  Have squashed their personalities into a different shape and forgotten their own needs and desires in an attempt to second-guess a partner’s.

Then I met Nick in May 2023.

Nick and I out at Nova Luna.

Lunn describes the gut-feeling when you are drawn to someone before you know them and have no evidence of real intimacy.  I felt that the first time I spoke to Nick at yoga.  On our first date walking along the boardwalk, Nick described his time during COVID lockdowns as one of reflection and a chance to better himself.  I thought to myself, I could love this man.

Lunn also describes a mature love.  You see the whole person, not just your fantasy of them.  You allow yourself to be fully seen, which takes unbelievable vulnerability and trust.  Nick and I got to a place where I could be entirely myself, with my large personality, and Nick thinks that I am the best!  I no longer feel compelled to make myself small.

Sheri & Nick at Sandy Lane, West Coast Barbados

On New Year’s Day, Nick and I talked about the joy of finding each other and our reservations at the time.  A “red flag” for him, when we met, had been my adversarial attitude towards men.  He had thought it might be a piece of the puzzle of why I had never married or had children.  I feel anger every time this comes up…by anyone…the thought that someone must be so screwed up to have chosen otherwise.  Now that Nick knows more about me, he understands that these were choices.  He also appreciates that decades of self-reflection and growth have brought me to this place for me to say to him:

I believe that you are the one that I have been looking for all these years

AND my biggest regret in life is the desperate longing I felt searching for you.

The love that I gained was not only Nick’s, but that of a community that made me feel welcome and larger than life.  A life so wonderful that I said to myself at the beginning of 2023, I choose this life in Barbados even if it means that I will never meet someone.  It is simply lucky that I did.

Love Lost

All those years that I was desperately searching for romantic attachment; I had girlfriends that loved me hard.  I lost my best friend of almost fifty years in September 2023.  I traveled to Canada for Anita’s celebration of life.  My part was to give a speech with her high school friend, Lori, about friendship:

Anita and I were teenagers before we realized how different we were.  Fundamentally different – I was Fire and Anita was the Earth. But there was something Anita knew at an early age – she taught me all about friendship.

There aren’t words to describe my friendship with Anita.  So, I will tell you what it felt like.  I was valued and valuable.  Our friendship made me feel protected and so I was courageous.  When things got too hard, Anita made me feel like I could do it.  Someone knew me deeply and loved me anyways.  Soulmate.  That is my word to describe Anita.

Then we gathered words from the audience that described Anita.  Her husband Brian arranged for these words to be reflected in a painting, which he unveiled last week.  Every time I see this painting I well up.

Anita in Words - look closely

In Conversations on Love, Lunn explores friendship and writes:

For all of us, there will be times when distance drifts into a friendship and it might seem easier to withdraw.  Perhaps because, if we decide to give up entirely, we have more control.  It’s much harder to hold our nerve, to trust in the love between us, to accept the gaps in our knowledge of each other creeping in and then continue to make the effort anyway.  But when we do, the greatest gift: to find that it’s still there, love, shining between us, despite everything.

When I doubted that I knew how to love, my friendship with Anita showed me that I could.  To seek to understand someone so completely different and to support each other in struggle and joy through lives so distinct.  I have fostered a love of a lifetime – one that is never really lost, because Anita taught me how to love.

Love Sustained

Today marks my sister Laura’s birthday.  The entire time that I lived in Ottawa and now Barbados, Laura has lived in Pennsylvania, USA.  Her birthday many years ago was a catalyst for us to begin traveling together each Christmas.  It fundamentally changed our relationship.  We haven’t done that since COVID.  While our relationship continues to change, our bond of sisterhood is constant.

Happy Birthday Laura,

Love your big sis,

Sheri

Sheri and Laura as children in the snow in Lambeth