There’s a long-standing trope in comics where antagonists enter into meaningful, often philosophical, conversations on the astral plane. I’ve internalized the trope and often imagine open, mature, and risk-taking conversations in such a space. Such imaginings have allowed me to understand my deceased parents as complex and wounded beings, the same as me. And it’s in such a space that I continue to wrestle with the unexamined and unspoken context I navigated with a man who I loved and who died. At the heart of these fantasies is my belief that within all of us is a mature and thoughtful being yearning to be understood, but unable to risk trauma, rejection, or confront deep fears. Like me, these beings — by which I mean all of us — require an extraordinary space in order to be fully human. 

I’ve recently been wrestling a crush and ‘exchanges’ in my ‘astral imaginative brain space,’ in the absence of real conversation, have offered some comfort and, perhaps, the illusion of reciprocity. Of course that illusion forces me to confront the trap within this mode of reflection — in which I come to believe that my emotional and philosophical projections are somehow the other man’s truth. Obviously, this is an old problem — one written and sung about throughout human history — and hardly a discovery. Yet, confronting it right now, in a moment of concrete discomfort, it’s cracking open everything I thought I knew about love and opening me to other possibility.

On the indirect advice of a friend — we recently talked abut his reading of the book — last night I started rereading bell hooksAll About Love. In it, she quotes M. Scott Peck, from his classic The Road Less Traveled, in her effort to define love: ‘Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.’ This definition feels useful because it begins with a choice and an action and, as hooks points out better than I can, it transforms love from a noun to a verb. It’s something we do, not something given and received. It’s a practice.

It’s unlikely my crush will result in anything I’ve imagined. I’m okay with that because a relationship isn’t his gift to me. His gift is cracking me open. My choice hinges upon my will to stay open and to extend myself and take risks in service to growth. My choice is about staying vulnerable in a world that’s intent upon making vulnerability a weakness rather than a strength. 

While I’m leading with romance, the truth is I’m thinking about power. In teaching public leadership for several decades, I’ve often relied on Martin Luther King Jr.’s thinking:

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

In her book, hooks also speaks to the relationship between love and justice, but on a more intimate level than I’ve generally inferred was King’s point. I’m trying to better understand these dynamics in both the public and private sphere because, honestly, I’ve always been better at balancing love and power in my public life than in my intimate relationships.

As a writer I want to find a neat conclusion to this post, but by its nature that’s possible. This necessarily has to be a fragment of thinking, a beginning. Because everyday and every loving encounter will always be a beginning.

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