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Series II - Chapter 30 - 'This Problem Of Love'

A SMALL DUCK was coming up the wide canal like a ship under sail, alone and full of quacking importance. The canal wound in and out through the town. There were no other ducks in sight, but this one made enough noise for many ducks. The few who heard him paid no attention, but that didn't matter to the duck. He wasn't frightened, but he felt himself to be a very prominent person on that canal; he owned it. Beyond the town the countryside was pleasant with green pastures and fat black and white cows. There were masses of clouds on the horizon and the skies seemed low, close to the earth, with that light which only this part of the world seems to have. The land was as flat as one's palm, and the road climbed only to pass over the bridges that crossed the high canals. It was a lovely evening; the sun was setting over the North Sea, and the clouds took on the colouring of the setting sun.

Great streaks of light, blue and rose, shot across the sky.

She was the wife of a well-known man who was very high up in the government, almost at the top, but not quite. Well-dressed and quiet in manner, she had that peculiar atmosphere of power and wealth, the assurance of one long accustomed to being obeyed and getting things done. From one or two things she said, it was evident that her husband had the brains and she the drive. Together they had risen high, but just when much greater power and position were almost theirs, he had fallen desperately ill. At this point in her narrative she could hardly continue, and tears rolled down her cheeks. She had come in with smiling assurance, but it had rapidly disappeared. Sitting back, she was silent for a time, and then continued.

"I have read some of your talks and have attended one or two of them. While I was listening to you, what you said meant a great deal. But these things quickly escape one, and now that I am really in great trouble I thought I would come and see you. I am sure you understand what has happened. My husband is fatally ill, and all the things we lived and worked for are falling to pieces. The party and its work will go on, but... Though there are nurses and doctors, I have been looking after him myself, and for months I have had very little sleep. I can't bear to lose him though the doctors say there is little chance of his recovery.

I have thought and thought about all this, and I am almost sick with anxiety. We have no children, as you know, and we have meant a great deal to each other. And now..."

Do you really want to talk seriously and go into things? "I feel so desperate and confused, I don't believe I am capable of serious thinking; but I must come to some kind of clarity within myself."

Do you love your husband, or do you love the things which came about through him? "I love..." She was too shocked to continue.

Please do not think the question brutal, but you will have to find the true answer to it, otherwise sorrow will always be there. In uncovering the truth of that question there may be the discovery of what love is. "In my present state I cannot think it all out."

But has not this problem of love passed through your mind? "Once, perhaps, but I quickly got away from it. I always had so much to do before he was ill; and now, of course, all thinking is pain. Did I love him because of the position and power that went with him, or did I simply love him? I am already talking of him as though he were not! I really don't know in what way I love him. At present I am too confused, and my brain refuses to work. If I may, I would like to come back another time, perhaps after I have accepted the inevitable."

If I may point out, acceptance is also a form of death.

* * *

Several months passed before we met again. The papers had been full of his death, and now he too was forgotten. His death had left marks on her face, and soon bitterness and resentment were showing themselves in her talk. "I haven't talked to anyone about all these things," she explained. "I just withdrew from all my past activities and buried myself in the country. It has been terrible, and I hope you won't mind if I just talk a little. All my life I have been tremendously ambitious, and before marrying I indulged in good works of every kind. Soon after I married, and largely because of my husband,

I left all the petty wrangling of good works and plunged into politics with my whole heart. It was a much wider field of struggle and I enjoyed every minute of it, the ups and the downs, the intrigues and the jealousies. My husband was brilliant in his quiet way, and with my driving ambition we were always moving up. As we had no children, all my time and thought were given over to furthering my husband. We worked together splendidly, complementing each other in an extraordinary way. Everything was going as we had planned, but I always had a gnawing fear that it was all going too well. Then one day, two years ago, when my husband was being examined for some minor trouble, the doctor said there was a growth which must be examined immediately. It was malignant. For a time we were able to keep the whole thing a dead secret; but six months ago it all began again, and it has been a pretty terrible ordeal. When I last came to see you I was too distressed and miserable to think, but perhaps I can now look at things with a little more clarity. Your question disturbed me more than I can tell you. You may remember that you asked me if I loved my husband, or the things that went with him. I have thought a great deal about it; but is it not too complex a problem to be answered by oneself?"

Perhaps; but unless one finds out what love is, there will always be pain and sad disappointments. And it is difficult to discover where love ends and confusion begins, is it not? "You are asking if my love for my husband was unmixed with my love for position and power. Did I love my husband because he gave me the means for the fulfilment of my ambition? It is partly this, and also the love of the man. Love is a mixture of so many things."

Is it love when there is complete identification with another? And is not this identification a roundabout way of giving importance to oneself? Is it love when there is the sorrow of loneliness, the pain of being deprived of the things that seemingly gave significance to life? To be cut off from the ways of self-fulfilment, from the things that the self has lived on, is the denial of self-importance, and this brings about disenchantment, bitterness, the misery of isolation. And is this misery love?

"You are trying to tell me, are you not, that I did not love my husband at all? I am really appalled at myself when you put it that way. And there is no other way to put it, is there? I had never thought about all this, and only when the blow struck was there any real sorrow in my life. Of course, to have had no children was a great disappointment, but it was tempered by the fact that I had my husband and the work. I suppose they became my children. There is a fearful finality about death. Suddenly I find myself alone, without anything to work for, put aside and forgotten. I now realize the truth of what you say; but if you had said these things to me three or four years ago, I would not have listened to you. I wonder if I have been listening to you even now, or merely seeking out reasons to justify myself! May I come and talk to you again?"