An Open Letter to True Love
Dear True Love:
I read Almost Heaven by Judith McNaught last night for about the googolth time. Everything about that book makes me think of you. From the way young, naive but oh-so-brilliant Elizabeth Cameron rushes to the defense of a notorious older scoundrel falsely accused of cheating at a card game (a grave offense justifying a duel) to Lucinda Thorkmorton Jones’s hilarious, truly laugh-out-loud antics to scenes and dialogue so full of heart-gripping tenderness it makes me sappy, it all makes me think of you. From his reluctantly issued invitation “Dance with me” to his fierce attempt to salvage some remnant of Elizabeth’s reputation amongst the ton, Ian makes my heart melt. And every time I read this story, inevitably, I think of you more. And then there’s Hawk and Landon; Ash and Clayton. Those are characters in the books I wrote and each one personifies some trait I imagine you have. That is, if you even exist.
Frankly, I’m not totally convinced you do.
I don’t know about most girls but I know for sure that I grew up imagining the day we’d meet. You’d smile at me and my heart would do somersaults. You’d kiss me and every fear I’ve ever had would simply vanish as though it never existed. Of course we’d marry, have a bushel of children, grow old and then watch sunsets from the rocking chairs on the porch of the modest but cozy home we’d lived in for sixty or seventy years. Sure, we’d disagree every once in awhile but, no disagreement would threaten our relationship because, after all, you are true love. You’re the real Ian Thornton, Clayton Cunningham, Landon Montgomery, Ash and Hawk. You’re handsome, charming, funny in a witty, non-sarcastic way and, most of all, you love me. To be truly loved, to be loved like Elizabeth Cameron, Amanda Montgomery, Abrielle Britain and Aria Morgan were… what does that look like?
Maybe I shouldn’t have to tell you—you should already know, right? After all, the heroes in all the wonderful books I’ve loved and written always somehow instinctively knew that their beloved needed something more than fiery passion. So, should you actually exist, when we meet, theoretically, you would know what I most need. But since I have doubts regarding your existence at all, I thought I’d help matters along by telling you in advance what I need from true love. The list isn’t long and it isn’t too complicated. Basically, it can be boiled down to one thing: the need to be listened to and treated compassionately and with respect. True love’s aim, after all, would be for me to want very much to lift you up. I’d want to see you genuinely smile and laugh. I’d be addicted to the sparkly shine in your eyes that comes with happiness and so I’d want to surprise you and hear you talk; I’d want to watch that boring sports game with you because it makes you happy. But true love is mutual. It only works because you’d want the same thing I want: you’d want to see me happy as much as I want to see you happy. We’ be working, then, toward the same thing—only for each other, not primarily to gain something for ourselves. True love isn’t about buying a meal to gain a kiss at the end of the night; true love is about buying the meal because time spent talking is just as valuable and desirable as time spent embracing. The greatest and most intense passion, after all, only comes when you’ve already connected on other levels. Because it’s then that you really care. Lifting each other up–emotionally, mentally, spiritually—may sound difficult but it’s really not. Every time you’d listen to me ramble about fictional characters as though they’re real, you’d be affirming that writing matters in my life and, by doing so, you’d lift me up. Every time you got down in the floor and played with my daughters, you’d be affirming that children are precious and that time with them isn’t a handicap: by caring for them, you’d be lifting me up. I don’t know who you are right now so I can’t give an example of what I might do to lift you up—to do that, I’d have to know what matters to you. Whatever it is, I’d want to know, and then I’d want to share it with you, so I could see that spark in your smile. Lifting each other up isn’t more than a hug; a simple hug from someone you love can turn a bad day into a good one. Lifting each other up isn’t more than taking care of something so they don’t have to. Being thoughtful and meaningful.
It’s true that you have yet to make an appearance in my life; even so, my skepticism over your existence isn’t entirely your fault.
I’ve grown up. I’m not the young Elizabeth Cameron that I was when I opened the pages of Almost Heaven for the first time years and years ago. Back then, I thought of you as magic. It would just happen one day and everything would fall into place because it was destined to be. Now, I understand that a lot may block you from showing up—or from my recognizing you even if you did. There are a lot of things that can mess someone up and sometimes those things give birth to illogical and downright heart-breaking ideas that color love with doubt. Doubt, in turn, can effectively destroy true love if you and I aren’t careful. And then there’s the thing where one person loves the other a little too much, so much s/he forgets that s/he is special in h/is own right. I’ve done that, been there. That can also kill the fairy tale because, no matter how much I might want to, one person cannot ever truly make another intrinsically happy. Happiness has to come first, and independently, because you can’t truly find happiness in someone else, only with someone else. Fairy tales like Almost Heaven and Cinderella never include bills or monthly IVs that leave one of you physically and emotionally depleted. They don’t include things like biopsies or unborn babies either.
I used to imagine meeting you. I used to play it out in my head, how we’d spend hours laughing. We’d dance. And the only thing we’d want is the ability to be ever closer. The idea of forever would fill you with excitement and light the spark in your eyes. You wouldn’t have any desire to be the hero but just to be near me. I wouldn’t feel a need to prove I deserve you; there would be no invisible scale that seemed to keep track of who had given who the most. My opinions would be valued and if I really needed something, if I was really hurting, I’d be able to trust you with it. If you’re real, you’re more than chemistry. If you’re real, you’re more than the rush of a first date. If you’re real, you’ve got Landon’s sense of loyalty, Ash’s sense of playfulness, Clayton’s compassion, Hawk’s values and Ian’s fairness. Clayton not only basically bought Abrielle, he failed to truly intervene in a dangerous situation; Ash wasn’t real; Hawk was blunt and Ian was full of pride so you’re not perfect. You just care.
Maybe it’s too much to ask these days. Everyone moves so quickly; time isn’t really cherished anymore. It’s rushed. Maybe the idea that you might try and take time for me is too much to expect. The thing is, though, I see elderly couples. They still hold hands. Despite bills and kids and war and illnesses and all sorts of other things, they’ve made it. The only way I can see how is they valued each other, they believed in promises and they took time to nurture a trust in each other that was stronger than the obstacles life threw at them. Maybe they are “old-fashioned”.. but they’ve made it while more than half of people my age have already been married and divorced. They found you. Really, couples like that are the only thing that make me wonder if maybe you are around.
Well, and Almost Heaven.
So because of old couples and romance books, I’m choosing to believe you exist. After all, neither Abrielle, Amanda nor Elizabeth were cynical and while Aria was by the time she met Hawk, her heart still had not yet hardened. I believe in their optimism and idealism as much as I believe in the men’s strength and compassion. I’m sure some people go their entire lives without finding you. And that’s okay. The point of life, after all, is not to find true love but, rather, to find God, to love His people and to realize I’m made in His perfect image. All of that takes quite a bit of work so a life without true love but with confidence and God is a life truly well lived. For that reason, I’ll stave off subscribing to society’s message that I’ve failed as a woman, thirty-something and un-married as I am. Still, I’d be lying if I said some girlish part of my heart doesn’t still hope to find a Clayton, Hawk, Ian or Ash. It’s human nature to want to be wanted… and respected…. and loved. And so, true love, if you’re out there, there you have it: my hopes and desires and ideas of you.
Tonight, the stars are out again. I’ve thought of them a lot lately this time of night. Today, my girls and I made the journey to the Adventure Science Center. They have a “star room” — a pitch black, small room lined with mirrors and illuminated with tiny “stars”. We walked through and, as we did, I chose a light, recited the poem and made a wish. I didn’t wish for love. I wished for my girls’ continued happiness. Tonight, though, after I finish writing this letter, I think I’ll step outside to the hammock and find the brightest star in the sky.
Hmm…. you know… all of my most-loved heroines spent time wishing on stars, too; perhaps, I’m more like them than I give myself credit for.