Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and broken Hallelujah
Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley
It is kind of a cold room. A room with four beige walls, a bed with white, stiff sheets, a simple cabinet, and a table on wheels. A girl, twenty one years of age, lies in her hospital bed, and she wears a brace that extends from her lower belly all the way up to her neck. She is not allowed to sit up beyond thirty degrees. Every night, a bearded and long haired boy, also twenty one years of age, walks down the halls of this hospital. He opens the door to this bleak room, walks in, kisses her on the forehead, pulls the nearest chair close to him, and sits next to her bed. He doesn’t say much beyond hello. He doesn’t need to. He, either, loads a CD into the CD player next to her bed, or begins to play the guitar he carries. And as he plays, whatever music he brings, she cries. Just cries. Not only because she is sad, she is sad, very sad, but, because she has a person. A person who takes the time to shut the door that leads to the outside world and sit with her.This person, he allows her to cry. He knows she is broken and there isn’t much he can do to fix it.
And then, the tumultuous years that follow, years filled with illness and depression and more illness and vomiting and surgeries and wounds and fevers so high she can barely focus to see Ina Garten on the television , he still comes to play his music. He doesn’t require anything of her. She just lies there, cold and broken, and he continues to play his music.
This girl was me. This boy was Justin. And even though he bears a striking resemblance to the American depiction of Jesus, earned a Master of Theology degree, and he, too, does good work - he is human and flawed - just like the rest of us. He is a teacher and a student. He likes music festivals, football, and a good beer. But, the most important thing about Justin is, he shows up. He cares about hearts and really, really cares about others. He cared about me when I needed it most. He cared about me when no one else did. He cared to show up and prove to me, that love is not a victory march, It’s a cold and broken Hallelujah.
One of the songs, in his guitar playing repertoire, was always the Jeff Buckley version of Hallelujah. Always. And every time he played this song for me, I always heard the words - And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch And love is not a victory march It’s a cold and broken Hallelujah. And, man oh man, was I broken. My body was shattered, my mouth was very well practiced at setting forest fires, and my cries could tear down the strongest of wailing walls.
I wasn’t sure what these words, love is not a victory march, It's a cold and broken Hallelujah, really meant. For a long time, I lived stuck in the fantasy that love looks like Hollywood movies or fairy tales or the end of a great novel. I thought love was supposed to be easy and fun and whole and bright and shiny and never broken. And thank the universe or the lord or Justin or Jesus - but I, finally, learned love isn’t any of these things. It's all of these things and more. It's everything. Our worst and our best.
Great authors and poets and philosophers and songwriters go to great lengths to describe love. Love is even divided into categories and types. Love is ranked, one type above the other, or love is said to claim difference to one love over the other. We hear that love isn’t attachment, possession, or adoration, or appreciation. We hear it isn’t controlling, or angry, or deceitful. We hear it is kind and honest and free of judgement. We hear it is simple and complicated - all at the same time. And because it is such a mystery and deemed such an unattainable and enlightened goal, we chase after it at all costs. We sacrifice and fight and heal and comfort...all in the name of love.
I don’t know very much, but after all of these years living as a person who is stripped down to not much more than a raw soul and a person who sits all of the time...I know love is just love. Love is just seeing our own eyes reflected back to us from our friend's, or enemy's, or lover's, or daughter's own eyes.
Love is simply the act of showing up and sitting with someone. Love doesn’t require some magic or some out of the box, extraordinary emotion. We spend lifetimes searching for the one we love or to be loved by our parents or friends or that cute boy in class. When the truth is, all love requires is a presence. A showing up. A willingness to see.
But, the largest and most difficult trick to this whole love thing is - we must first learn to love ourselves. We must be able to look in the mirror and sit with the reflection who looks back at us. I needed to learn to love me before I saw my friend, Justin, as one who really loves. I needed to learn to love me before I could even begin the business of loving a friend. I needed to be able to sit with me and see and love the reflection that stares back at me, before I could even claim to love another soul.
Love is not romantic or platonic...it’s just love. When we stop seeing love as special, or only available to those who find it, or birth it, or earn it, we will really see it. When we can finally look into our own eyes and hear our own cold and broken Hallelujah, we will feel love and see love and finally, finally we are able to give it to someone else.
You want to learn what love is? Look in the mirror. Look hard. See the Hallelujah in your own eyes and hear it with your own ears. See that you are loved. See that you are loved only because you are you. Because you are you. Just like Paulo Coelho says in The Alchemist, "One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving."