Love is difficult. When you’re really in it, you know how tough it is. If you have a child, parent, sibling or spouse, you know exactly what I mean. There are the moments of joy, excitement and pride, but a lot of the time you’re mostly loving while getting through the routine, often in the midst of a messy house while fighting about the bills, the car, or the shoes left by the doorway.
A lot of times, love just looks like quietly reading the paper while the little ones color, picking up the clothes from the floor or listening to the events of the day. A lot of time love doesn’t look like love much at all. But that’s when you’re really in it.
This week I found out my friend’s father is ill with cancer. When he texted me a month ago that he wanted to talk, I wasn’t sure what it was all about. We’ve been through so much, as friends, lovers, colleagues. When he texted me I was so embroiled in making moves in my career that I didn’t want anything to distract me. I didn’t want to be emotionally sidelined by whatever it was he had to say.
But then he said it. “I’m in town for a few days. My father needs treatment.”
Even then, I felt the hesitation in my heart. I did. I wasn’t sure what that meant for him, but in the selfishness that where not supposed to admit to, I wasn’t sure what that meant for me.
I slept on it that night. I let sleep be my meditation on what it meant to love someone and answer his call for comfort, solace, friendship – even when you’re no longer in love. The post-love love.
By the time you’ve reached your third decade of life, the post-love love becomes a bigger part of your life. It’s the way you may react when you run in to your first crush or your grade school best friend. It may be the way you react now to the guy who took you to prom or the best friend who took him from you. It’s definitely the love you want to show the man who was once your husband and the family you once called in-laws.
Anyway, on Monday afternoon he called. He was waiting while his father got radiation for his stage four throat cancer. He wanted to watch the process he said. He needed to see what it was like.
We briefly spoke about how the family was handling it, how the kids were all pitching in. He’d have to fly in to Miami more often now to help with logistics.
I listened wondering, what is there to do? What is there to say? I grew up having known parents were mortal, but I realize that some of my friends are only learning this lesson now. And just like I didn’t know what I needed to hear or what I wanted to say when I was 11, I didn’t know it now.
But when he mentioned his dad needed food, I thought, yes! This is how I can help.
I packed my wok, sauce pan and apron and headed over to his family’s home in Pinecrest.
Earlier in the day after perusing through the recipes site, his dad said he wanted Thai Style Seared Scallops with Coconut Milk. So we made plans to head to Whole Foods to stock up for the evening’s meal and the rest of the week.
When we returned my friend, his sister and I got to cooking. He patted dry the scallops, she lined up the plate with paper towels and got out the utensils I’d need. I heated the wok, added the oil and butter and got to the business of cooking.
We poured oil and salt on the asparagus and put it in the toaster oven. We scooped the cooked rice and kept it warm in the oven. We tested a scallop. And then another. And then one more. I took a bite of an asparagus and fed him the rest from my fingers because in the midst of the synchronicity of creating, the mind gets lost and acts like it used to, like it once was.
When we were done, we sat down as a family to eat. It wasn’t my immediate family. It wasn’t even a family I had been in touch with closely over the last decade, but on that night, with the weight of everything they were about to face, we sat there and shared a meal.
My relationship with my friend doesn’t look at all like I had once imagined. I’m not there as his girlfriend or fiancé. But after so many years of back and forth, often insisting “never again”, sitting beside him, his mom, sister and father, we talked about work, TV shows and movies with ease. It’s not the passion of the expectations I once used to harbor, but in this new way, after the heart breaks and mends, life really hits, and if you pay attention, it looks a lot like love.