The lesson


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“My world seems empty without you”, the boy told the girl.

“And every day we are apart diminishes me greatly”, she replied. They clutched at each other with a feverishness such as a hungry man clutches at a piece of sandwich, after three days without eating. All the while drowning in each others eyes, as the squeezed each other. Seeking to become one new symbiotic entity.

The couple stayed in that position, trying to both stop time, yet wanting to hurry it along. So that tomorrow could become yesterday.

Soon she was going away, to the islands for the holidays. For two weeks. Yet each could barely wait for the two weeks to pass, so they could melt into each other once more.

They were on the bench in the park, it was late summer and while the air was nippy, the heat from their desires virtually warmed the very air around them. A sort of vortex of young angst, young love, youthful amore and lust. It was but a few minutes later that they managed to pry themselves from each other and turned to the old man on the other bench.

“I am sorry sir, what did you say”? asked the young man. His companion looked over, bewildered and unsure of the man’s intentions. “I said, love is but a fleeting thing, when viewed as a sprint”. The man chuckled. He continued to feed the pigeons. “what do you know about us and our feelings, old man”? The youth retorted irritably. He knew he need not speak so harshly to the elder, but his current state of mind was impacted by the pending distance that soon will insert itself between him and his true love.

The girl said, “are you some kind of pervert”? Everyday on my way to school, I see you in the morning and evening feeding those pigeons”! Don’t you have a job or are you homeless”? “Do you sit in the park and just watch people”? “I hope you are not watching the little children”?

She felt that dig would bore a hole in the old man’s soul, diminishing him where he would scurry away. But the old man smiled such a genuinely sweet smile, she instantly felt ashamed for that bitter accusation. “No my dear”. The man said. Then he paused. And then said, “No! again….to all your questions. Al but the homeless part”. He paused again. ” I guess technically I am homeless, because I don’t have a home nor pay rent”.  ‘But its my choice you see”? “I chose to be homeless”!

The boy scoffed at the man. Pffft”! “What are you talking about old man”? “Nobody chooses to be homeless”! The old man shook his head and continued to smile their way. “But I have and I did”! He said this definitively.  To be truly happy and independent, one must not be tied down by the anchor of material things. The anchor of others expectations. The anchor of trying to be everything to everybody.

The old man closed his eyes for a good while, which caused the couple to believed he had fallen a sleep. They shrugged and proceeded to exchange superlatives, deep soulful steers and bodily fluids from their tongues.

“When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden”

The couple surfaced and looked drunkenly at the man. “what”? They both said. The old man chuckled. “It’s a quote from The prophet”, he said. “A very deep book about life’s many lessons”. The boy looked uncertainly at him. “The prophet”? “Like a christian religious figure or something”? No, No, No…said the old man. He chuckled some more. In fact his chuckle turned into a full-blown guffaw and belly slapping laughter. “what is it they teach you kids in school today”?

Then he recited a few more lines:

“Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires,
let these be your desires: To melt and be like a running
brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks
for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your
heart and a song of praise upon your lips.” 

“What does this have to do with us”? The girl asked. Eager to get back to extending time with her heart and soul personified in her companion, yet trying to will time to pass over her and become a memory. “I couldn’t help hearing you too going on about this thing called love”, the old man said. Lord knows you too were making an embarrassing spectacle of yourselves. All groping and slobbering and whining!”

Then he started with a new round of belly laughing. The boy turned to him. He was now angry.”look here, you”! “You best begone from here before I go upside your head”!

The old man was unphased by the threat. But he never the less sobered up, retaining that smile. It was a smile that was becoming quite insufferable. “It’s just that, young fellow, I too was like you once. When i knew no better, yet I felt I knew every secret the world could possible have”! “Alas…I had to learn a harsh lesson, as i entered the world of adult hood”.

“What do you mean”? The girl asked.

“I mean Love and happiness are a couple of strangers travelling the path of life”. The old man said. “They are incomplete without the other, but together they produce a child. Contentment”.

“Well what do you know about love?” The girl asked. “You are so old, all the people you love are probably dead by now”! The man appeared not to take offense to her rude rebuke. Though he appeared pensive still. “yes”! He said. “many of those I loved have passed. And many more I have lost touch with. But I am happy still because my contentment is not based on my love for them,”. My life and the love I have is and will always be based on  very important secret to happiness”.

He lapsed into another bout of pensiveness. The boy rolled his eyes and said…”OK! I bite. What is the secret to happiness”? The old man looked at him. Smiling that smile. “The secret to happiness is very simple. It’s seeing the world, yet never forgetting the simple things that make you an important cog in the wheel of life”.

The boy wished he had never asked the man that question. For now he was more confused.

“If love and happiness are a couple of strangers, and the secret to life is seeing the world while not forgetting the simple things that make you a cog in the wheel, then what is love then… oh wise master”?

He said the last with a sardonic smirk. The old man replied:

“Love is not forced, nor is it demanding;
 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy,
it does not boast, it is not proud.
 It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
 Love does not delight in evil but
rejoices with the truth.
 It always protects, always trusts,
always hopes, always perseveres.”

The old man paused for a minute. Then he continued…

“Love seeks not but for itself. It is pureness and
honesty in the face of adversity; Love knows 
nothing but itself. Therefore Love is forever
in search of itself.”

The girl looked at the old man for a long time. Then she asked, “is that a bible verse?. I seem to have heard it somewhere before.” The old man nodded. “The first part is from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  “The second part though, is where love speaks for itself.”

She thought about what he said. Her mind seem to recede  into a memory. Then she said…

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love,
I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom
all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith
that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over  my body
to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

The old man smiled gently at her. “Come my dear help me to finish it”. He continued with the verse, as she accompanied him:

” Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies,
they will cease; where there are tongues,
they will be stilled; where there is knowledge,
it will pass away.
 For we know in part and we prophesy in
part,
 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child,
I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways
of childhood behind me.
 For now we see only a reflection
as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am
fully known. 
And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

The boy looked between them, with a thoughtful frown, as together the old man and the girl finished up the verse.  “Sounds like a bible thing. I am not into all that bible reading stuff.”

The girl looked at him strongly.

“You don’t have to be in it, to see the wisdom in gods sayings”. The old man chuckled again. “My son, I too am not into the bible thing, as you say.” At which point the girl redirected her strong look at him, causing the boy to chuckle himself.

He continued…”but that does not mean one can not see value in certain pertinent parts of the book and apply it to your life. After all the bible is a corruption of a more ancient series of lessons handed down over the millennium.” He held up his hand, palm first to stall the girls protest. ” I know what you are going to say and I am not denying your right to embrace the bible”. I only made reference to it in a way that is both familiar to most of us, yet simple enough so you can understand what love is”.

“But we know love.” “and we are in love!” The boy said grabbing the girl’s hand. “We are in love and hurt when we are not together. And when we are together, it just seems like the time is too short, each partings so cruel.”

“I may not know a lot of things young man, but I know love is not supposed to hurt, if it’s given freely with no expectations of rewards, acknowledgment or desire to prove its realness. Love just is”.

“Is?”, what do you mean?” Said the girl.

“Love is a gift that must be given freely and willingly. You must be so eager to give it away, that failure to do this, will confound you.” The old man then said, “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

The couple watched the old man, who continued…“This is what we call love. When you are loved, you can do anything in creation. When you are loved, there’s no need at all to understand what’s happening, because everything happens within you.”

“Your love for her should be within you and thus can never diminish. Even when she is a part. For when you are in love with some one, you are giving them a universal energy and strength to be greater than they or you ever thought.” “know that when you are in love and when you are loved, no fear of separation can enter your heart. For wherever she is there your heart will be.”

The two looked at the old man for a brief minute. Then the boy said, “come let’s go!” They got up and walked away. He heard them mumbling, “crazy old fool,what does he know about real love!”

The old man chuckled to himself and spoke to the pigeons. “These young people don’t understand that love is but a fleeting thing, when viewed as a sprint” “yet it sustains itself when viewed as a marathon.”

He threw some more seeds at the birds. “But one must train for a marathon, because it is much more difficult than a sprint. On your over all constitution. It requires discipline and a whole batch of patience and contentment. For when the pain sets in, then your will to go on is due to your belief that quitting is unacceptable.”

The birds looked at him. Waiting for the wonderful seeds to fall from the sky. The birds love the seeds and are very contented being at the park. The old man the reached into his back pocket and pulled out an old worn wallet. He tenderly opened it and took out a picture snuggled inside an almost forgotten crease. It was a picture of a woman. She was beautiful. At least he thought so.

He smiled and recited the verse he read to her that night in the hospital…

Beloved,
I have to adore the earth:
The wind must have heard
your voice once.
It echoes and sings like you.
The soil must have tasted
you once.
It is laden with your scent.
The trees honor you
in gold
and blush when you pass.
I know why the north country
is frozen.
It has been trying to preserve
your memory.
I know why the desert
burns with fever.
It was wept too long without you.
On hands and knees,
the ocean begs up the beach,
and falls at your feet.
I have to adore
the mirror of the earth.
You have taught her well
how to be beautiful.
After a time, he put away the picture inside the wallet and the wallet back in his pocket. He looked at the receding backs of the couple. He shook his head and chuckled. He whispered to the birds…”so simple, the most educated can never see!”
He threw another handful of seeds at the birds.

The Black Love campaign