The title of this article has arrived to me and yet as I begin to write I am not sure how it will unfold. A few hours ago I had a different idea for this column in mind, but after a heart to heart conversation with a family member on a challenging topic, “love” entered me – tugging for a voice.
The kind of love I am thinking of is not Valentine’s Day love or the rosy glowing sensation when we first “fall in love.” No – I am thinking more about the love that Leonard Cohen captures in his famous song Hallelujah – “Love is not some kind a victory march/It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.”
What is a broken Hallelujah? What does it have to do with love…a cold love, perhaps a broken love?
Here Cohen reminds us that we are not talking about “the light,” “the Lord above,” or even the “song you don’t care about.” Above and beyond all this, hidden in its darkest crevices, is love in our brokenness. Maybe even love because of our brokenness.
I am writing all this tonight reflecting on the crappy genetic material of my family line that translates specifically into a “brokenness” of body, mind and spirit among many of my family members. From an aunt with multiple sclerosis who ended up in a wheel chair for years to an uncle and grandfather with legs amputated; from a mother who sometimes could not get out of bed for weeks at a time to a father who was withdrawn emotionally and disconnected with all his family members; from several cousins institutionalized to my own teenage acne that ravaged my face and made many look away during my vulnerable adolescence….I have often imagined and longed to have a “normal” family.
My best laid hopes for my children – that they would have a more “normal” life than I did – have not come to fruition as I had once dreamed. This topic was the conversation I alluded to in the opening paragraph of the column. Specifically, it was about my beautiful, adult daughter whose brain currently is not functioning optimally. There is so much stigma even these days around certain words and labels, especially as they relate to so-called mental illness, that I do not want to specifically state the most plausible psychiatric diagnosis.
Even though 1 out of every 100 people in the world will in the course of their life time experience an episode of this and more than 25% of the people who experience this brain disease recover fully, there are still many misperceptions about this disease which research clearly shows has little connection with poor parenting or abuse. Rather, it is due to a combination of genetic predisposition and a triggering incident such as certain infections or hormonal changes. In fact, this brain disease is twice as prevalent as Alzheimer’s and six times as prevalent as insulin dependent diabetes.
And so we are back with Leonard Cohen’s brokenness. He himself has admitted to experiencing periods of depression and withdrawal, as have so many deeply creative people. While this brokenness can offer great promise as well as great pain, it also offers others who love the person the opportunity to stretch and deepen their capacity of love. Here we have the chance to love someone who is no longer as normal as they once were; we have the opportunity to test our own abilities and gifts of love in the chalice of witnessing what we had hoped never to witness.
And just as there is sorrow in this space, there is also the potential for great healing and soul work. My Tai Chi teacher reminds us that you can always relax more, which is the primordial lesson of the soft martial arts. In the same way, you can always love more. Leonard Cohen puts it this way – “I did my best; it wasn’t much. I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you.”