(This was originally posted 9/7/2007 at wotmania.com, which closed down at the end of August in 2009. [Most of the members can now be found at RAFO.] It has not been edited since that first posting. I’m putting it here because I want the copy out and visible. Narcissism and the internet: need I say more?)
I came across this poem today, for what must be the fifth time:
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
~ Kahlil Gibran
My parents owned a copy of The Prophet. They still do. I read it when I was 10. There are no words, truly, to describe the experience of recognising but not comprehending beauty. It wafts around you, and perhaps through you. You cry and you are happy but you cannot for the life of you say why.
I read it again when I was 12. And this time it was worse, because sometimes I felt like it got it. It was like… doing a geometrical problem for which I had the key, only I didn’t understand the key, just held it in my unfeeling fingers.
I couldn’t tell you today whether I am romantic or not. Shall I put it like this: I do not believe that there is a soul-mate out there, waiting for me, but I do believe that I might meet someone, and together we might become each other’s soul-mates? Yes, I believe I shall indeed put it like that. But back when I was 12, I hadn’t formulated this theory. I didn’t really understand what I meant by the word “love” and why I shifted it around so much. I did know that someday some nice man/woman would charge up in a big black car, hand me a copy of The Prophet and ask me to marry him/her.
It wasn’t always a big shiny car. Sometimes she’d climb down a tree, and sit down beside me, and read the verse out loud, and I would listen to her. Sometimes he’d stop by me as I sat on a stone bench in my school playground, and he’d place the book in my hand, and I’d read to him. Sometimes we would alternate verse for verse. Sometimes we quoted them.
But that was the deal. I would have a someone. And I would know that someone because they gave me The Prophet.
I have read the essaypoems since I was 12. They’re all over the internet, and sometimes I find them quoted or referenced in the books I read. I once read The Prophet from end to end online – right before I told someone I loved him, and he said he loved me back. (A month later he told me he couldn’t love anyone. But that’s not his fault, or Gibran’s fault, or mine.) And I couldn’t think what our future might be, I couldn’t figure out what adjustments we’d both have to make to each other, but one day I knew we would sit down in a small little pub playing very loud metal music, and I’d read The Prophet to him, and that would be me saying “I love you”, and him listening to me and knowing I was saying it.
And saying it back.
But, well, see, this man had not heard of Gibran – at least I do not know if he had. It’s not a question of his intelligence or readingness, you understand – I just was fairly sure he had not read Gibran because we’d never talked about poetry – not much, anyway. Perhaps we would have? (Does that matter?) And because he’d not read Gibran, he wouldn’t be able to buy The Prophet for me. Not unless I told him to, which is not the point of the fantasy.
And so I would have to buy it for him.
I made plans, you know. The buying of the copy. The giving. The speech – it was very long, and it was perfect; it was very short, and it was perfect; it wasn’t there at all, and it was perfect. And the reading. And the keeping. And.
Well. That one fell through, and I never even told him about Gibran. I was, and still am, a coward in these things. I want the people who love me to say that they love me, and to say it before I do so that it is not me that risks rejection but them. I want to not be the instigator of love because that way I am not the one who has made the demands. In my need to be ultra-perfect I can be ultra-passive. And when I fall short – as I cannot help, being simultaneously unstable and human – I try even harder to be the GooseGirl Princess. And if I am the Goosegirl hard enough, well enough, they shall give me The Prophet and that will prove that they love me.
I haven’t held and read a tangible copy of The Prophet since I was in my teens. I have never owned it. I have never received it as a gift. I may never receive it as a gift. Perfect romance exists, but it rarely plays to the storyteller in your head.
Unless, of course, your storyteller shifts her story. It’s the mark of a good storyteller, isn’t it? The the story is not so much unmarkable dross but instead the result of a caring, a commitment, a shaping – a sharing?
I don’t believe in the essentiality of a soulmate. I think I can live without one. I don’t think I can force the forging of that kind of bond. But maybe, maybe someday there will be one. And I would like to think that s/he and I will know it because one day I stretched out my hand and said, Do You Read Kahlil Gibran?
Yes or No, it won’t matter.