I love the subtlety and ambiguity of words, and that no doubt had a lot to do with why I taught English for 23 years, and why I am now pursuing a career as a writer. I was reading an article in today’s Globe & Mail by Alan Cummings, a name you may not know, but a face I’m sure you’d recognize from his various theater performances and his recurring role as Eli Gold on The Good Wife.
In the article, Alan refers to the difference between the English expression, “I miss you” and the French expression, “Tu me manques”, which literally translates to “I am being missed by you.” The lifelong grammarian in me immediately honed in on the lexical construction of the two expressions, and how the French passive voice, although somewhat ‘clunky sounding’ to the English ear, intones much more resonance and depth of loss.
I may just be falling prey to lexical gymnastics, but I couldn’t help but feel that when it comes to the tender emotion of ‘missing’, this unassuming semantic change in perspective can have profound meaning. It was Oscar Wilde who said, “The very essence of romance is uncertainty.” When I look back on my life, and all that I have loved, lost, and sustained, my mind naturally travels to what was taken from me, and the unsettling hollow that left inside of me. I know what you’re thinking—cue the pity parade—but that’s exactly my point.
Romance lies within the ‘newness’ of something, that tenuous dance with uncertainty, possibility, and discovery. It’s in the unfolding, or evolution of connection, that beauty reveals itself to us as love or romance. And wherever that might lead, it’s an intoxicating dance that can leave you feeling either breathless or worthless.
Depending on how you look at it, I’ve been blessed or cursed by three great loves in my life. By far the most resonating love I have is for my wife, Mary-Anne. We were so young and naïve when we were married 28 years ago. I’m often asked what the secret is to the longevity of our relationship, and I usually respond by saying that the “person” I married is most definitely not the “same person” I am married to today. As Oscar Wilde said, “romance is uncertainty”, so leaving the space required for each of us to grow into the people we needed to become has been essential to prolonging that romance. We’ve danced, not always gracefully, but beautifully through a lot of uncertainty over the years. And in that salsa of fluidity, we’ve come to understand the difference between ‘being there for the one we love’ and ‘being there with the one we love’. The latter is by far the most difficult because our natural tendency is to try to fix something that feels uncomfortable. The truth is, some things can’t be fixed—they simply need to be endured together.
The second pronounced love of my life has been my love of drugs and alcohol. Although you may think you know what addiction ‘looks like’, it’s almost impossible to explain what addiction ‘feels like’ to someone who isn’t an addict. An active addiction has little to do with a euphoric escape, and everything to do with sabotaging self-negation. I never picked up a drink or a drug in order to feel different—the only thing I was looking for was not to feel at all. My romance with alcohol and drugs had an ever so brief honeymoon period, and sadly there was no Hollywood ending in my future, except maybe the speeding car driving off the cliff at the end of Thelma and Louise. I’ve been clean and sober now for over 18 years, and not a day goes by where I don’t miss the chaotic uncertainty of my addictive romance. Maybe I need to reframe my thinking a little and adopt the French “Tu me manques.” It certainly is a lot more liberating and empowering believing that my addiction misses me more than I miss it.
And with that, I have arrived at my most ephemeral love—my love affair with long distance running. For me, running has been a not too subtle reminder of the palette of life’s richness and undulation—prolonged episodes of monotonous ambiguity, punctuated by flashes of soul-crushing agony, and the sweetest yet most fleeting moments of euphoria. I disappeared into the world of drug and alcohol addiction because I was afraid—not of you, not even of something outside of me, but of the ache of the unknown inside of me. My romance with running has been a tumultuous dance played to a soundtrack of tenacity and uncertainty. Somehow within the motion of running, I’ve arrived at a sacred stillness inside—a place that has birthed the best of me, and the worst me, but in either case, the beauty lies in the dissonance of the arrival.
You know what—maybe the French are onto something… Perspective, is everything.