To Love and to be Human
It’s hard the way we want certain stories to be true. Stories that we believe would offer a road map or even a Northern Star. Guidance. Hope.
I’m late to the party but I just read of how Barack Obama loved someone before Michelle. Proposed to someone before Michelle. Had someone he dreamt of spending forever with before Michelle. It hurt the way the way it always does when you watch a fight scene with your favorite superhero and they’re getting the snot kicked out of them and you’re in agony and confused because you don’t believe this is how the story should go because you know in your heart that this person is stronger than this. You also know in your heart that this person is the only remedy so if they don’t save the day, who will?
It’s interesting how unwilling we are for people to be human. In the words of the great Ingrid Michaelson, “All the broken hearts in the world still beat, let’s not make it hard than it has to be…boys chase girls chase boys.” Preach Ingrid.
I was reminded in reading about Barack and Sheila of the night I learned that one of my closest friends had gone farther with her fiancé before their wedding than our conservative Christian tradition would have approved. I was hurt mostly by wondering why she couldn’t confide in me. Wondering if I was so steeped in the culture myself that I wasn’t a safe place to bring her “sin” — really her experiences — to light. But the subtler, more stinging pain, was at feeling I had just witnessed another angel fall. I had boasted about their relationship to others. A picture of dependence on God and a model that it was totally possible to stay “pure,” “without spot or wrinkle” until marriage. Knowing what they had done — these two people I had held in such high regard — I wondered if it was possible for anyone. Moreover, I questioned the lines I had drawn. Here they were about to be blessed with marriage in spite of fooling around. Was it necessary for me to even try? More than that, here I was trying, doing all I could to to cross every t and dot every i the church threw at me and yet I was still abysmally single. Was it possible that love, romance and partnership were not rewards to be earned from a record keeping God? But that’s another essay.
The story of a strong Black man that finds, falls for and marries a strong Black woman. The story of a good Christian girl that marries a good Christian boy that have kept their hands to themselves until the altar. The story of men and women who seem to not have had lives before the other, as if the absence of a past serves to make the present perfect. The story of two people that had more self-control than passion, as if the ease with which a boundary is maintained is more important than the adulthood required to define, reevaluate, forgive and pour grace over boundaries.
From RomComs to telenovelas to the stories we grew up reading, there is such thing as Heroes of Love. There are people and relationships that we look toward for hope that in identifying with the characters of these stories we can maintain a belief that one day, we will find love to. But we have done wrong to use the stories of others as a metre to measure ourselves up against. We do more wrong when the stories we tell about those lovers are incomplete. I could bring a room full of people to tears with the story of how my parents or grandparents met, but that story would likely not include a word of those that said “I love you” to my grandparents or who they said it to before each other.
Looking at my life thus far as a single person, I did feel a subtle sense of betrayal at first, knowing Barry had someone before Michelle LaVaughn. I felt that maybe this truth made the notion of finding love even more of a myth than ever. But now I see that knowing this truth does the opposite. Perhaps it is as old and simple as needing to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince, and of course the lived experience feels more complicated than that.
Now, the notion that there was someone before Michelle gives me more hope than ever, because hey, they found each other and I’m sure that they were both shaped in beautiful and profound ways through the ones that came before.
While we can still certainly apply words like magical and holy to romances like those of Barack and Michelle’ and even my two friends, the thing that makes me look upon those unions with joy and hope is not that they were so out of this world or that they clung to some impossible standard, but rather, that they were so very human.