Discussing Love on a Lake

We discussed love while rowing on a freshly painted boat on Phewa Lake in Nepal.

He rowed. And I pretended I knew how to.

In the far distance, we could make out the faint outlines of the Annapura, the more accessible mountain range of the mythical Himalayas, which stood proud and silent on that hazy spring day.

Alex steered our boat around the small island that held the non-descript Hindu temple, dressed up like a blushing schoolgirl for the tourists, while we gazed upwards towards the pearly white Buddhist stupa planted up on a neighboring hill.

Sandwiched between the two symbols, we talked of love in the abstract. In the practical. In the religious.

I asked Alex what he knew about Buddhism. He shared with me the few tenets that he knew, most notably that of non-attachment.

I leaned back and frowned at a memory of a dear friend who recently embraced Buddhism. A year ago, she was bitterly and vocally unhappy with her marriage because of a void of understanding, touch, love, and common ideals. She had dreamed of something different and contemplated divorce. Now, with the smile of the recently converted playing on her lips, she preached non-attachment to me in a crowded, cheap Italian restaurant. While her rambunctious 7 year old son screamed and kicked for his mom’s iPhone, she patted him absentmindedly and explained to me why she was happy now. The key was letting go. All couples, regardless of the quality of their relationship, would end up apart at the end of mortal life. So why obsess about the journey? If she stopped hoping for love, then she would not despair over the deafening silence between them. Or the late nights she waited up for him to come home. Or the lack of gentleness.

If she stopped being attached to her husband, then she would be happy.

I swirled around my cream of mushroom soup with the tin spoon, hiding the torrent of anger behind my masked attempt to understand her sentiments. I wanted to scream that she was giving up. That she was settling for a shell of a happy life. We ended our lunch early because her son whined about going to the arcades and snatched my spoon to drum out his demands. I also grew weary of my curious burst of anger.

Alex listened quietly to my story and disillusionment with the concept of letting go.

I passionately argued that at least for myself, I either cared all the way or didn’t care at all. Despite my parents cautioning temperance and ‘it’s just a job’ whenever I cried on the phone because I wasn’t sure how much more I could physically/ emotionally give to my work, I would still dip into my bank of inner reserve and drum out more energy to find solutions to never-ending problems. Or how I kept reaching out to a family member with a hopeful tentativeness even though she’s hung up on me multiple times.

Isn’t that what love is? I asked urgently. Not letting go?

In between a few more gentle paddles to maneuver us to a quiet alcove, Alex mused that love, in its ultimate form, is one of letting go of expectations of outcomes. It is the unconditional love that Christ spoke of, because He still loves us eternally regardless of our actions. He brought up the example of a proverbial modern mom who became angry because despite repeated reminders, the daughter was not practicing her instrument. The motive was love and hope that the daughter would develop her talents. But the anger arose because the daughter was not conforming to a set image the mom had crafted. Love, within the context of our conversation, would be for the mom to let go of the story she had weaved in her mind about her reality and instead persevere in love through the difficult, messy, and wonderfully unplotted life she ended up sharing with her daughter.

On our way paddling back to the muddy shores, I scanned the lake for the attachments in my life and saw them splayed out across the rippled surface of the the deepening water. Tangled in my thoughts, I decided to throw my stories, chained to their imagined endings, overboard and just let them sink to the bottom of Phewa. I decided to try to love in the best way I knew how and let things happen as they may. I would let go but not give up.

Across the lake, a proper Nepali storm was rolling in, a harbinger of the monsoon season.