The End of Triumph

I am not sure why so many people

will tell you with great bitterness how badly love has hurt them

as if there was any other way through that sort of thing sometimes, and as though all they can remember

are the bad things that have happened to them.

You either fall madly in love and stay together, or you don’t. And most people don’t win big after only a few attempts, so why are you a failure when

all you did was try? Are you blind to the struggle all around you? Your hurt is not the worst hurt, it just feels that way because it is yours.

Trying is good, and there is almost always a lesson in it, and I am not sure how you define success, but to me

wisdom, self-respect and experience are important things, hard-earned and worth the trouble it takes to get them.

So many people act like

being hurt by love has ruined all their hope,

as if their hurt was worse than anyone else’s. As if the wounds they bear are crippling and unique

and not almost laughably garden-variety. I used to feel that way!

But now I laugh at myself.

Well, sensitive people do get hurt

but ask around and you will find that your hurt is not so bad as some have endured,

and ignorance has allowed you to be dramatic, and also perhaps unrealistic.

Don’t listen to what the songs say about love,

but look to the faces of your two friends who each made their first good marriage

in their fifties. No one ever said, my friend,

that the game of life was easy to play.

Poem: “Failing and Flying” by Jack Gilbert, from Refusing Heaven.

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of triumph.

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