Friday, April 29, 2011

Whose measure of a man: Acceptance

“Acceptance,” she said as she walked through the door of the coffee shop.

I was sitting at the front counter of the cafe, on the seat closest to the glass door that opens into the place, sipping coffee and reading the newspaper.

“That’s the word I’m getting for you,” she added, closing the door behind her and putting her hand to rest gently on my shoulder. “Acceptance.”

I hesitated a moment, shifting my attention from the usual fare of global catastrophe, cataclysm and revolution, to focus on her word.

“What do you mean?” I said.

“It’s cleaner, cleaner than love. Love is too messy.”

I’d been going through another one of those “looking for love in all the wrong places” phases of my life, and this woman had sensed it, verbalized it and brought it out into the open, where I’d been trying to hide it.

“What’s going on with you?” she had asked me. I was shocked by the question because at the time she was a new acquaintance, a new possibility, and I hadn’t said anything too personal. We were still casual in our conversation and she was an attractive, dynamic older woman who seemed confident and happy with herself.

“What do you mean?” I’d said then as well.

“Ah,” she said, putting her hand on my shoulder, which she did often, not in a suggestive but in a gently reassuring way, “we’ll talk about it when you’re ready.”

I was ready. “I’m going through a breakup,” I told her.

She explained that she was an “intuitive,” someone who can sense problems in people’s lives and give them something to work with, words like “acceptance.”

“Acceptance?” I responded, feeling somewhat skeptical, having believed that the answer to any problem would always be “love,” even love that might be breaking and falling apart.

“Yeah,” she said, “it starts with you. Think about it: There are no conditions, no judgments, just you and acceptance. It’s totally clean.”

I wanted not just acceptance but love too, which, after she pitched her new word began to feel heavy and weighted, just as she described. I felt a protest against letting go of love.

“What about love?” I said.

“What about love? Look at you. What is love doing for you right now?”

“Lots,” I said, shifting uneasily in my seat. She found the chair next to mine and faced me. “I’ve gone to the moon and back on love,” I said, remembering better days.

“You’re such a romantic. That’s what gets you into trouble. Love is making you miserable right now. Try acceptance.”

She got up from her chair and patted my shoulder as she left to get her coffee and go to work. “You take care,” she said.

Acceptance, I realized as she parted, would mean letting go. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that. I wanted to feel something. “Acceptance” left me feeling almost hollow, where love, even love that had gone sour, made me feel something.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I began to let go of love, the more free I felt, the less tied down to emotional outbursts and long days of sadness.

She was right and whenever love becomes a challenge I seem to find much comfort in acceptance: of the way things are, of how I am and how others are, and letting go of the demands of love, which can get ridiculously foolish and loud and confused.

Those who marry say that the institution is a bulwark against what doesn’t work, a citadel of promise to withstand the failures of relationship, even the failures of love, to the point where love becomes a duty, or a burden.

Acceptance is cleaner. I’ve always been suspicious of things that are “cleaner,” but it seems to work well in those moments when what we love does more harm than good.

Yet, I’ve also experienced freedoms in love that acceptance can’t seem to match. That’s the romantic in me speaking again, of course, but the world doesn’t become fecund and fertile merely through acceptance. Or maybe it does. I think it takes more than that.

And maybe it isn’t love, either, that fecundates the world. But the world dripping in the wet fertile stuff of life seems loaded with more color and possibility than simple acceptance. I don’t really know. I like both.

Perhaps it’s a combination of the two—acceptance and love—that give each their power to liberate. §

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