This was one of those days.
First thing this morning, my computer screen stopped working: it was black. I had already been planning to drive into the city because I had a series of errands to run. The computer became the most important. I dropped it off at the place where computers are fixed (which is a part of the university), and then went on my errands: to the optometrist to get my glasses lenses replaced, to Small Pleasures on Newbury Street to drop off a strand of pearls that needs to be restrung and a pair of marcasite earrings that are missing a few of the marcasites, to Pandemonium to pick up the last two months of Locus because I’ve let my subscription lapse (although I shouldn’t have of course, it’s just that I’ve been so busy) and I’m mentioned in both issues.
While I was in the optometrist’s office, the fire alarm went off and the building was evacuated, so I had to leave my glasses there and go back later. And of course I had to leave my computer. I’m writing this post on a netbook, and I continually have to correct my spelling because the keyboard is so much smaller than I’m used to.
So it was that sort of day.
While I was standing on a subway platform, I saw a sign. It said “Live Humbly, Love Recklessly.” I liked it so much that I later posted it on Facebook, and a friend of mine replied that when he loved recklessly, he always had his heart broken. So I started thinking about what you can love both recklessly and safely: what won’t break your heart. And I came up with a sort of list.
I think one of the reasons the sign resonated with me so much is that I do live that way: I live fairly humbly (although, if I dare say so myself, with lovely things), but the things I love, I do love recklessly. That was just an aside. On to the list.
Things you can love recklessly without getting your heart broken (almost for certain):
1. Books. You can love as many books as you want (you can be a polybibliophile), and you can love them as deeply and sincerely and recklessly as you like. And they will never betray you. Jane Austen will never say that she loves another better than you; Agatha Christie will never decide that you should just be friends.
2. A Garden. There is a caveat here: individual plants will break your heart. The blossoms killed by frost, the young vegetables eaten by rabbits, will cut you to the bone. You will mourn over them. But the garden will always be there. Even in winter, you will be able to see its bones and pour over gardening catalogs, imagining its summer glory.
3. Music. No matter what mistakes you make, no matter what a mess you make of your life, music will always love you as recklessly and extravagantly as you love it. Just sit back, listen to Liszt or Dylan, and let it wash over you. It will tell you that although the world may be all wrong, you are going to be all right.
4. A cat. I don’t think a dog is the same: dogs are too close to human, too prone to causing heartbreak. But if you lose a cat, no matter how beloved, you lose something that was never yours anyway. A cat will return your love, but it is always already half somewhere else. It already belongs to another state of being. When a cat dies, you can imagine it entering the land of the dead as though returning to its own country.
5. Nature. When you need something to love recklessly and you can’t find anything else, nature is always there. You can love trees, the mountains, the ocean. (I love the ocean extravagantly myself.) And if you are trapped in some sort of prison, there is always the sky. Nature, the great mother, will respond to you by being herself, beautiful and infinite, and by making you feel as though whatever heartbreaks you have are small things after all, when you can look up and see the moon and stars. As Wordsworth says in “Tintern Abbey,” “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her,” and I think he’s right.
There are so many things in the world that will cause you heartbreak. People of course, but also houses, countries, sometimes the work of your own hands. Ideas, when you find they are not as grand as you originally believed, can break your heart. But those five? I think they’re safe.
My new favorite garden from The Hanging Garden, which is one of the most beautiful blogs I’ve seen: