For years, for what seems like forever in my life, I’ve known Deegeen Dzila. In her younger days, Deegeen Dzila knew pretty much everything. She was a fighter for pacifism and human rights among her own with weapons of the heart and soul…weapons like confidence, audacity, sheer gumption and faith that led to victory. Now, in her older years, she has made peace with humankind, allowing for weaknesses, but her intolerance of that which causes pain to any child can be seen in anguished contortion on her face at the sound of a child’s cry. It was not until my later years that I realized how richly indulged I was to have her in my life for all the wisdom and “know how” that she has shown.
I went to visit Deegeen Dzila the other day. She was resting in her favorite chair humming an aria tune from an opera. I could tell she was forgetting again. I recognized the look in her eyes as she kept repeating the tune in search of the words to the song. “It’s not important,” she said after a while. “The words aren’t important…it’s the melody that creates the mood that makes the song anyway.” She was trying to skit around her forgetfulness. She looked vulnerable. All the hard edges of a tenacious youth had softened, but her voice was still earnest and commanding. She leaned over as though to reveal a secret. “Love is all that remains,” she said. “Nothing else really matters.”
She lowered her voice, almost apologetic. “I forget faces. I forget people and their roles in my life. I forget words and I forget names. Places I’ve been and things that I’ve seen all seem to disappear,” she continued. “Sometimes, I don’t even belong …not just to this world, but even to myself, I don’t belong.”
“That’s not true,” I blurted. She ignored me.
“I don’t know much these days,” she continued, “but I do know what’s inside,” she said as she placed her graceful hand over her heart and thumped a few beats.”It’s love… etched in my bones. Love. It’s…stronger…” She was searching for the right words. “It’s stronger than the individual, the self. It is what flows like molten lava from the core of my being into my heart and through my veins. This feeling is larger than any need to be right. It’s all encompassing. There is no explanation. It’s simply there. It tells me I’ve been loved, but more than that,” she said as she looked me in the eye, “more than that, it tells me that I feel love. That’s something I won’t forget…I can’t forget. ” She stopped for a moment as if to catch her breath, then, with the same tenacity she added. “It’s really not that complicated, my dear. Truth is, love is and has always been the key element in life.”
Deegeen Dzila’s words began to sink in. She wasn’t just reciting something that had been said and quoted in books from the begining of time. She was describing and clinging on to the only thing that she was sure of never losing… the emotion of love. I sank deeper into thought. Love is ubiquitous in different forms. But how well had I understood these terms of love conceptually? Romantic as I am, I had already passed that stage of often mistaking love as generally being just romantic. I could not ignore the majesty of the feeling experienced through a tender mother’s touch, a fatherly concern or a sisterly/brotherly affection, or a passionate lover’s kiss. The story of my life…as a child, coming of age, wandering adult, falling “in love,” settling, parenting, testing my commitments and recognizing my mortality… unfolded through love. Whether is was security love, friendship love, romantic love or unconditional love, it was these ‘loves’ that had been the motivating forces in all that I did.
In other words, the experience of love, omnipresent, is a matter of survival. As infants, we need to be held and touched and swaddled in the arms of parents or caretakers in order to survive. This need for love continues throughout our lives. We experience it satiated through puppy love, infatuation, obsessive love, self-love, brotherly love, conditional love, tough love, paternal love, patriotism, eros, romantic love, Divine love. We require regular doses of it, through touch, physical contact, companionship, friendship, care and affection, in order to feel good, to feel like we belong in this world.
Deegeen Dzila coughed as she moved to find a more comfortable position in her chair. She took my hand in hers and I felt the intense warmth of her delicate hands. “Love is everything,” she repeated. “It is the ultimate in selflessness of mind, body and soul.”
At that moment, time and space disappeared. Deegeen Dzila had drawn me into her realm.
“But what happens to the love when mind and body don’t function?” I dared to ask, having caught her in such a lucid moment.
“That’s why you take care of your soul,” she replied. “Love lives in your soul.”