The Life That I Have

August 1, 2010 by  
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The below poem was read at Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky’s wedding last night.  I wanted to share it with you.  I feel its depth, love and longing.

The Life That I Have

The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
Is yours

The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.

A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause
For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.

Leo Marks, composed the poem in 1943 in memory of his girlfriend Ruth, who had died in a plane crash in Canada.


Robin Hood And Me

May 15, 2010 by  
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I went to see Robin Hood last night.  I’m not a film critic so I won’t be reviewing the film here but want I want to talk about, is how it tugged at my romantic strings.  Now I am by all accounts an independent and strong woman but I wanted to be Lady Marian so Robin Hood could come and rescue me.  I left the screening with a want in my heart for my courageous, strong and sexy man to kick my door down so we could get going in living happily ever after.

It’s really interesting how these hero stories, built on archetypal characters, still have such emotional impact even after we have lived life and learned differently because the truth is while Robin is courageous, strong and perfect in reality he would also have many other traits that are not so attractive.  Also, in reality, once the excitement of hugging, kissing and making love to a person wears out, if the relationship is to survive, it has to become about love, trust and commitment.  It almost sounds like a let down but it really isn’t.  When I talk about commitment, I’m referring to committing to see the other person, to give them our time, attention and in return get the same.  I’m talking about caring for the well being and happiness of the other and in return getting the same.  And I’m talking about having compassion for the other and in return getting the same. Nothing boring about that, because a “good” relationship produces a sense of emotional safety based on the time, caring and compassion given to each other. Read more


Is Love Sometimes Like “dying a little”?

April 19, 2010 by  
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by Julia Caroline Knowlton

Can we understand love by considering our experience of it as “dying a little?”  Is love sometimes an act or expression that sacrifices my life through a “giving-over” to yours?  In loving, do we surrender our precious vulnerability?

Unsettling notions reveal truths.  A rabbi once taught me that love is the constriction of the self in service to the other.

In French, the word for love is l’amour and the word for death is la mort.  All nouns in French are either masculine or feminine.  There is no neutral.  Love (l’amour) is masculine and death (la mort) is feminine.  The two words sound eerily alike.  I amuse my students when I teach them how to differentiate the pronunciation: “L’amour requires you to “pucker up” a little while you say it, whereas la mort does not.”

Loss is irrevocably bound to our experience of love.  Life begins with a first separation as the child leaves the mother’s body and is cut off from it.  Nursing can then be seen as a remarkable duet between mother and baby, hearkening back to that lost union.

The longing you feel for the one you love hurts.  The French call orgasm la petite mort (”the little death”).  Lust is the primal urge to erase physical boundaries that separate two people.  The blurring of boundaries that constitutes sex may be understood as a powerful remembrance of symbiosis between mother and infant.

In more concrete contexts, we can see that loving the other often requires a literal depletion of the self.  Maternal love relentlessly demands “a little dying” through emotional and physical fatigue.  Making scrambled eggs in the pitch black on freezing cold mornings when you feel bone tired.  I have heard mothers say “I feel like these children are sucking the life force out of me.”  And to an extent, they are.

There is true nobility to this “little dying.”  My closest colleague lost his wife to gastric cancer almost one year ago.  I watched him age before my eyes as he slaved through her diagnosis, treatment, passing, and burial.  All the while he took care of their young son and daughter, and did not complain.  And he continued to teach his students throughout the entire ordeal.

Another colleague of mine hauled several huge student suitcases up a narrow, 85-degree Fahrenheit stairwell in the TGV (train de grande vitesse) in Avignon, France, despite the fact that he suffers from severe vertigo. He did this because several students were ill. While he did that, I stood with a sick young student who clung to me for hours at the bottom of that same stairwell. We were packed standing like sardines. Some French teenage boys stared at my student-a tiny shy girl-with bemused curiosity until I explained to them that she was ill.

Is love sometimes like dying a little?  I think so. If we do not run from it, this understanding of love offers us a glimpse of the sublime.

Copyright 2009 Julia Caroline Knowlton


The Emotions Of Touch

October 24, 2009 by  
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One morning I woke up and didn’t feel alone. Instantly my thoughts raced, maybe if I turn over slowly I’ll see my husband laying beside me. What if this had all been just a dream?

For many years I went to sleep and then woke up wrapped in my husband’s arms. After my husband left for Eternal Life I slept in the living room in his chair. I couldn’t bring myself to return to our bed. To sleep curled up in his chair made me feel safe like I did when he put his arms around me and held me tight. 

On the second month anniversary of his passing, I sat on our bed, something I had not done since he left. I would just look at our bed when I walked past it on my way to the shower, especially at his USGA throw draped across the corner. When the men from the funeral home took him out of the house, the throw was draped over his legs. My daughter walked beside me as I followed them… This wasn’t going to be like the time the ambulance took him to the hospital. This time he would never be coming back home. 

It was then, two months since he left our home that my emotions won the tug-of-war. I had shoved them deep down inside for more than a year. During his my husband’s illness for me to acknowledge my feeling hadn’t been an option. My whole focus and purpose had been to care for him, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I needed to show him I was strong and that he didn’t need to worry about me. We needed to use all of our energy and concentrate in saving his life. We both did everything that was asked of us and more. We were focused to live and without regrets.

Recently a woman shared with me she gave everything of her husbands away that first week after he died. The only thing she kept was his pajamas which she sleeps in every night. I couldn’t tell her that we didn’t own pajamas.

All of my husband’s things are still in the closets. I used to question myself on why. Am I only making it harder on myself? What was the reason I couldn’t let them go? Joan Didion, the author of “The Year of Magical Thinking” wrote that she couldn’t give her husband’s shoes away because she thought he would need them when he returned. I have accepted that it’s OK if I’m not ready to give anything of his away. I don’t have to have a reason.

I have never been a “stuff” person which goes back to my mantra of quality over quantity always. Right now I know I need his stuff with me. I still keep his t-shirts organized by color just like he always did. I know that would make him smile since I always kidded him about doing that.

Now every night with his shirts wrapped around me I feel his touch as I lay down in the middle of our bed. I talk to him just as if he’s laying right there with me. Then I ask him to hold me, hold me tight.


The Difference Between My Dog And Me

October 20, 2009 by  
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When I leave my house my dog sits outside my office door and waits for me.  He sees me go out the front door but he goes outside in the backyard, where my office is, and sits by my locked door.  He does that because during the day that’s where I always am and in his mind he can’t understand where else I could be.  I’m always there so I must be there.

I think people do the same thing when we lose someone.  Death is such a confusing experience.  One minute a person is part of our lives and then in the next they are gone. How to make sense of it?  Not in a religious or spiritual way but in a visceral physical way? Not possible. So we go to the places where the person we lost used to exist and look for traces of them.  We sit outside their doors and hope somehow they are inside.

But just like in my dog’s case no matter how long we wait our “person” won’t mysteriously materialize. They now occupy a different realm in our lives and it’s a hard transition for the people left behind.

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