“When you really feel understood, you feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul.”
― John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
“I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I did, till we loved?..” – John Donne, The Good-Morrow
Longbourn, near Meryton, Hertfordshire
19th July, 1796
It is 4 o’clock in the afternoon, another day to pass in this agonising void. I know not what I write but I write now for you and for my sanity – perhaps to burn this later, when I shall know for good.
You entered my life when I thought that I had a life complete and ripped it apart. But tonight I shall know, whether I stay or leave.
How content I was before you arrived. My sisters all wed and I staying here with Mother, her companion of sorts. “Poor Mary, no one will come for Mary.” Obliged to visit my Aunt Philips or the Lucas’ daily and while they gossiped, the secret, self-satisfied knowing that I would be leaving them all behind, to live closer to God, gave me so much joy. I would not join my sister and Mr Bingley, as a burden, on my father’s passing, the unwed sister accompanying her mother, to content my days with their meagre library, kind as they were, and beg for books. No, I would take myself, independent and free, to where my mind and spirit would soar – the convent at Barcelona. I was sure which one I should join, for once I overcame my obstacles to Catholicism, I felt that the quiet and discipline of an enclosed order would suit me best and I could feel my spirit exalt in the secret plan.
My God, my God, how much I loved my God! I saw His divine love and brilliance in every blade of grass, in every tree, in each and every bird and, though I rarely moved far beyond our walls and gardens, I found the hours I spent there, sitting on a bench, or beneath a tree, reading from sacred texts and observing the magnificence of the Creator around me would suffice – feeling and recognising the quiver of life that flowed from Him through me and all around me, all connected and held together…for the entire Universe was contained there, in that garden – until I met you.
I remember that evening, it is yet fresh in my mind. December 17^th.^ You and that strange man of science, Mr Luther, were coming to join us for dinner. When father announced it, the news meant nothing to me. I merely observed Mother scolding him for inviting Mr Luther, who locals believed would kill one and all by pouring poison in the wells. Father, of course, was amused. He enjoyed the company of intelligent men, he declared, and as he met them so rarely, he would do as he pleased when he did. This school master, Mr Jenkins, who was joining us was taking a position at the local school and he was keen to scrutinize him.
So you arrived that evening – quietly, with your friend. When our eyes met, everything within me heaved and rushed toward you. I reddened, ashamed of my plainness and angry that I had not donned some nice garment which my sister’s had left behind. Then, suddenly, the remembrance of who I am and the non-effort of men at balls and dances. I was forever invisible. I could only hope my soul was beautiful and loveable. Yet what would any of this matter to a new teacher, this Mr Jenkins, with his kind eyes, his soft voice, his long fingers? I wondered if you played piano. I dared not ask. I was so stunned, I did nought for the entire meal except observe my emotions as they rocked and expanded in dizzying ways and in all directions, totally new to me. I was still myself and yet no longer myself for I had met myself in another form. I felt my soul rush to meet you, to encircle you, wrap itself around you and hold you. It whispered softly, like a besotted angel, “I love you, I love you, I love you” over and over into your ear. How could it be that there was nothing in the world more familiar to me than this stranger? I belonged to you and always had. Pure recognition. An unearthly belonging.
And then the news, you were married, with a sick wife in London. My parents tutted and shook their heads. I heard nothing beyond this point.
In the garden, the following morning, I wailed, sick at the thought of never having you, and my father, alarmed at my appearance, asked if I were unwell. I could not confide. He entreated me to teach piano at the school. The irony of his request! I was reading too much, he was convinced, and being preoccupied with teaching and the daily walk thither, would do me good. I answered that I would consider it (for, in truth, I yearned to be near you again) yet in my heart I prayed to God to strangle these newly found feelings, to banish all thoughts of you. I would write at once to Barcelona and request that the Mother Superior consider taking me immediately…it would hurt my father’s feelings but he would let me go and a life of penance and the cycle of torture – knowing you, wanting you and being rejected by you in every moment, would begin.
The letter was written and gone.
And as we spent time together (the agony of being with you, the agony of not) every day, over the months, smiling shyly, talking incessantly, reading our favourite, Donne, I found there was nothing I could not tell you. I explained about the convent…for a moment, I thought you started but I could not be sure. You never gave me hope. You said I was brave and that women were not often as strong, determined and truly spiritual as me…yet you did not discourage it….my God, as you had become, would willingly let me go. What is hell, but the knowledge that you mean nothing to he who means everything to you? I cried hot tears that night.
And the day when you took your snuff box out of your breast pocket to show me its design, I was alarmed at its warmth, the heat of your body emitting from it, resting like a precious chick in my palm. I held it longer than necessary on the pretence of examining its pattern while trying not to swoon.
To this day, you are my last thought at night, my first on awakening.
Have you not ever felt as I do? If you are truly the other half of my soul, how could you not feel this too? So guarded. And yet I believe my purpose is to love you, to sooth the torment I sometimes see in your eyes, to lift you up as you consistently lift me.
There was no part of you that I did not love, in every way that a woman could love a man. Such sleeplessness and tossing, I could have ripped myself asunder from wanting you. All these new, sinful thoughts and longings and yet I could feel no shame, find no cure…to know you was to love you and to love you was the most natural emotion to ever rise within my soul. There was nothing to do but forgive myself for selfishly loving a man who was married and to forgive God for orchestrating our meeting.
I received the consent of Mother Superior by correspondence in yesterday’s post. My father seemed surprised that I received any letter, for I generally do not, with the exception of news from my sisters. He will not stand in my way, when I seek his permission, for he loves me too much and understands me too well.
But now I will stop writing this letter and move downstairs for you are joining us for dinner and I believe I have heard you arrive. I shall be unable to eat. My emotions and nerves are all upheaval and rage against any attempts I make to soothe them. You have come from London, a widower two months since. You are returned, perhaps to announce a permanent move to London or your plans for your new-found freedom.
It seems a new emotion, jealousy, has taken root in my heart. Maria Lucas spent much time with you prior to your leaving, increasingly so when she heard your wife might die and, dare I say it, when you inherited your uncle’s farm. Perhaps it is of her you think, dream and plan. When I saw her giggle near you, her pretty eyes light-up and you so easily flattered, a dagger punctured my heart. I hated her then for showing me that you can have so much more than me, for she is a peacock and I am a crow.
Now I move downstairs to learn my fate. If I receive no encouragement from you, I will know you are lost to me in this life-time, though we will always be connected in Spirit, and I will commence packing tonight. But know this, if I never see you again, I thank you for cracking me open and teaching me that there is only love. Even where there is darkness, torment and pain – there is love.
It is now 11 o’clock, I am back and incredulous, for you are mine!
Although it is late, I must write of my happiness. You have spoken with my father and begged that he would let you marry me. Begged! How surprised Father looked! You have loved me all this time. You said we were like two tuning forks vibrating on the same note, so alike are our souls. “My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears.” You had known it from early in our acquaintance, that we belonged together. You could not show your affection then and unsure of my feelings, as I planned for Barcelona, you lived in a miserable, tortured state. To you, I am the most beautiful creature, the woman you must have for yourself.
Were we wrong to love? I examine myself but find no shame or guilt.
I am so blessed, I fear I will never sleep again. You loved me, you love me and will continue loving me. Oh God, you are so generous in your blessings for Yours was a perfect plan – to split one soul in half and place it in two bodies- forever trying to find each other and become whole again, to know divine love…and to realise that there truly is no separation.
There is only one love.
Forever and eternally yours,