The love that we make
I have had an almost rabbinical epiphany this week. I started rehearsals on a play by Alan Ayckbourn, aka the modern-day Chekhov. Like Chekhov, Ayckbourn understands the human condition in all its glorious frailty. He sees the flaws and hypocricies and ridiculousness that makes human relationships function or dysfunction. His world, like Chekhov's, sees tragedy and comedy walking the same line, frequently blurring.
My character, Eva, spends the majority of the play thinking of ways to kill herself, prompted by her husband's infidelities. Attempts to hang from a light switch, gas herself, take tablets, drink paint stripper, or jump off the window ledge all go brilliantly wrong - cries for help which are ignored or misinterpreted by her husband and house guests.
Her suicide notes get trodden on, scribbled over or used to silence the dog. And the other couples around her are in equally dysfunctional marriages.
The sign of a good play is if it is one that ages with you. When I first read this play as a young university left-wing radical, marching against oppression, Absurd Person Singular was an other-worldly farce written about revolting middle class people who simply could not be real.
As an independent uncompromising "single" when I read it again it was a cautionary tale about hideously sexist men oppressing their poor wives into neurosis and unfulfilment. How did marriages like these exist?
The sign of a good play is if it is one that ages with you
Yet now, as an older wiser wife and mother, I see it as an expertly observed tragi-comedy populated by tired, battered folk who stay together because somewhere deep down they once loved each other and that spark of love makes a glue. Of sorts.
Love, marriage, civil partnerships all ebb and flow and who can condemn anyone or any relationship when humans and their needs are complicated and what keeps a couple together is, much like the bottom of the sea, unfathomable. (Told you it was almost rabbinical.)
The playground jugglings of my four year old daughter's friendships are fascinating to watch because they mirror our adult ones. The passion, the infatuation, the bickering, the cruelty, the falling out and the making up are all played out unselfconsciously and with abandonment. She has one friend with whom she bickers constantly, yet loves with fervour.
What I've learnt through the rehearsals and through my daughter is almost religious. I used to be motivated by the love that I could inspire. Who loved me. how did they show it. What was I getting from it.
But now I see it's not how we are loved but how we love. It's having the bravery and loss of ego not to focus on what we are getting but on what we can give. Loving like a four year old - without fear or ego.
In the words of the Beatles (in fact the last words they ever recorded): "and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make".
Ayckbourn and Chekhov and my rabbi might all agree.