A Few Words on Love and Valentines
I’ve got some words from the late, great Katharine Hepburn that are just going to set your heart on fire.
In this missive taken from her autobiography, “Me,” she’s actually talking about that cowboy of all cowboys, John Wayne. Not the love of her life, Spencer Tracy.
But damn, when you read this you might just have to take a cold shower and run out and rent about five John Wayne movies. Even if you’re a straight guy.
And I say this as someone who is not particularly a fan of The Duke, as he was called..
Her thoughts on Wayne:
“He is so tall a tree that the sun must shine on him whatever the tangle in the jungle below. From head to toe, he is all of a piece. Big head. Wide blue eyes. Sandy hair. Rugged skin – lined by living and fun and character. Not by just rotting away. A face alive with humor. Good humor, I should say. And a sharp wit.
Dangerous when roused.
His shoulders are broad – very. His chest massive – very. When I leaned against him – thrilling. It was like leaning against a tree. His hands so big. Mine, which are, too, seemed to disappear. Good legs. No seat. A real man’s body.
And the base of this incredible creation. A pair of small sensitive feet. Carrying his huge frame as if it were a feather. Light of tread, springy, dancing.
Very observing. Very aware. Listens. Concentrates. Witty slant. Ready to laugh. To be laughed at. To answer. To stick his neck out. Funny. Outrageous. Spoiled. Self-indulgent. Tough. Full of charm. Knows it. Uses it. Disregards it.
Not much gets past him.
He was always on time. Always knew the scene. Always full of notions about what should be done. Tough on a director who had not done his homework. Considerate to his fellow actors. Very impatient with anyone who was inefficient.
Self-made. Hard-working. Independent. Of the style of man who blazed the trails across our country. People who were willing to live or die entirely on their own judgement. They dish it out. They take it. Life had dealt Wayne some severe blows. He can take them.
He dares to walk by himself. Run. Dance. Skip. Crawl through life. And at the core, he’s a simple and decent man. With an ability to think and feel.”
That description simply takes my breath away every time I read it.
It meant a great deal to me when I was looking for love, making me feel at once hopeful and silly and faithless and terrified. Not because I wanted an uber-mensch just like John Wayne, per se, but because Katharine Hepburn’s description dares to ask a great deal of a man. Demands it, in fact. And requires even more of the kind of woman who might deserve his attention and devotion.
Love can be daunting. It can feel like it hits you too hard sometimes and leaves you exposed to the most wretched of heartbreaks. A guy might seem one way at first – a veritable Prince Charming frothing-over with all the things you think you want to hear – but in the end he’s a big fraud. Or simply fickle. Maybe you didn’t live up to his expectations.
A girl might be shimmering with sexual allure but carry none of the attributes necessary for a friend. Or perhaps the woman who makes you feel as if you’re going to burst into flames, who seems to understand your every thought before you give it voice, sees you as merely a buddy or confidant. That one stings like a nest of hornets.
There are so many varieties of love affair – each one a high-risk venture. They do call it falling in love for a reason.
Sometimes, it’s just a matter of timing.
Like when I met this man years ago, long before I got married. I had just started a business and endured a painful breakup with someone who was almost right.
This guy was funny and confident and handsome and made the kinds of bold, romantic gestures that seemed dangerous. Way beyond the candy and flowers routine, he set about wooing me with a barrage of anonymous postcards – ones daring me to meet him in smoke-filled lounges with great jukeboxes. He swept me up for a champagne and fried chicken picnic on a windy hillside. And was a corporation man – not what I was used to – who ran a simple telephone conversation like a meeting.
But he could quote everything from a Langston Hughes poem to the U.S. Constitution accurately and credibly.
It was when I was returning home from visiting him in the city where he lived, that I picked up a magazine at the airport and – seated uncomfortably between a Chinese student and big Chicago Bears fan – read my horoscope.
This is something I never do. But sometimes these rare impulses provide some insight.
It was one of those horoscopes that thinks its really clever and insults you, and mine said something like, “You always think you have it all figured out and now you’ve finally met someone who doesn’t swallow your B.S. and say it tastes like a cookie. And yeah, you might just have a shot at happiness. Question is…can you take it?”
Well, I decided right then that I could not, would not, and was not going to take it. Sometimes that voice tells you you’re not ready. That there is, perhaps, a different sunrise out there waiting for you. One not so blinding. The kind that’s bright and joyful, but is absent the violent bursts of color. And the potential for complete annihilation.
The following day, after my horrorscope (misspelling intentional), the guy with the postcards and the fried chicken called and asked me to come see him again.
I said, “Um, well, you know. I can’t”
He was silent for a minute, then softly, he said, “Please.”
Love is magic meets decision. I’m not sure if I read that somewhere or made it up.
It’s refusing to settle and not being afraid to strike a bargain. Standing for something so that someone will stand by you. Never being a free lunch or accepting one. No matter how lavish the spread.
And love is a leap of faith – even when the timing couldn’t be worse. It is, like John Wayne, being bold enough to run, skip, dance, crawl if you must. It is simple and decent. Thinking and feeling.
When you endeavor to fall in love, you must be willing to live and die entirely on your own judgement. Step out of the movie and go boldly into your life. And you must be ready to die a thousand times in order to chance living forever.
So, the answer is yes. I did go see him again.
And again. And again.
Happy Valentine’s Day.