I’ve just seen a wonderful Tweet from one of my literary idols, Jeanette Winterson, in which she used the phrase ‘Love = Risk’. I’d been searching for a title for today’s blog post, and when my eye fell on her words, I knew I’d found it.
(By the by, if you’re not familiar with Jeanette Winterson’s work, I really can’t recommend her more highly. Every book she writes is a perfectly crafted jewel, and she does things with language that most people can’t even dream of. The first Winterson book I read was ‘Sexing the Cherry’, which was on a course I did at university – I read it, loved it, and have never looked back. I think my collection of her work is pretty much complete now!
But this is all preamble. If this blog post had an editor, I’m sure she’d tell me to cut out all the waffle, and get to the point.
Here’s the point, then.)
Yesterday evening, I watched a beautiful programme on BBC which followed the early life of a lady named Mary Berry, who is a ‘celebrity’ chef in the UK and, in recent years, in Ireland too. I say ‘celebrity’ because she seems a very down-to-earth and unpretentious woman who would probably not relish the drama that goes with being a famous face, and this programme about her life gave me a real insight into where she gets her grounded outlook and her dedication to her family and her craft. She grew up during World War II and was raised in a large house in the English countryside, with parents who gave her everything they possibly could and did their best to ensure she had a happy childhood.
One aspect of her younger days touched me very deeply, however. At one point in the programme, she recounted her relationship with her father, and she spoke of the fact that she and her siblings had spent their childhoods being afraid of him. He seemed an aloof and cold figure, one who believed children should be seen and not heard, and a man who didn’t relish physical contact or shows of affection. Later in the programme, she was given the opportunity to look over some of her medical records – she suffered polio in the late 1940s, along with thousands of other young people in Britain – and a photograph, clipped from a newspaper, was shown to her. It was of her father, and Mary herself, shortly after she’d been released from hospital as a 14-year-old girl. She’d never seen the image before, and was extremely moved by it. Her father is seated on his horse, and Mary stands beside him. He is looking down at her with an expression of such love and devotion, with such soft and caring eyes, that it took Mary by surprise. In the photograph, she’s not looking at her father, and so his expression is lost on her. But the expression on her face as she gazed upon the image of her father, she now far older than he was when the picture was taken, was extremely touching.
This lady had grown up not really believing she’d been loved by her father, just because he was unable to show her how he felt. Her father must have been a man moulded by his time, a time when fathers didn’t show affection and when children weren’t always treated with tenderness. This doesn’t mean that those feelings of love weren’t there – but for silly societal reasons, people didn’t feel free to show their loved ones how much they meant to them. I found it sad that it had taken so long for Ms. Berry to finally see the love her father had for her, but the joy on her face as she realised that, all along, she’d been a treasured daughter was a beautiful thing to witness. I’m sure her father realised how lucky he and his wife were to be able to take their child out of hospital alive, and mostly unmaimed by the illness she’d suffered, and his joyful love was evident in the photograph. Perhaps, though, he could only let his love show in his face when he knew he couldn’t be seen by the object of that love.
Loving someone does involve a huge amount of risk, whether you receive that love in return or not. In fact I think love that is returned to you, or a love you share with someone else, can involve more risk than love which is unrequited. You’re risking being hurt – because nothing makes you more vulnerable than being in love – and you’re risking the person taking their love away, and leaving you in pain. If your love isn’t requited, your risk-taking is limited – unless, of course, your beloved discovers how you feel. In the case of Ms. Berry’s father, perhaps he feared being seen as less of a man if he allowed his children to see how much he loved them, and perhaps that was a risk he couldn’t take. He’s not the only father to have fallen into that trap.
But the risk is always worth taking. The pain of having your heart broken, of taking the risk to love someone and show it, can’t compare with the pain you might cause someone by loving them so secretly that they never know. In the context of a familial relationship, providing a child with things isn’t the same as telling them you love them. In a marriage, taking your spouse for granted by assuming they know how you feel about them is not usually a good idea. It’s worth taking the risk of looking a bit of a soppy fool by telling them you love them every once in a while. Isn’t it?
Love = Risk. It has always been, and will always be. I’m not the world’s greatest risk-taker, but this one’s worth it. Don’t you think?