Never Wander Far From Love

Marc Chagall, 1908

Some months ago a friend was telling me about his new love, who lived in another country. He wanted to marry her, to have children with her, but at the same time, he didn’t want to lose the freedom he had to travel as and when he liked. He asked me if there was a fable, which could light his way.

Two pigeons shared a tender love, but one, feeling a little bored at home, was crazy enough to want to undertake a voyage to a distant country.

The other one said: What are you going to do? Do you really want to leave your dear friend? Absence is the greatest heartache. Not for you, of course, so cruel. But maybe the work, the dangers, the demands of the trip will change your mind. And, what if the weather is inclement? Why not wait for the warm summer breezes? What’s your hurry? Just now I heard a crow predict bad luck for some bird. I won’t be able to think of anything except you in mortal danger from falcons and who knows what. Alas, I’ll say to myself, it’s raining, does my friend have what she needs, something to eat, good shelter and everything else?

These pleas touched the heart of our imprudent traveler, but the desire to see the world and her internal restlessness held sway.

She said: Don’t cry. Three days maximum will satisfy my soul. I’ll come back quickly and recount every last detail of my adventures to you dear friend. I’ll lift your boredom too. Whoever doesn’t travel has nothing to tell either. The travels I’ll describe will give you enormous pleasure. I’ll say, I was there and this thing happened to me. You’ll feel like you were there with me.

In tears at these words, they bid their adieus. The traveler went on her way.

Not a moment later a cloud appeared, forcing her to find refuge. A lone tree offered a branch, but the storm mistreated the pigeon despite the foliage. The air serene again, she headed off; soaked through and trying her best to dry her sodden feathers. In the distance she saw a vast field of wheat, and saw a pigeon there. A great longing stirred and she flew to the field, only to be trapped. The wheat was covered in a net. Oh lying and treacherous meal. But the net was worn enough that with her wing, with her feet, with her beak, the bird broke free at last. She lost a few wing feathers, but the worst of her destiny was that a vulture with cruel talons saw our unfortunate, who, dragging bits of string and net, looked like an escaped convict. The vulture took wing to catch her, when from nowhere an eagle, wings outspread, arrived in his turn. The pigeon took advantage of the predators’ conflict and flew away, scuttling herself beside a decrepit house. She hoped she’d seen the last of her troubles, but a spying child (an age without pity) took up his slingshot and in one pull half-killed the unlucky bird; who, cursing her curiosity, dragging a wing and a foot, half dead and half limping, returned home direct with out any further misadventure.

Here are our friends reunited, and I’ll let you decide how much pleasure they’d lost for their pains.

Lovers, happy lovers, do you want to adventure — even if it is to the near banks? Be for one another the whole beautiful world, always changing, always new. Be for each other everything, count the rest for nothing.

I have loved a few times. I would not, for all the treasures in the Louvre, for the firmament and its celestial arch, change the forest honoured by the footsteps and illuminated by the eyes of the adorable, young shepherdess for whom I served under Cupid and to whom I made my first eternal promises of love.

Alas! When will such pleasures come again? Must such gentle and charming moments always leave my soul restless? Ah! If my heart dared to inflame again, would I even feel the charm that stops me cold? Have I passed the time for love?

Just the other night, another friend told me, ruefully, that she had originally moved to the place she still lives (many decades later), because of a boy. Just the start of a long line of choosing the wrong men, she said.

What a waste of youth, if we do not allow our hearts to inflame again and again, as my friend has.

Forget youth. Let us never pass the time for inflamed hearts, whether it is for someone new, or for the person we have been with for so long we have almost forgotten life without them.

Adventure if you must. I must. Bring home your stories. Or travel together. But know, too, that to wander neither precludes nor replaces love. Let adventure nourish your love. For me, like the tortoise of another fable, wherever I go I carry my home with me. Not my apartment in New York City, but the love I hold in my heart for my partner, my family, my friends, my cat.

Love is crazy. And restless. And stops us cold.

Love ennobles us.

And in answer to Jean de La Fontaine’s question — No! You have never passed the time for love.

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