It was one of those sleepless nights. Waking at three, I was kept awake for the remaining hours, first by persistent worries, then by thoughts provoked by the film we watched yesterday evening. I’ll leave aside the worries. The thoughts were about the persistence of love, a theme of the truly beautiful, infinitely sad British movie, “My Policeman,” set in Sussex, in particular in the seaside city of Brighton, first in the late 1950s—a short time after my own Sussex years—and again a few decades later. (Brighton was my occasional, sometimes illicit escape by bicycle from my nearby boarding school in my teenage years, for a movie or a haircut, or simply for a stroll along the pebbly beach or a walk to the end of the pier. And not least for a smoke. The film was a nostalgic trip for me, then, quite aside from its story).
It’s a love story. (Spoilers ahead! Skip this paragraph!) Two men, one woman, in a tangled affair from which they are unable to extricate themselves. One of the men is the policeman of the title, at first reluctantly (this is the 1950s) attracted to but soon in a hot and heavy illicit—and illegal—sexual relationship with the other male character, a museum curator. (The sex scenes are nicely done). The young woman is a school teacher, innocently in love with “her” policeman; he marries her in part, for sure, because he loves her, too—but also in good part as a cover for his clandestine life. Even after she discovers his awful secret, (and betrays it: the lover is sent to prison, “his” policeman loses his job and his career) the social mores of the day require of each perseverance in the marriage. Until decades later, when the occurrence of a debilitating stroke (the curator guy) brings them back under the same roof, where they painfully relive the past and must come to terms with the present and the future.
Which had me thinking about the persistence of love, and how—in my experience at least—you do not stop loving someone you have loved, no matter the anger or the pain, no matter the spatial or geographical space that have come between you. Love is not something that you lose. It puzzles me, actually, that you “fall in love,” as though it were some lower state of being into which you unwillingly or accidentally descend—when it actually elevates. It puzzles me, too, that you “lose your heart,” when in love you actually discover it. Odd twists of language.
Still, love persists. There is the illusion of falling out of love, at the end of a relationship, say, when you discover you can no longer live happily together, but experience has led me to conclude that love itself persists. I know that I have a place in my heart for everyone I have ever loved, even those I loved long, long ago, the French girl, say, Nicole, who was the first girl I fell in love with when I was thirteen years old. I knew her for no more than a couple of weeks, barely touched her hand, and have never seen nor heard of her since. She never knew. But there she is, she still occupies that little corner in my heart. And clearly there are far more important, far longer-lasting loves that I have not forgotten, nor ever will. The pain is a part of it, as much as the joy.
It’s not necessarily about sex—though sex plays an important part in “My Policeman” as it does in many, if not most love relationships. It took me too many years perhaps to discover that I could love another human being, man or woman, without the remotest desire to have sex with them. I have also discovered that it’s perfectly possible to love another human being without liking them very much; and, by the same token, that it’s equally possible to have perfectly enjoyable sex with another human being without loving them in the least (although I’m grateful to be able to say that this has been a very rare occasion in my life).
It is a good thing, I think, that love of all kinds is becoming more acceptable in today’s world, at least in the social environment in which I am privileged to live. “My Policeman” reminds me that gay sex was illegal in my native country until the late 1960s. Here, in America, it’s hard to believe that it was still officially punishable by law until this current century. These days, it warms my heart to hear the free exchange of expressions of love between all kinds of people, men and women, including those who until recently would confess to nothing more than being good friends. “I love you” is a common thing to hear, a common thing to say—but hopefully not so common as to have lost its meaning.
And all this, of course, is not to mention the “love that passeth all understanding,” (it’s actually peace, okay, my mistake, same difference…), the love that is “all there is,” the love that is “all you need,” the love that will “save the world” if we only let it.