[encore] 662: To Be in Love

[encore] 662: To Be in Love

[encore] 662: To Be in Love

This episode was originally released on April 27, 2022.


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I was listening recently to a radio interview with science writer Florence Williams on the effects of love and heartbreak on the body. She talks about how in a very real physiological way, our bodies shift when we fall in love, we mirror our partners, our heart rates often sync up, our cortisol levels often match, we tend to ebb and flow with our beloved.

But she also talked about what happens to us when our partners leave. Cortisol levels rise, alarms go off in our nervous system: we are hardwired to think we are suddenly unsafe. I’ve felt both these feelings, the syncing up, the rhythmic bliss, and all the alarms going off in the body like it’s under attack. It is serious. Love is serious.

When anyone comes to me with heartbreak, I will try to honor it with all my attention. Once, when I worked for a travel magazine in New York City, a friend called sobbing. She had just found out that her boyfriend had been cheating on her and she was crying alone in an Irish bar in midtown. It was around 3pm and I stood up to tell one of my colleagues what happened and I’ll never forget, with all the seriousness of an emergency room nurse, my kind colleague said, “You must go to her.” And I did.

I remember once having fallen in love very young and thinking everything had changed, that my body had been struck by lightning or somehow anointed for pleasure in a way I had never known. But it wasn’t necessarily a peaceful feeling, it was a feeling of an ache, of an immeasurable attachment. I didn’t understand how people lived like this. I remember distinctly during that time, trying to sleep and hearing the pigeons roosting in the balcony outside my window. The strange, almost underwater purring was so persistent and their cooing was so loud — I remember thinking, I bet that’s what my heart sounds like.

Today’s poem by one of my poetic heroes, Gwendolyn Brooks, is about the intense ache of love and how all things are changed by love’s grasp and love’s release.

To Be in Love
by Gwendolyn Brooks

                  To be in love
Is to touch with a lighter hand.

In yourself you stretch, you are well.

You look at things
Through his eyes.
                  A Cardinal is red.
                  A sky is blue.
Suddenly you know he knows too.
He is not there but
You know you are tasting together
The winter, or a light spring weather.

His hand to take your hand is overmuch.
Too much to bear.

You cannot look in his eyes
Because your pulse must not say
What must not be said.

When he
Shuts a door—
Is not there—
Your arms are water.

And you are free
With a ghastly freedom.

You are the beautiful half
Of a golden hurt.

You remember and covet his mouth
To touch, to whisper on.

Oh when to declare
Is certain Death!

Oh when to apprize
Is to mesmerize,

To see fall down, the Column of Gold,
Into the commonest ash.

"To Be in Love" by Gwendolyn Brooks, from SELECTED POEMS copyright © 2006 Gwendolyn Brooks. Reprinted by consent of Brooks Permissions.