Sitting in traffic Friday, I had an opportunity to listen to Nancy Reagan's funeral service broadcast over the air waves. One of the honored guests, Former Canadian Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, presented a letter Ronald Reagan had written to his wife during their first Christmas in the White House. It was well-known that the Reagans were a romantic couple, devoted to one another. This letter was particularly moving - moved me to tears, actually. In it, the new President in 1981 describes the "many women" he loved, the many facets of Nancy Reagan.
"Fortunately, all these women in my life are you - fortunately for me that is, for there could be no life for me without you," he wrote to his wife and he signed his letter, "Lucky Me."
Hearing this tender letter read made me ponder the Reagan's devotion to one another. They were married for 50 years and their love had been described as "the greatest love affair in the US Presidency." Given some of the inhabitants of the White House and their notorious reputations, it is no doubt the Reagans would hold this "title."
In terms of a romantic partnership, John and Abigail Adams offer competition for the Reagans' romantic title. Their letters to one another span decades of history, struggle and tragedy and yet, their love and devotion to one another endured. Of course, there is Robert Burns, the bard of Scotland wrote songs and poems inspired by his great (and many) loves. And who among us hasn't swooned at some of Shakespeare's romantic sonnets (just me? Really?) - these, the love letters of long ago.
For whatever reason, I find expressing myself in writing far easier than articulating my thoughts out loud in conversation. Perhaps because there is no one to interrupt me, no one to disappoint, no one to react badly when my thoughts are only between me and my keyboard. I find thoughts of love most difficult to convey properly. Surely, saying "I love you" is easy enough to say when it's true, but finding the appropriate combination of words to go beyond the obvious is just better suited to a love letter, in my experience.
And sadly, we just don't write them the way we used to. I remember a handwritten note every day from my high school boyfriend, folded into a square or triangle with my name on it. Mix tapes with mixed messages that I would wear out, rewinding and replaying to decode someone's heart - does he really love me, or want to kill me?. In later years, I recall thinking it was a good idea to share my own poetry with my crush in college (Footnote: that was not a good idea at all, and I still have yet to live that one down. Not all artists are appreciated, sadly...).
I have and always had a weird compulsion to tell the object of my affection just how deep the river runs - early and often. That level of romantic honesty has not always led to equally romantic results. But in those rarest occasions, those risks have returned all the butterflies, fireworks, incredible highs and dreadful lows a sap like me could desire - all of the elements that make love, love and not something else. Love is as awful as it is wonderful. But unless we take the risk, we never can get to the wonderful parts. Those wonderful parts are different to different people too - some crave the adventure, the chase and the conquest, some favor the comfort and security and others the companionship, the passion, the loyalty...to each their own. Love has many faces.
Robert Burns, renowned lover of many, many, many women, wrote in one of my favorite love poems, Ae Fond Kiss: "Had we never loved so kindly, had we never loved so blindly, never met - or never parted, we had never been broken hearted." Burns knew, as he said goodbye to another lover, that if their love had not been so dear and so special, parting would have been easy. Love hurts.
I remember Nancy Reagan's sad goodbye to her husband as she kissed his casket at his funeral and talk of her broken heart over his loss in subsequent interviews. But I imagine the Reagans' love and devotion to one another wasn't all a cake walk. In their 50 years of marriage, I'm sure they had some rather trying times. Between Hollywood careers, the Cold War, Iran Contra hearings, Alzheimers and the Just Say No campaign, I'd wager that every moment in the Reagan house wasn't perfect and loving. But for them, the years of joy and struggle were worth it. To hear such beautiful words shared at Nancy's funeral, whatever difficulties they may have faced were clearly worth their life together. And what a life.
To be sure, for us hopeless romantics, there is no worse agony than being in love. That pure torture can only be matched in intensity by losing love. And yet, we try and try until we find the "one." For me, the juice has always been worth the squeeze and always will be:
"My dearest friend, my love for you refuses to fade, though time and trials play their roles. With masks, we hide and with quiet resolve, we resign ourselves to play the parts for which we are cast. We wander through the mist, blind faith pushing us forward to see the sun. And there I say, I am yours - so gently goes your hand and tongue, for I can provide no greater gift than that of my heart and soul. It is all of me and all I have to give. Forever yours, so take good care of me."
If we lived a long time ago, that would be my love letter...corny mix tape to follow.