To Love What We Love*

To Love What We Love*

It is 9:10 pm August 31, 2023 and the still full moon has risen from behind Eagle Rock into the fog wafting from the ocean, 6 miles down the canyon, so close and salty tonight. The moon illuminates the irregular cloudy shapes which are obscuring the great Oaks at the edge of the field and the line of Eucalyptus that has become a grove.

The irresistible rhythm of Nazim Hikmet’s poem, “Things I Didn’t Know I Loved,” comes into my mind

…I didn’t know I loved the earth
can someone who hasn’t worked the earth love it
I’ve never worked the earth
it must be my only Platonic love
and here I’ve loved rivers all this time…

and later on in the same poem,

…I didn’t know I loved clouds
whether I’m under or up above them
whether they look like giants or shaggy white beasts

moonlight the falsest the most languid the most petit-bourgeois
strikes me
I like it…

The words, the rhythm I didn’t know I loved the moon repeat in my mind. They are particularly poignant as the poem was written in 1962, a year before Hikmet died after a long life of commitment that led to prison in Turkey, his country, and exile in the Soviet Union.

How fortunate I am as I have always known I love the moon, the trees, the Bobcat in the shadows, that I have always known I love words and books, and our being alongside each other in – as I always say – in these times.

My granddaughter, Jamie Metzger, had a daughter, Winnifred Sage, seven days ago. She writes, “I love her with my whole being. Almost makes me question having loved anything before.”

Loving with our whole being is what I am thinking about tonight as the moon rises. By chance, I have been with two parallel books this evening. I am listening to The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between, a Pulitzer-Prize winning memoir by Hisham Matar, who for thirty years was seeking to know the fate of his father, Jaballa Matar, incarcerated during the rule of Muammar Gaddafi in the notorious Abu Salim prison where Human Rights Watch estimated that 1,270 prisoners were massacred.

Abu Salim prison where Jaballah Matar was imprisoned. Matar was not found there.

As I listen to Matar, I am paging through another book, The Suicide Museum, by the prize-winning Ariel Dorfman which I read in manuscript and which will be published on September 11, 2023, the 50th anniversary of the brutal coup by Augusto Pinochet (supported, as confirmed in the last week, by Nixon and Kissinger) against the democratically elected government of Chile. Dorfman’s focus is whether the President, Salvador Allende, who was like a father to Chile, committed suicide or was murdered during the violent attack on the La Moneda, the presidential palace.

Bombing of the La Moneda Presidential Palace in Chile

How does a political prisoner, how does the President of a nation, maintain soul and dignity though confronted by unspeakable suffering and torture? And how do these two writers who have known the bitterness of exile, continue to love the land, the country, people, the people despite all? Love with their whole beings. When is the devotion to loving the most profound political act?

Two writers, one from Libya, one from Chile, two novelists, each of whose fathers were at the UN, each of whom suffered the extremes of the worst dictatorships, each of whom has spent a good part of their lives seeking justice for those whose human rights were grievously violated by agonized imprisonment and torture, and two who could not be more different as men and as writers and yet show us what it is to love place, to love a country, its spirit, energy, its deep history, to be connected to a land through one’s roots. What it means for what we love to be at the core of our lives.

Santiago, Chile and Libya

Matar was born, as it happened, in New York when his father was at the United Nations until he sought sanctuary in Egypt. Dorfman, born in Argentina, spent many of his young years in New York because, similarly, his father was at the United Nations until he sought sanctuary in Chile. Might this mean, that it may no longer matter in the ways it did once, where exactly we are born or where we spend our years if we can revive and retain the ancestral call to put down roots somewhere so that we can become part of a certain Earth, of a certain place, as is needed for humans to be able to live their lives in the right way. When we do so, we love with our whole being though often such relationships are expressed so very simply.

Matar remembers a row of Eucalyptus trees fronting the house in Libya where he lived as a boy and I am taken to a line my friend, the poet Nan Seymour wrote to me a few days ago, “Thank you for the invitation to the land. I can already see the Eucalyptus trees there.”

These current centuries of exile and migration. Millions ripped from their land, like trees torn from the soil despite the depth of their roots, as we have seen in these last few days as Idalia tore and shredded. You can picture it, can’t you, the anguished tree roots unable to hold on, desperate claws grasping at air as the wind throws them around. People torn equally from their land, wracked by a terrible longing to return to earth, to where we came from, or somewhere else that will have us as belonging. It is not a connection to nation, it is not nationalism or patriotism, it a far deeper connection to land and place, to all the beings that include the people (which matters so much?) and allows us to be part of the natural order.

This is the task : to remain engaged and compassionate in the face of brutality, cruelty and overwhelming circumstances we are afraid we cannot meet, whether environmental collapse, extinction, terrorism and fascism or the relentless decline into brutishness that is afflicting the US, and seemingly every place on the planet. When it seems impossible to bear it or to go on, to turn rather toward loving fiercely: fervent, immoderate, impassioned love for earth, for our land, for our people, for the moon.

This is the way:

On Friday, August 18, 2023 there was a rare, unprecedented gathering of the three local whale pods, J, K, and L by San Juan Island. At that time, Tokitae, an Orca who had been brutally kidnapped and imprisoned so humans might be entertained, was dying at the Miami Seaquarium. Her name means “bright day, pretty colors,” in the Chinook language, and honoring their kinship with her, the Lummi Nation refer to her as Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut. They had worked for 57 years for her release which had been refused and then postponed so she was not able to spend her last months or years, as was hoped, in the Salish sea with her kin.

An Orca dying on the east coast of the US while her Whale people and her human people gathered on the West coast in grief and love as she crossed the barrier of death to be with them. How did the Whale people know?

When she was young, before she was kidnapped, her mother, the now 95-year-old Ocean Sun, the elder of L pod, taught her a sacred song. It is said that despite the foul water and horrific solitary conditions in the concrete prison cell where she was confined when she was not performing, Tokitae sang that song, her personal act of love, every day of her life.

Tokitae’s Song

Let us be with her and let us learn by listening how to meet what we must, how to love what we love with our entire being.


*Adapted from Substack series “Desperate Love Letters to a Wounded Earth,” Sept. 5 2023

About the Author

Deena Metzger has been creating community with humans and more than humans through many forms for many years. She began teaching Literature of Restoration about 2012 and this year the website, was established to introduce this writing genre to the world.  It was envisioned to provide literary means to inspire and recognize Earth and Spirit based cultures that sustain all beings rather than leading to cultural dissolution and social violence. She is the author of many books, including the novels: La Vieja: A Journal of Fire, (March 2022), A Rain of Night Birds, La Negra y Blanca (PEN Oakland Award for Literature), Feral, and The Other Hand. Other books include The Burden of Light, Ruin and Beauty: New and Selected Poems, and Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing.  Her classic writing book, Writing For Your Life, 1992, is still in print.  Metzger co-edited Intimate Nature, The Bond Between Women and Animals, 1997, which pioneered the radical understanding that animals are highly intelligent and exhibit intent.  Her experiences with Elephants in the wild over twenty years is based on their spiritual agency and complex narrative communication. Some of that experience is chronicled in her latest novel, La Vieja: A Journal of Fire.

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