I learned about love (and it wasn’t romantic at all)

Por Clara Vartorelli.

The Painted Veil is nothing but a love story although not like others. Most of the time, love is considered a synonym for romantic love or for another. When we think of a person in love, our mind instinctively looks for the face of the lover, of that someone who is loved and cared for. However, is there always a someone? Are we only able to love from the outside? Can we only devote our love to those who can be found outside ourselves? I can only disagree with this.

We underestimate the concept of self-love. We seem to forget to love something impossible to stare but in a reflection, either through a mirror or in the eyes of the other.

The path to finding such love can be led by many events. Some are pretty, but others force us to look at ourselves and see what we fear the most: a face that follows us every day with nothing but sadness in its eyes. It is at such moments when we have no choice but to go deep inside in the hopes of finding a feeling, a spark to start a desperate unnatural search: the face we want to love, that impossible other we aim to love, to look after and yet cannot see.

This story, in its ending, shows the beginning of such a path nowhere else than at the very end of it.

The ending at first may seem like a tragedy, a terrible ending where the protagonist lost the love of her life once he passed away. It is nothing but the opposite. She never loved him. How could she if she never knew what love is? What once she thought was nothing but a burning passion during her affair with Charlie, she discovered that there was no love in a relationship with no commitment, with no future to hope for.

Whereas once she found herself alone and pregnant, she was able to find commitment: a chance of redemption, to use everything she had learned with Walter to raise a passionate and centered woman who can rely on herself and avoid not only her mistakes but her mother’s.

In order to amend the past, there is a beautiful as equal as terrifying decision to face: forgiveness. We learn from our mistakes by forgiving and being forgotten. It was only once she forgave her mother that she was ready to become a mother. A true mother who at heart is ready to raise a new life, not only physically but spiritually. Someone ready to overcome her mistakes and carry a legacy of lessons that may create a new beginning —but is it truly a beginning? It can be not a beginning but a chapter: there is a story left behind to follow us and help us learn and regrow from it. That may be the hardest part of forgiving. It never means to forget the mistakes —although ironically it´s named after it— but to understand what went wrong and amend the consequences.

Our character learned to love from the hardest tragedies, to carefully craft the lover in the mirror, and learn to exonerate the past to initiate motherhood. Yet could she forgive herself? The reason why it is so hard to indulge ourselves comes not only from the physical impossibility but from the fear of being naked in front of another. Someone who can see your flaws. That unveils the fake mask you put on the masquerade for the phony illusion where life could be fulfilled with nothing but parties and a good vodka with soda. An example could be her new friend in Hong Kong. He lived drunk for the outside world but, inside his home with his beloved Manchu, was nothing but a sweet, calmed man.

Maybe this is the reason why loving ourselves seems so hard, why it takes an enormous amount of bravery to face the mirror or in the glimpse of the eyes of others and kindly affirm: “I love myself and so I will smile despite and thanks to the past’’. If the past merely left us behind, then we would never grow. The image wouldn’t change and we would only suffer from amnesia. The mistakes would remain a tragic event, a stone in our path that never becomes the mentioned beginning.

By now, it sounds like a solitary path, like an experience, lived from the inside. The place left for the rest seems like those remaining as an impartial side-character whose only job is to show ourselves in the look we produce to them. It is only in the smile we give others, in that same way the Mother Superior could do so naturally, that they participate in this journey.

We learn forgiveness however, after those who take the courage to phase us in this selfless act. Once someone else shows us how such words can change a turn of events such as a tragic ending, a loss of trust, to a new chapter in a long and elaborate story of mistakes and growth. It is then that we truly understand the consequence of being forgiven. We know that it is impossible to overlook being betrayed by someone we love as our character learned but we can see such mistakes with new eyes. We can find in what once was lost —a friendship, trust— the chance of a new beginning: an opportunity to find a small seed that can grow into a prospect to raise.

Something I liked about this story is that the character left Hong Kong with a lesson: to love someone, you must know yourself. Although she knew from the beginning that Walter wasn’t right for her, that their relationship was a match based on his admiration towards her, she had no idea what love was meant to be. At first, she believed the burning passion she felt for Charlie was true love, that when he made her mind go numb and commit such foolish mistakes, she was in fact in love. Now, little by little, once she found herself alone and in silence, she could comprehend what loving someone meant. How the way Walter felt for her was closer to love than that numbing ecstasy —purely physical— she got from Charlie.

It seems ironic that in the middle of an epidemic she was able to find people who were an example of healthy, honest love. From the love the nuns gave the sick and the homeless to the love a drunk Englishman felt for a Manchu princess, this tale shows that love comes in various and equally beautiful ways. In a way, we can say that love has as many faces as outcomes since it is selfless and patient and so can be found in every context where a person is willing to change.

Love is an opportunity for growth, formed by many shows of affection —and  forgiveness  it´s just its beginning.

Clara Vartorelli