BRATTLEBORO — Once upon a time, there was a woman who was single. She had children whom she loved and lived nearby.
Once upon a time, there was a man. He was also single. He was very kind.
One day the woman began a job in a love-enchanted forest of tents. They were made of all the textures of the Earth. Their colors flowed from the cerulean blue of the summer sky to the vibrant orange of the autumn leaves. She kept them clean and tidy for visitors. They shined like jewels.
The man also worked there. One day, the golden tent under the oldest and most beautiful oak tree in the land needed repair. Its leaves mirrored the moment when the woman reached up to the man to give him his lucky wrench, and he reached toward her to take it. It was love frozen in time.
They soon became one and married in great celebration. Each tent was filled with well-wishing family and friends. They glowed like stars in the evening sky with hopes and dreams. Much food and happiness were shared. The trees held that night in their branches, which were the arms of peace and home. The man and woman had found this in each other.
In time they moved to their own land. There they created a life of community and deep contentment. They supported each other’s dreams. Each held the other in the light of their heart and reflection in their eyes. Their hands were never far from one another. Plans were made, and life was appreciated with gratitude for the richness of soul they shared.
But then one day the man whose heart danced with the woman became still. It could no longer sway in swoon to his love. It could no longer laugh around the fires that they so relished. It would no longer be part of the woman’s walk.
The woman was to be without the man who was her mate and best friend. All the people gathered around her. They held her tears as she wept and took her hands when they felt too cold from the emptiness of the man’s touch.
The wretchedness of a loss like this filled every crevice of her heart. This was supposed to be a true fairy tale.
* * *
Enter other fairy tales, Japanese death poetry, and a scream.
Some fairy tale tents are dark and disheveled. Candlesticks are strewn on the floor, broken. Pillows that made for a soft landing are now hardened by the acid of tears. The luster of the silk is muted by tones of wounded hearts.
In one version, the princess does not kiss the frog to get a prince — rather, she bashes him into the wall or chops off his head. Mulan kills herself upon coming home to death and despair. Snow White’s liver and lungs are to be a snack for the queen brought by the huntsman.
Japanese death poetry, on the other hand, has a gentleness that is a balm to pain. It softens the breath. Tears become less salty. Time stops its rush and is calmed in the hand of the poetic images. Respite from feelings that disfigure the spirit with grief are gentle comfort.
“Sadly, I see/the light fade on my palm:/a firefly,” wrote poet Mukai Kyoari after the death in 1688 of her sister Chine.
And finally — a scream directed to the air:
“What’s up with you, universe? What the hell were you thinking?!
“Why did the man die? What was the point? How can we approach the woman’s pain and make it better?”
We cannot make it better. She will feel it forever. Time will lessen the brutality of the grief that now embodies her every second. But it will remain with her.
She will slowly create a nest within her spirit lined with the pain of loss and the joy that was their love.
* * *
And so, what is on the next page of this tale of the woman and the man?
Love will continue to happen in all its guises. It is a force that surges with surety, trepidation, and everything in between. It can feel surreal until its truth settles into the beat of a heart.
Its poise connects us to something beyond the self. But to connect does not mean to be absorbed.
It does not mean to lose yourself in the other. It is to be in the presence of another who resonates with your soul. This is the gift of each lover. But that resonance comes with the risk of loss.
In the end, may this tale be a wake-up call to appreciate — and hold tight to, and be brave to accept — another’s heart and fight like the kick-ass love Ninjas that we all can be.