The Love Beyond the Label

If you want to separate yourself from the rest of the world, the world has made it easy for you to do. Let’s start with some of the obvious ones; color, gender, religion. From a very young age we are shown the shortest route into the tightest most ill fitting, improbably and unscrupulously designed boxes, and left to fend for ourselves. If you’re a girl…it’s a pink dress and a barbie. If you’re a boy, a blue set of coveralls and a monster truck. If you’re Christian, it’s presents and school parties and jesus and the wise men. And if you’re christian in the southern united states, where I grew up, it’s no blacks and no jews and girls can do anything as long as it’s what boys say they can. Yeah fuck that, right?

It gets worse. As we get older we are taught to look for other, more sinister labels. Subtler at times, but no less fatal. Fat…skinny. Jock…geek. Cute…gross. Rich…poor. The new labels don’t take the place of the old ones. They co-opt the torturous isolation that they create and expound upon them in exponential debilitating tones that ring out through child hood and, if we are not careful, echo long into our adult years. It’s amazing how quickly we adopt the labels and adapt our lives to what we think they mean. It’s a cruel thing that we do to ourselves…learning to be alone.

There’s a lot more to go into here. We can talk about how we are socially conditioned to buy things as a replacement for the emptiness we feel the more we isolate, the more we label, ourselves and others. I’m not as pretty as Julia Roberts, but at the very least I can have the shimmer of her airbrushed bangs if I buy…what is it…L’Oreal? Fuck I dunno. But you see what I’m saying. We learn to cut ourselves up into as many little pieces as possible and they turn us loose on the world with a credit card and an an 18 year emotional hangover and say “have at it…go fix yourself.” I don’t wanna go too far down that road tonight. I wanna talk about how it all falls apart. I want to talk about how all of those labels, those fake guilty constructs, those fucking coffins we put ourselves in that limit our loving and nurturing potential get turned around. I want to talk about how this week I saw them all shown to the fucking door. I saw the labels ripped off in real time and offered up in the flames of the only true superpower. You guessed it…it’s LOVE baby!

I met Fateh Sahota in Law School. We were two of those people that kinda off the beaten path became friends. I still can’t explain it looking back. We both went through some pretty heavy shit our first year there and shared commiseration along with the support of a few other mutual friends helped us salvage our law school careers and a few laughs along the way. We stayed friends over the years in a very sincere and unassuming way. When we reconnected it was always meaningful. I will just come right out with it…when my sister died Fateh kinda seemed to offer her heart as a sister’s heart. And I took her up on it. And I have always considered her as my family. As my sister. When I found out that she had met the love of her life and they were getting married in Mexico…I couldn’t fucking wait.

I’ve had major writer’s block trying to get this blog done. I’ve been writing almost every day. No shit. I kept finding myself curating the words too much. My heart was in the right place, but I was over editing. And there just isn’t any need to. I wanted to say it just right. I really want to take you with me into the memory. It was that beautiful. It was that surreal. It was something so real and at the same time so ephemeral…the kind of thing that drifts through your fingers like water, or smoke. I wanted to write about the food. I wanted to write about a major hiccup in Mexico City and the Frida Kahlo museum. I scrambled to hold so tight to the idea of what had happened that I was missing out on really letting the experience of it soak in. So I gave it some time. And here is what I came up with. Three vignettes that kinda summarize the feeling. Less Kerouac more Hemingway…he says…waiting for someone to curl up their lip at the comparison. :-)

The Sangeet: A Sangeet is a traditional, Punjabi, Hindi, Gujarati, celebration. It usually takes place the day before the wedding ceremony. There is music and dancing and revelry of the most divine sort. And, in this instance, there were people arriving from all over the world.

Guests have the opportunity to dress in traditional Indian attire, Kurta Pajamas. They are festive and colorful and comfortable. Almost everyone who came to the Sangeet came decked to the 9s! Ladies arrived in long, flowing, elegant gowns. They were adorned with stones and bangles and luxurious scarves, head dresses and robes. The men looked elegant and handsome as well. Music and dancing is the centerpiece of the celebration and our crowd had their dancing shoes on FOR SURE! From the time the first guest arrived (actually that was me) until they threw us out in search of after parties, the Sangeet radiated love from the rooftop venue across the San Miguel Skyline, and back to the eternity from whence it came.

My perspective, and my memory is beset by the surreal and deeply intimate nature of the whole affair. Imagine a delicate crimson prism at sunset. Picture thousands of shades of dissipating shimmer highlighting magnificent facades of holy architecture. Listen for the ancient hollow reverberations of half ton church bells ringing from the town square. Close your eyes and let the warmth and glow of love and sunset celebration sweep you off your feet.

I traveled to Mexico with a Taylor mini. One of the goals I set for myself this year, vis a vis my 2019 vision board, is to play music live, in front of at least one person, a minimum 5 times this year. My first of the five was last month. I was road tripping up and down the Pacific Coast Highway and had stopped in L.A. for the night. There was as tiny little vegan spot near Echo Park and they had an open mic. I played one of my own songs and a cover of an Avett Brothers song. It was a pretty fucking epic experience.

The second time I played live was for the bridal party the day of the wedding. It was so surreal and gloriously dreamy. Each moment was heavy and dripping with that sweetness like the perfect bite of pancake…you know what I mean? I know I tend to speak in superlatives, such is the life and writing of a deep emoter, but this was one of the more formative events of my adult life. Music is so important and special to me. I never feel more completely myself than when I’m singing. And I spent a lot of my life feeling not quite good enough. You know how it feels to care more about whether people think you sound good than whether you just really fucking love to sing? That was me. And in the past it has kept me from coming into the full beauty of the moment. This was different. This was an exercise in giving and receiving love that was so pure and lovely that it took on a life of its own. I completely gave myself over to the rare and unique opportunity to be the fox in the henhouse, as it were. I tinkered around on my guitar. I played a couple of songs that some of the ladies requested. Mostly I just listened. Mostly I just repeated in my heart a song of gratitude for this series of moments strung together into surreal and satisfying bliss. I still felt the fear and the shame and heard the voices whisper “you’re not good enough for this.” At this point in my life those voices don’t control me. They do sometimes inform me. Most often they point to places where I feel unsupported…and act as guideposts giving me directions as to EXACTLY where to focus love. I smile when I hear those voices now. I don’t label myself as bad for having them or hearing them. It is a normal part of the human experience to feel unloved and unsupported and not good enough. It is NORMAL to feel that way. It is also NEVER true. You are always loved. You are always supported and you are always good enough. And, so, to behave as if you believe that, is sometimes the secret to a moment. It was for me. I hear voices that tell me I’m not good enough sometimes, but those voices are speaking to the ME that KNOWS that I am. That I am more than enough. Because I am open to love. Because I come from love. Because I exist in love. Because I am love. As this divine peace and bliss swept over me with the warm Mexican wind, I knew I was fully alive inside of a moment that I would cherish forever.

A few weeks ago I was in LA. I stayed with Joel and Fateh and had a chance to catch up. I think this was when I met Joel for the first time. There were some friends of mine that I had met during my travels in India that were in town as well. We planned a group dinner. While we were at Fateh’s getting ready for dinner I played the guitar and sang a little bit. We caught up on some of my travels and somehow I ended up singing the Gayatri Mantra. Fateh was very moved and asked me to sing it a few more times. A few weeks later, in Mexico, she asked me to sing the Gayatri Mantra at the wedding ceremony. Once again, fully alive inside of a moment. Two siblings connected by something even more divine than blood and chromosomes. Her one and only wedding day. One of the most important events of anyone’s life. Not only had I been a part of a small party invited to attend the celebration, but now I would get to sing. For her. For them. For love.

I sang the mantra. I was moved in ways that can only be described as magical. After the mantra Joel’s sister sang the most enchanting prayer. The vibration of a Punjabi mantra and a Jewish prayer echoed softly and hung in the evening air like a fine ocean mist. There was more dancing. There were more kind and loving words and hugs and high fives and tears exchanged than I can recount. It was a night of endless, relentless, blessing.

There were no labels. On anyone. Or anything. There was only love. The love that two people shared was so pure and so obviously meant to be that it transcended religion and culture. There was so much commitment and love in the friendship of those who traveled for the wedding that it transcended the idea of strangers. Everyone immediately came together as a family. There was so much love that there was no room for fear. There was no time for jealously or back biting or passive aggressiveness or angry attention seeking or any of the bull shit that keeps us separate. I’m telling you all of this because you gotta know how real it is. The kind of love that has no tolerance or space for bullshit. It exists in really rare and beautiful and delicate and powerful ways. It is available in any moment. The beauty and the tragedy of the human experience is, I think, that sometimes only our drifting away from love can teach us how to celebrate coming home, when love makes its way back to our door. Don’t be afraid to answer the door…love could be waiting for you. :-)

Robert PlagmannComment