by Benjamin Allen
The death of Benjamin’s wife and two children through an HIV infection became the watershed experience that reshaped his life. Lydia was infected in 1982 at the birth of their first son, Matt. Three months after Bryan’s birth in 1985, the family discovered Lydia and the children’s HIV+ status. Bryan was 8 months old when he died in 1986, Lydia died in 1992 at the age of 38, and Matt was 13 when he died in 1995.
I wanted to go the distance. At the beginning, it was quite clear what that meant. When he died, distance became different, less clear, a nebulous path of a tenuous life.
Almost three years passed from Lydia’s passing to Matt’s. Bryan died four years before Lydia. From the moment we found out that they were going to die in that thirteen-year span, I wanted to go the distance.
I wanted to walk as closely to each one as I could before death parted us. I wanted to hold all of them with all of me. I wanted to emotional lean into every moment and not turn away. I wanted to place my hand on the flame and not run from the pain. I wanted to be there. Wherever they went I wanted to be there.
Matt and I were very close from the beginning to the end. When the pain of my love reached apex after apex and I wanted to run, I leaned in even further. I needed to go the distance because I knew the distance grows more distant.
In love there is no distance. In life, distance is a measurement of how far this is from that. It was the perpetual intertwining of love and life that I balanced moment within moment, day within day, until death did we part. He died. Love didn’t. Distance crumbled in the construct of life and only love remained.
After I spread his and Bryan’s ashes on the anniversary of Lydia’s death in the same sea, the same location, I went that afternoon to Monterey Aquarium. It was there Matt and I agreed that if he was okay, three dolphins would jump in the sea where my family’s ashes rested.
In the rain I waited for something in life to transcend the chasm of my heart, but the echo between beats became fainter. The last moment I held him was distant. The morning I emptied ash into sea was drifting away. I sat on the bench looking at the rain drenched ocean desperately wanting some sign that he was okay, wanting a sign that distance was an illusion, wanting life to emulate love. No dolphins jumped in the distance.
I left Monterey. Life did not imitate love. I left alone, deep in the aloneness, far from sea, even further from life.
If I was to survive, my relationship to distance had to change. It wasn’t my understanding of distance that needed to evolve. It was my understanding of life and my relationship with love, the places where distance shadows.
I measure time. I measure life. There is no measure to love. Love is not a destination. Love is an indefinable state of being. My love for them is simply immeasurable. It fills all space whether it is a beat of the heart or an orbiting planet. The transcendent nature of love lies beyond time, beyond space, beyond distance.
But as I walked away from Monterey, there was a sense I had gone the distance in life. Now it was time to redefine distance in love. I was left without them, but was left loving them. I measured the unbelievable anguish in an immeasurable state. I was so far from life, but in the epicenter of love. I had to find a way to reconcile life and love, to bond what had been broken.
I measured moments. I inched my way through a day moment by moment. The sun rose easier than I. The first step of everyday stepped into the void and I landed on the rug beneath me. I made coffee. Took a sip. I measured a day in immeasurable ways.
I changed from going the distance with Matt to going the distance with life. Whatever I was to feel, I would feel it to its uttermost. Whatever I was to do, no matter how minute I would do it with the fullness of my presence.
This was my greatest challenge – presence. Life was gone. What was there to be present for? The response was to be present for love. No matter how painful love was I committed to be there in the enormous distance created by a life immeasurably empty and full of love.
Life hurt. Every step was a gargantuan task. Walking out the door into a world full of life without life was horrendous. But I never left the house without love. No matter how empty life became, there was the fullness of love. Yet, this was not by any means relief. Love hurt, too.
When I leaned into love I found a way to slowly lean into life. Love, for me, is not sweetness and light that placates the pain and makes everything all right. Love is the embryonic state of all things. It is the fabric of my pain just as it is the fiber of my ecstasy.
Love is inescapable. When I raged into the night, or sat on the steps in the pouring rain where no dolphins jump, there is love. When I couldn’t get out of bed, completely exhausted from the nightmare that turns into a daymare, there was love. Even when I felt completely extinguished in life and could not reach any experience of love, there was love.
If I did not breathe, there would be no life. If I did not love, there would be no breath.
Today I go the distance in the day. Life has been resuscitated by love. There is no distance between the ones I love and the moments I spend loving them in the life I have now. I have found peace in the dance of life and love where there is no distance. What seemed so far ago is now so near within. Love has dissolved the distance of life. Today, I go the distance knowing that in love there is no such thing as distance.