Dear pilgrim: it is your charge to love the world

You are not single. You are the world.

I’ve been meditating on these words all week. Savoring them, like some new delicacy that has to be drawn in on a slow draft, rolled around, gently prodded to invite a seeping fullness.

They were offered to me by a wise and generous woman after I’d admitted my single status – not as lament or worrisome preoccupation but a simple truth. And something about her response, so unexpected and magnanimous, utterly captivated me.

Perhaps because I have recently let a good guy go. After more than a month of trading warm and insightful texts, of conversations in which we shared deeply and honestly of ourselves, and one three-hour coffee date that left me marveling at his sensitivity and emotional self-awareness, I felt the tug to move on.

From the moment we connected, I was aware of carving a different space for myself — of shifting, despite my undeniable longing for a partner, away from romantic explorations and attachments. In less than three months, I would be traveling to Tanzania to volunteer in an orphanage. And after almost a decade of harboring such a dream, everything in me was leaning toward its fulfillment.

I had already declared to friends I would go unfettered, free to give my heart to the orphans I would be with every day, to the call of adventure and purpose, to the luster of the land and its people — to whatever it was that has rooted this desire in a deep and sacred longing.

And then “D” appeared, just as I was disabling my profile on an Internet dating site. His thoughtful, intelligent message piqued my interest and though my response was intended to be more of an appreciative acknowledgment of his words than the initiation of any ongoing contact, we began writing at length. Our common interests and similar values made it easy to take those online conversations offline. But after only a few weeks of getting to know him — weeks in which we covered a vast and varied terrain, from sharing stories of our childhood and lessons learned in past relationships to swapping favorite songs and silly, playful messages — I began to disengage.

Whatever spark of excitement there’d been diminished, almost abruptly, and though I attributed it to some of his traits, innocuous though they were, that I’d found unappealing, I knew I was being asked to be present to the path before me.

I have felt for some time that my heart is being prepared for something I can’t yet grasp. After emerging from a long season of loss, of saying goodbye to fathers and father figures and longtime loves, I feel both a tenderness and electric aliveness steering me on to new horizons.

I do yearn for love, to be enfolded in that sweet and affirming embrace with a partner who is as worthy of me as I am of him. But I am turned toward Tanzania, to a journey that beckons me to delve heart-first into its blossoming. And I cannot truly give myself to that space if my attention and energy are splintered, if I am carrying other hopes and expectations and concerns with me when I board that plane.

Though he is disappointed, “D” understands, concedes even that the busyness of his own life may not allow the necessary time to devote to a relationship.

And I feel the ease of being released to my own dance. Whatever unfurling wings brush against this open ground, whatever skins I slough off, I want to experience myself at the center of it all.

I say to him that for now “Maybe I’m just meant to love the world.”

Maybe this exquisite largess kindled by grief and years of peeling back hidden universes is a river destined to run farther and wider than I can see.

“You are not single. You are the world.”

The words bless me just days after I have made my own pronouncement to “D” that the love that is such a wild and urgent quaking within must belong to more than my own kingdom of union.

But it also occurs to me that this surprising benediction evokes what it is to simply be in the world: to walk out my door each day, wedded to what may come, whether kindness or frustration, a line of fire or a scattering of stars.

To take it all in, the news of brokenness and despair, the tolling bells of beauty and hope, and to give love and speak love whether our footfalls are singed or carpeted, whether they carry us to strangers or dear ones — that is what it is to be a pilgrim in each passing moment in this place of borrowed time.

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6 thoughts on “Dear pilgrim: it is your charge to love the world

  1. Wow, Naila! This is powerful…and SO true! I admire you for committing your whole heart to the Tanzanian children. I love what you say about being “meant to love the whole world.” You are right about that. Since the first time I met you, you exuded a loving joy for all those around you. Blessings galore (and lots of love) as you continue on this path!

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