Yesterday I was watching a documentary about Karen Blixen, the heroine of “Out of Africa”, a movie based on her autobiography with the same title, and played by an unforgettable Meryl Streep. At a certain point Denys Finch-Hatton (played in the movie by the one and only Robert Redford) is mentioned as “the great love of her life” and I wondered about why is it that all great love stories – or most of them – have such sad or tragic endings. They either end because love itself ends, or with death, or simply because lovers grow apart, slowly, so slowly that they do not realise what’s happening until it’s too late, but somehow love remains, and that’s perhaps the cruellest situation of all. You still love each other in a way, but you know you cannot find happiness together. So, you stay apart. You aren’t happy, but you aren’t unhappy either. It’s like living in a limbo of some sort.
Often lovers grow apart because they want different things from each other and their relationship. As happened with Karen and Denys. They lived a passionate story, deeply loved each other, but she wanted him to commit more, to settle down with her, and he wouldn’t’ lose his freedom, his adventurous life. Probably she loved him more than he did her, or maybe they simply loved each other in a different way. They parted, but some strong feeling remained, and when he died in a plane crash – the plane that had taken them over the African plains, in their happy times – there was no turning back, ever. Would he have lived, one wonders what might have happened?
I know a story of another great love, a love that began against all odds, but was so strong that the two lovers risked much because in the beginning it had to be a secret. They weren’t married to other people or anything of the sort, but still they had their reasons. But it was so worth it – every stolen moment together, every passionate embrace, every candlelit dinner in a hidden corner of the most discreet restaurant in town, spending part of the night messaging or whispering on the phone while everyone was already asleep; every dance, every time their hands held each other, and their hearts beat together at the merest touch. And every holiday together, when they felt liberated and free of all constraints and kissed on the street like the two teenagers they had ceased to be long ago. Then no more secrets, freedom at last, and a few good, happy, fulfilled years. And then slowly, inch by inch, something began eroding their closeness, their intimacy, their complicity, up to a point when a huge gap installed itself between them, like the moat of a medieval castle; only in their case there was no drawing bridge for them to cross to find each other again.
Inevitably, the end came. At first, almost brutal, violent. The realisation that they were no longer. Then, as reality dawned, sad, cold, cruel, heart breaking. Time is a healer, and if it doesn’t mend two hearts whose million pieces have been scattered by the wind, it can at least turn the pain into a bittersweet feeling that lies deep down, half asleep. But, like a Sleeping Beauty, it can come awake again, if not by a kiss, then by a simple word, touch, look or gesture; or it can stay dormant for all time, but never die.
In my book Love Secrets Lies there are several love stories, and they all have their beginnings and endings, but one sentence that describes the end of one of them I find particularly touching:
The silhouette of a lone beachgoer huddled in a windbreaker, head down, printing feet on silver sand. I saw in that silhouette a ghost of desolation, bearing the weight of a final moment between lovers.
Both with Karen Blixen and Denys Finch-Hatton, or the other lovers I knew, I can think of no better image than that of the lone beachgoer, all of them sharing the same desolation of the final moment of their great love stories.