A dear friend of mine, the wickedly talented romance writer, Selene Grace Silver, recently made me a gift. From what she has publicly acknowledged as her favorite poem of mine, which by no coincidence is titled “The Gift,” she created this picture so she could share it with her readers online:
It is a love poem for my husband, from a new chapbook (Liturgy of Small Feathers, Yak Press) due to be released in July. But it got me thinking about reciprocity, and the initial impulse I had for writing the poem in the first place. We’re all familiar with the oft-repeated idioms and adages: “It is far better to give than to receive,” or “Give ’til it hurts,” and even “Charity begins in the home.” Each of these sayings express an idea that the giver of the gift is somehow greater, more noble, than the person who is on the receiving end, that there’s more love in giving something away. This idea suggests a fundamental inequality in the relationship between the two, and implies that the giver loses something that the receiver then gains.
There is a very old love story about a knight who, due to some unlucky turn of events, is cursed to marry an ugly old crone. Much to his surprise, however, when he enters his bedroom chamber on his wedding night, he is greeted by the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen in his whole entire life. He cannot believe his extreme good fortune. This gorgeous woman explains that it is she who has been cursed, and what happens next is entirely up to him. She can either be beautiful by day, so that everyone at court and in public can see what a knock-out he’s had the great good fortune to marry, but then turn back into the ugly old crone who shares his bed in private at night, OR she can be ugly during the daylight hours and greet him at night as the beauty he sees before him now — the choice is his.
Our gallant knight thinks about this for a moment, looks tenderly into the eyes of his bride and says, “My dear, it’s your face, your body, your appearance — the decision is not up to me. You decide.”
As legend has it, because the knight wisely recognized what women want (to control their own lives, their own fates) and acted out of love (and against his own self-interest) the curse was broken, and his gorgeous wife was freed to be completely her own person — and was, therefore, beautiful all the time, day and night.
This story illustrates for me the kind of reciprocity true giving (and true love) is based on: a relationship between equals. One in which giving and receiving are the same. There’s an old Hindu proverb, “They who give have all things; they who withhold have nothing.” To give is to receive. When you extend love, both gain — there is nothing to lose.
I am deeply indebted to Selene, my editors, my writing community and friends for all they love they’ve extended to me. But even more, I am grateful to my husband for his unflagging support in allowing me to continuously make my own decisions, be my own person, and choose my own fate.