Henry II: “You know, I hope we never die!”
Eleanor of Aquitaine: “So do I.”
Henry II: “Do you think there’s any chance of it?” -James Goldman, The Lion in Winter
When I was younger, and my parents were recently divorced, I would travel back and forth between their cars, their houses, their lives. A hike with one would turn into lunch with the other. When I was with my mom, I often missed my dad. When I was with my dad, I often missed my mom. “Maybe you should focus on being with the one you’re with,” someone wise once told me. (I can’t remember who). Somehow my heart didn’t usually manage that kind of alchemy. I missed them. I missed the one I wasn’t with.
I started to draw a strange conclusion. I wanted a perfect home that I pretended to remember and really, I think, imagined. I wanted my parents to be always-available and focused on me. I wanted things to be this certain, other way. They weren’t. Because they weren’t, I started thinking that finding what my heart desired was impossible. I started thinking that having desires of my own was pointless.
In some part, of course, that’s true. The ‘ideal’ family I imagined doesn’t exist. If it did, it probably wouldn’t be healthy–just like so many of my immature fantasies (eating as much cake as I want, fighting dragons, finding universal adoration) wouldn’t be healthy. I think a big part of growing up is recognizing where desires have turned damaging, inconsiderate, or self-defeating, and growing in another way. (The desire to have power over everyone else can become the desire to have control over yourself; the desire to be the best can become the desire to share what you have; the desire to be the most loved can become the desire to love). Still, I think there’s another side.
In The Lion in Winter, Henry and Eleanor’s lives are far from ideal. She led a civil war against him; he’s locked her in the Tower of London. They hurt each other, sometimes with what looks like relish, out of confusion and pain and habit. They use their children as pawns between them. They still, in their own bewildering way, love each other. They love their kids. They love the world and its possibilities. As a child that confused me. Their world isn’t like what they wanted, what they expected to get. They still want more time in it. Recently, that makes more sense. In that scene, in the middle of their loss and their pain, Henry and Eleanor feel something that makes them call out to each other, makes them smile, makes them laugh. The way they go about loving might be broken. Their love is not. Sharing all this–wanting and stumbling, wanting differently, and falling short–is a delight. Whatever else our world is home to, it’s home to the kind of vibrant love that hopes, together, to live forever. Feeling that isn’t pointless.
Some desires are childish fantasies, impossible creations that would break under their own ugliness if I started fashioning them in the real world. Henry and Eleanor’s laughter tells me that some desires shine. Some desires find that this world is a fitting home, and live in it harmoniously. They’re worth feeling. They’re worth shouting about. They’re worth sharing.
You know, I hope we never die. Do you think there’s any chance of it?