Charlie’s mouth fell open, speechless. His anger dissipated like steam off a cooling pot. Of course he loved her . . . how could she doubt that? He loved her the way heroes of ancient stories loved: he would do the impossible for her. He would rearrange the stars for her; he would traverse the underworld and challenge death for her; he would make the sun and moon dance across the sky for her. And, in a way, he had. As a mere mortal, a man who not-so-very-long ago had been nothing more than a boy working at a small town newspaper, he had already accomplished miracles.
But that was the catch; his love demanded more than that. It wasn’t enough for her to be held secure and safe behind his strength. Heroes of today had harder tasks than rescuing damsels in distress or defending princesses in towers. The days of strong-arm heroes, of Odysseus and Hercules, were done. Zadie was no Penelope to stay at home, waiting for him to return victorious. No, she was an adventurer, a creator, a heroine in her own right. She deserved a whole world of freedom, safety, respect, and dignity. And such a world was best forged through nonviolent action – the entire weight of history, studies, and statistics demonstrated that. It was built from the kind of courage that breaks the cycles of violence and domination even as it ends systems of oppression and injustice.
Charlie stared at Zadie as an encyclopedia of words pounded through him, trying to find a way to explain why he couldn’t throw a punch – not because he didn’t love her, but because he did. He could have fought off that cop – he’d lobbed plenty of punches in her defense back in high school – but the world in the wake of that fight wouldn’t be any safer. The cop would come back harder and meaner, and while he could stand up for her over and over, what about everyone else? It wasn’t enough to keep her protected if it meant her friends – Inez, Tansy, Tucker, Idah, Alex, Kinap – weren’t also equally safe, able to protest injustice, stand up for their rights, and exercise their freedoms.
Love demanded this of him. Love demanded this of everyone. To care, not just about one person, but about the whole world. To work for justice, not just for those we know, but for everyone we don’t. To keep not just our loved ones safe, but also keep the beloveds of strangers safe. To treat others with as much dignity and respect as we ourselves wish to be treated.
This was an idea that many people believed would never come to pass. It was the world of dreamers and idealists, an impossible vision, but this was the world Zadie deserved, the only kind of world worthy of her. And so, though the journey from here to there would make the greatest heroes blanch, he was willing to strive in that direction. That’s how much he loved her.
Charlie gazed at Zadie as the long moment stretched until it brushed up against the eternal and the infinite. He held her eyes as the forms of body and time fell away. Love opens the gateway of a single person onto the limitless, if only we will dare to cross the threshold. For the love of one person, we can find the strength to love the whole world. Charlie dared to love Zadie without limits, without the blindfold of delusions. His love forced him to see the truth: there was no line where she stopped and the rest of the world began. It was all tied together, weaving through her breath into the trees, across the atmosphere, around the earth, touching every single human being, growing in the green and leafy plants, leaping in the animals, falling in the rain, running in the rivers, crashing in the ocean waves, rising into clouds, swirling across continents back into she and he as they stood with locked eyes searching for the words to say, I love you.