Review - "From Particles and Disputations: Writings for Jeff. A Book of Hours" by Philip Luing
Very Highly Recommended
In February of 1982, Philip Luing and Jeffrey Lalonde meet when they are assigned to the same study group at their church. After rehearsal for a play, they went to a local deli for bagels and coffee on April 15th and begin their 12 year love affair.
Phil is the more artistic, creative and emotional of the two; Jeff is more pragmatic. Over the course of their lives together, Phil writes Jeff letters of love, feelings and celebration. He marks not only their milestones - birthdays, Valentine's Day, Christmas, anniversaries - but also those times in their lives that are mundane. Just because.
In June of 1985, both men tested positive for HIV.
And on March 9, 1994, in the early hours of the morning, Jeff slipped from this life with his love standing watch.
Phil took the letters and notes and scribblings that he had given Jeff over the years and collected them into this small tome, "From Particles and Disputations: Writings for Jeff. A Book of Hours."
And what a tome. This beautiful little beating heart of a book traces the evolution not only of a life, but of a love. It is unflinching in its joy and sorrow, in showing the fun and whimsy and growing pains of a relationship. How it starts so sweetly and then hits bumps. How we question ourselves, and each other. And how the mundane can become so very precious when viewed from the now.
Mr. Luing - Phil, if he will forgive me for taking the liberty - gives us twelve years of his heart. From the missives he shows us, he never shied away from acknowledging the beauty as well as the pettiness of their life together. I was constantly amazed by the power of his observational skills. How he, and I can only assume Jeff, never feared to face the demands and hurts that were in their relationship.
The prose? So very lovely...
"All right, all right, so I prayed; you responded. Perhaps I wasn't specific. That'll teach me to pray poetry."
When the two men shied away from each other, retreating into silences...
"If we can penetrate the silences, we can usually get through the words. It's been that kind of a year, you know? Mostly overcast. Sunlight on too brief occasions...Our words are wicked, as are our silences...For this anniversary, then, I give you my discontent and its corollary, hope for the future we are sharing."
How love means more than just you and me...
"We long ago discovered that one and one make three, not one; there will always be you, me and us at work in our domestic affairs."
How the disease they shared taught them lessons in how to support each other...
"Perhaps the vital lesson we've learned is that we bring injuries to each other to soothe, not to clone - and that we do nothing to soothe the other's injury by inflicting it upon ourselves."
How love isn't one great big thing, but a series of small considerations...
"Instead it is a quiet, practical matter, like looking around a room to see what needs to be done."
And the hardest part, for me personally, was reading the passages when Jeff was not long for this world...
"2-14-94 Lost Valentine. Sometimes my love wanders in his dreams so as I sit by his side, I repeat 'My name is Philip I love you I'll take care of you.'"
Then, when he's gone...
"Jeff, meaning "peaceful", was well named."
The beautiful description of their last trip to Paris, so very different from their first, had me in tears. Terribly intimate, it reminded me of lost loves and friends in my own life. How Phil massaged Jeff's sore muscles after their day walking around the streets of the city. But this time, it was because the bumping of his wheelchair made Jeff's legs and neck sore. I had to put the book down and talk with a friend for a moment to settle my heart.
Quiet grace. Two men who floated through the first couple of years of their mating, and then settled, sometimes comfortably, sometimes not, into their love. But always present. Always in love. Always two, no, three - you, me and us.
It was a true honor to be invited into this intimate story of how a love grows in fits and spurts, through good and bad, in sickness and in health. This is not to be missed, but savored and appreciated. It's the true map of a heart.
Thanks, Philip, for trusting me with this.