"You've got to be taught to hate and fear" wrote Rodgers and Hammerstein all those decades ago, in "South Pacific." How strange that we persist in it, when it brings only grief to the hated and the hater alike.
Decades before South Pacific, 87 years ago in fact, Vita Sackville-West made the best case for marriage equality in a simple expression of love that will feel true to anyone, who was ever in love with anyone: "I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia."
We yearn, and then we yearn to say it. Yet so often fail. Tonight I have seen success, in a brief letter written 87 years ago by Vita Sackville-West.
Vita of course was a writer. At age 21 she married Harold Nicholson, whose diplomatic and political diaries have been a great pleasure for me to read in idle hours. Harold wrote dispassionately, acerbically and with plain frankness. Vita wrote with a blowtorch. Their marriage was friendly and lasted almost half a century, but it seems Vita’s heart – which blazed with passion – lay elsewhere. She was a married woman with two sons when she fell in, or more accurately leaped into, love with Virginia Woolf. What follows is a brief letter to Virginia in late January of 1927.
“I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way.
You, with all your undumb letters, would never write so elementary a phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it should lose a little of its reality.
Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is really just a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become.
I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you; I shan’t make you love me any more by giving myself away like this — But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have broken down my defenses.
Yours. Always. Vita
We live and feel and ache to say it, writing it all down in the hopes some of it will stick. That’s a good exercise. But if you’re ever really stuck and need to just get it out, Vita has said it for you:
I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal.