It had been a long time since I'd seen Maddie. She looked bright eyed and greeted me with a wet kiss on the cheek. She had to be closer to 80 than 60, but her eyes shone in a way that made me smile.
"I have been thinking about love," her older brother Bernard announced in his inimitable way.
Maddie giggled. "Maybe if you hadn't thought so much about love you'd have done better with your three marriages."
"Well, there is nothing like being alone after three marriages to make a man think about love. Sometimes failure teaches you things that success can't," Bernard said a little testily.
"What have you learned," I asked curiously.
"Well, I don't know that I've actually learned anything. But in doing some economics reading, I found a phrase that sounded more like love than capitalism: gales of creative destruction. Schumpeter - an economist - wrote about how capitalism creates new industries like cars that destroy old industries like horse and buggies. Capitalism creates by destroying," he said. Bernard paused dramatically. "And I think that love does as well."
"You think that love destroys a person?" I said.
"The old you. Yes. You go into a relationship and the old you gets destroyed. In its place is a new you that works with this new person."
"That makes love sound exhausting," I said. "I think love is a very different thing."
"I think we underestimate the power of getting to be yourself in love. I think that love is finding a person who gives you a place to be you. Love is comfort as much as it is excitement."
"I don't remember love feeling all that comfortable. It wasn't really a place where I could let down," Bernard protested.
"Well no wonder your marriages didn't last," I said. "That kind of love sounds exhausting."
Maddie laughed. "If you do it right," she said, "there is no conflict."
"Conflict between what?"
"The two kinds of love you're talking about," she said. "Love as a creative destruction and love as a place where you could be you."
"How does that work?" Bernard said with what I would have sworn was a pout.
"Nothing's more transformative than getting to be you. Getting to really be you," her eyes shone. "If you suddenly find yourself with a person who lets you be you, it does destroy the old you - the you that berates yourself, that spends more energy scolding yourself than enabling yourself. You think it isn't, finally, transformative to find someone who is the place where you can be you?" Maddie laughed at us. "You think that you are two are talking about different things?"
"Ron," she looked at me, "it is not that you are comfortable getting to be you. You make it sound like something comfortable, Ron, like as if it isn't a lot of work to be the real you. Or, I guess, you aren't left comfortable with the old you. Aren't left feeling comfortable unchanged. Love has about as much regard for convenience as gravity has for grace. You'll be happier. You'll be more alive. You may or may not feel all that comfortable."
"So you agree with me," Bernard asked with naked excitement. Bernard, like all of us, had this tendency not to be able to hear anything after he'd expressed an idea, except as it related to what he said.
Maddie looked at him with a tender smile. Her eyes seemed to water a little. She touched his hand. "Sure, Bernard. I agree with you. Love creates a new you by destroying the old you. It's not afraid to call the old you retarded or dis-associate with it. It feels a little destructive sometimes, but ..." she trailed off.
"So you've known this for some time," asked Bernard, quickly turning her agreement into hurt that she knew this even before he did.
Maddie laughed again. "Bernard, Bernard, Bernard," she shook her head. "I didn't know it the way you said it. But it makes sense to me, yes."
Bernard paused and then he asked her, "Who transformed you? It wasn't Jacob, was it?"
"It was me," Maddie said. "I finally learned to love me and that changed everything." She patted his hand again. "You should try it, dear. It would do you good."