A few days ago, I watched “Letters to Juliet“. Sophie, a fact checker for The New Yorker, is engaged to be married. She and her fiance go on a ‘pre-honeymoon’ to Italy. During one of her walks in the city of Verona, she stumbles upon Juliet’s balcony. Turns out, there’s a tradition in Verona wherein women from all over the world go there and post their letters to Juliet. These letters mostly deal with heartache, and the women ask Juliet for her advice. At the end of the day, a ‘secretary of Juliet’ comes to collect the letters. The Secretaries of Juliet is an organization of women whose job is to read the letters and send an answer back to the women who’ve written to Juliet. Well, Sophie follows this secretary and she ends up becoming a sort of ‘honorary’ secretary of Juliet. One day, while helping one of the secretaries collect the letters, she discovers a letter, written fifty years ago, hidden in the wall.
“I didn’t go to him Juliet. I didn’t go to Lorenzo. His eyes were so full of trust. I promised I’d meet him to run away together because my parents don’t approve but instead I left him waiting for me below our tree, waiting and wondering where I was. I’m in Verona now. I return to London in the morning and I’m so afraid.
Please Juliet, tell me what I should do. My heart is breaking and I have no one else to turn to.
The letter was written by Claire, an Englishwoman, who lives in London. Fifty years ago, she came to Italy to study. There, she met Lorenzo, a simple local boy who picked grapes at a vineyard. They fell in love with each other, and planned to elope, but Claire got cold-feet and left him. She went back home to London where she married somebody else.
Sophie answered the letter:
“‘What’ and ‘if’ two words as nonthreatening as words come. But put them together side-by-side and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life: ‘What if?’…
I don’t know how your story ended. But I know that if what you felt then was love – true love – then it’s never too late. If it was true then why wouldn’t it be true now? You need only the courage to follow your heart…
I don’t know what a love like that feels like… a love to leave loved ones for, a love to cross oceans for… but I’d like to believe if I ever felt it. I’d have the courage to seize it. I hope you had the courage to seize it, Claire. And if you didn’t, I hope one day that you will.”
To cut to the chase, Claire, now a widow, receives Sophie’s letter and flies to Italy, along with her grandson, to find Lorenzo. After travelling all over the Italian countryside, and a number of wrong turns, they finally find Lorenzo, now a wealthy vineyard owner, and himself a widower. So they pick up where they left off fifty years ago, and they get married, and live in Lorenzo’s vineyard, happily ever after.
As I was watching the film, I couldn’t help thinking about this story I read in Contemporary Philippine Literature class back in my freshman year of college – “Dead Stars” by Paz Marquez Benitez.
Alfredo is engaged to be married to Esperanza. They have been together a long time, and Esperanza is eagerly waiting for the marriage date. One day, Alfredo goes “neighboring” around their town. There he meets Julia, the town judge’s young sister-in-law, who is in town for a visit. Alfredo finds Julia attractive and interesting. He starts spending a lot of time with her, and yes, falls in love with her, to the point of almost breaking off his engagement with Esperanza. But Julia does not approve of his breaking his word to Esperanza, and she says good-bye to Alfredo.
Alfredo eventually marries Esperanza. Eight years pass… Alfredo is in Julia’s town for a business trip. He goes to visit Julia, still unmarried, whom he has never forgotten. But when he comes face to face with the Julia, he is surprised to find that he no longer feels the same way for her. The love he had felt for her has faded.
“So that was all over.
Why had he obstinately clung to that dream?
So all these years–since when?–he had been seeing the light of dead stars, long extinguished, yet seemingly still in their appointed places in the heavens.
An immense sadness as of loss invaded his spirit, a vast homesickness for some immutable refuge of the heart far away where faded gardens bloom again, and where live on in unchanging freshness, the dear, dead loves of vanished youth.”
And thus, my question, how do we know if it’s really true love, one that will survive five, ten, twenty, fifty years of separation, as opposed to just seeing the light of dead stars, love that has long been extinguished, and we’re only seeing the light, the idea, that we are still in love with that person?