Is it ridiculous to live for love? The interwoven strands of living beings’ love for one another raises the possibility that maybe the purpose of life is to love. L’histoire d’amour is undoubtedly one of Willa Cather’s “two or three human stories” that repeats itself “as fiercely as if [it] had never happened before.” We all can understand and relate to the burning warmth that love ignites within us, even it has been ages since we’ve truly experienced it.
Much admiration and consideration should be given to C.S. Lewis’ profound diagnosis of the subject in his The Four Loves; not many aspects of humanness are omitted from his work. Not that this reader has to agree with all of his theories. For example, hollow is the idea that one cannot love nature without being then getting on one’s knees in a religious institution to substantiate the existence of that nature; nature is living, able to give and receive love. Yet, Lewis based much of his life’s analysis on his faith in a Judeo-Christian idea of religion…and the spiritual world has opened up more than it had been then.
In the spirit of Lewis’ conjecture on love, to which I pay homage and recognize the underpinnings in my own premises, I have developed my own four loves, all of which could give rise to my Favorite Love Story:
1. Spiritual – There has to be more out in the world than just science and mathematics. While these disciplines are the pure and crystalline facts of life’s existence, they don’t explain the deeper connection that living things have with one another. From flowers that respond to the human voice and touch, to complex emotions of compassion felt for those in need.
Spiritual love does not mean religion, the iconography and the ritual, but rather the faith (albeit suspended) and hope (at times desperate) that living beings have a greater purpose than to proceed through a cycle of growth and decay. Humans, at least, have built elaborate belief systems on what is only conjecture; prophesy of what we may encounter after our bodies die. We love something that we cannot grasp physically, we agree upon its existence, but our minds grip onto threads of devotion as if it makes a difference.
2. Self – A psychotherapist told a patient experiencing relationship problems, “You can’t expect others to love you if you don’t love yourself.” It can take a lot of therapy and most of a lifetime to accept oneself. And even then, the competition with the world’s images of beauty, success, and worthiness can be a rattling mess for the individual.
Abuse, disorders, mental health problems, and suicide are all byproducts of one’s difficulty with self love. Most of us are not born to love who we are. For example, the Catholic religion condemns newborns to a life of eternal sin until they are baptized in the Church; a baby has no choice but to accept her fate upon entering the world. We have intrinsic faults that must be covered up, corrected, or assimilated into our existences if we are to function successfully in the modern society of our generation. Funny that there is even a psychologically-established “normality” when each individual has no doubt remolded himself in the image of some establishment in order to find self-acceptance.
If there is no form of conformity, thus self-acceptance, thus immersion into society-at-large, then there could be a very sad and lonely individual (possible very disturbed as well).
3. Fulfillment -- Once self love is achieved, and one can admire the person she has become, deep emotions may be realized. These are the feelings of true fulfillment. Fulfillment occurs when two people meet in the right place at the right time.
When I met the man who became my husband, I began to believe in this love. It's not a process that is complete; I'm still learning how to find completion in my marriage. But it has it's glimpses of glory! One can see in the idiosyncrasies of their spouse all of the beautiful traits that make love unique and treasured. Marriage is not a gala, yet it is a relationship of worth and depth, worth devoting oneself to wholeheartedly.
The small moments -- cuddling on the couch next to the woodstove, sharing a homecooked dinner around the table with our two children, watching an Oakland Raiders football game on an overcast fall day -- have become epic. There is a pulling and a pushing, that can be orgasmic and offensive, but the motion of a love which fulfills the soul is constant.
4. Unrequited -- Alas, where there is one fulfilling love there is at least (at least) one unrequited love. Of the great literary loves that didn’t sustain, my favorites are Romeo and Juliet, Jay Gatz and Daisy Buchanan. Chopin's Madame Pontillier and Browning's lover of Porphyria also move me in their suffering of unrequited love. These are dismal yet poignant in their own right. These were love affairs out of difficulty and unfit circumstances.
While the unknowing is the heartbreaking part of unrequited love, the sharpest blade is the potential of a love perhaps more fulfilling than anything ever experienced before. When love is denied or dead-headed then it takes on its own mythical existence; in the mind, it could have been the greatest love ever! Two people seemingly designed to be together by Eros, who may have had moments of passionate glory in a different time or place, will never have their dreams fulfilled. What could be more tragically romantic!
Thus concludes this lovestruck writer's attempt to sort out the many layers of love, much like my predecessor Lewis, and the many writers who have battled the question of love’s purpose. My loves are methodically applied in an existence ruled by the brain yet embraced by the heart. To make sense of love is my quest to find peace, however fleeting.