Wednesday, May 17, 2006

205. what is love?

Recently, I've been thinking again about love and relationship and desire and beauty. And I wonder how much (if any) of the world can be understood (as God means for us to understand it) from a life devoid of love - and by love, I mean the kind of love experienced between a man and a woman, devoted to one another through holy matrimony 'til death do them part. Because according to Jesus, the two greatest commandments of the Bible are all about love (Matthew 22:36-40).

See, I've been thinking about my relationship with God and in particular, I've been asking myself this question, "do I love God?"

But to answer that question, I have to ask, "well, what is love?"

And I don't have an answer.

And I think about never having been in a relationship with a woman, and I wonder if that hinders me from understanding the blissful, heady, messy tangle that I imagine love to be. And I think of the movie The Cooler, starring William H. Macy and how love transformed him from a man with such bad luck that he was used to break winning streaks in Vegas casinos to a man with strength and courage and an incredible streak of good luck. And I think of the movie Punch Drunk Love, starring Adam Sandler and how love turns him from a bumbling, mumbling wimp to a bumbling, mumbling stud who says to the man trying to extort money out of him, "I have a love in my life and that makes me stronger than anything you can imagine," and it does.

And yes, I know I'm talking about hollywood movies but (to reference another movie) there's a scene in some romantic comedy that I can't think of right now, but it contains a scene where a woman is confronted with the charge that her romantic notions are all based on fictionalized accounts in movies and books and she replies with something along the lines of, "well, the fact that someone wrote that means it came from somewhere." And what she was getting at was the idea that in order for these idealized romantic cliches to have weight, they must have some kind of resonance with something in the real world.

On top of that, even though I've never been in a relationship, I have been around for the fireworks that happen at the start of such relationships and so I know a bit about how love empowers me, how it makes me feel giddy and invincible, how (as Jack Nicholas put it in the movie As Good As It Gets) it "makes me want to be a better man."

Unfortunately these relationships never took off, but I got enough of a taste to know what a powerful, life-changing force love can be.

But a taste is not a meal and so even though I've parted the curtains and seen the rich banquet that love can be, I've never been given a spot at its table.

All that to say, I don't have a first-hand experience of what love is. I can barely imagine what it's like to have a woman love me in return. That sounds too impossibly, amazingly beautiful to be true, but it is true. The other night I saw an elderly couple walking out of the Honolulu Academy of Arts and they were holding hands and I couldn't help but wonder at what their life was like.

And I know there are kinds of love other than the romantic type. Parental love, for example. And yes, I know my parents love me but they show their love through material, monetary support - putting me through a private high school and through college and letting me live with them, etc.

And now that I think about it, that's the only kind of love I know how to give - I'm generous when it comes to helping my friends in need whether it be loaning them money (without expecting to be paid back, although they usually do) or by fixing their amps or helping them move. I do stuff and I give them stuff, and I suppose that's a kind of love.

But to be honest, it doesn't feel like love. I mean, I've always been a generous person, sometimes even towards people I don't like and so is my generosity towards friends love or is it just the way I'm put together or something that emerges from my upbringing?

I don't know.

And back to the relationship bit, what is it that I'm longing for? What if I had had a relationship in the past, how would that change things for me now? What if I ended up damaged and confused as a result, instead of just ignorant and confused, as I am now?

But again, I think of something I read about Thomas Merton (and I've written about this before - see blog 51 and blog 52), about how even as a trappist monk who spent years contemplating the things of God 24/7, he didn't fully come to understand love until he had been in a relationship.

I don't know.

And I suppose it doesn't matter, because I can long for and theorize and write about these ideas about love until my fingers fall off but the fact would remain that I am who I am and I've only experienced what I've lived through. Maybe I am less of a fully formed individual for never having been in a deep, committed, loving relationship. Maybe I can't really understand the power of love until I've been through the thick of it.

Oh well. That doesn't excuse me from living. Yeah, maybe I don't understand, but I do the best I can with what I have and what I know.

And maybe that's enough to get me by until love comes to town and I catch that train.


Tony said...

Maybe it's a little like being a teacher but not having any kids of my own. I understand my students in one particular way, but I am so clueless as to other ways to relate to them, ways that would come much more naturally if I had children of my own. I asked my kids about this a few days ago, if having kids made you a better teacher. I do think, from my limited and somewhat peripheral experiences of love, that being inside of it colors things differently.

m said...

Of course you don't know as much about love if you haven't loved a woman. Neither do you know as much if you haven't had kids. Every bit of every kind of love you experience gives you a little bit more of a look at who God is. But even what we can know is only a tiny, tiny part of the whole, so while those with kids and lovers know comparitively much more than we know, they don't really know much either.

People who've never created art (or something approaching it) don't know as much of God as people who have. People who haven't seen the sunrise on Haleakala don't know as much of God as people who have. People who've never read Shakespeare know something that people who haven't do not. People who've never had really good Italian meals are missing a tiny piece of that knowledge. Every day, every experience gives us a little more of an idea of who God is; every missed opportunity or lost chance denies us the same.