In my last post, Words, I ended on the word alone and the self-actualized person. But there is another set of words, to be in love and to love, that come to mind as another fine example of the conflation of causal over casual relationship.
To be in love is the both the great gift and possibly even greater scourge to come out of the 12th and 13th centuries economic and religious doldrums, swirling down the courtesan halls in both handkerchief and corset alike in European courts of the 16th and 17th centuries, culminating with Romanticism in the late 18th century that heralded arguably the modern age where we find ourselves now. The great emotion! The greatest of emotions? To be in love is to to be in a continual state of ecstasy, an endorphin rush of sing-song dance and technicolor bliss that washes away all mars of age and life, leaving us and the target of our fixation as unblemished, godly perfection brought down from the Heavens and put on this earthly firmament in human guise. This is nothing to be trifled with; to be in love should be put in a medicine bottle with one of those caps that requires monkey-like dexterity, cunning intellect, and herculean strength to open. Potent stuff, indeed!
I am tongue-in-cheek with this state of human arousal because it in part enjoys such a deep seat of reverence in our culture, one that is at times deserved but more than not misplaced. And let us be clear, this is not the stuff that fuels only the girls who grow up dreaming of being swept off their feet; boys, too, want to find their soul-mate in love and live happily every after. It is part of culture, one that is never challenged or explored but accepted and expected. But what if to be in love is a mere feat of the external form, a consequence of a potent concoction of chemicals in our bodies? How then do we examine this thing, this emotion? It is just one form of lubricant before another kind of lubricant, all but to help get an improbable rock rolling down the hill, we then falling into the bushes and nine months later three walk out? To be in love is a grand thing for sure. It is a wonderful thing. It is a splendid thing. But it is an emotion, not a state. And it is as dangerous as any sin when we conflate it with love itself.
But before we get to this mating as it were of to be in love to to love, let us first clear up a potent conflagration of words when we use to be in love with someone who we attach the label “soul-mate”. I have experienced from both ends the devastation of attaching our sense of soul-mate to the person we are in love with. It is quite understandable, even natural, that the person who is the center of our emotional universe should also straddle the center of our spiritual and substantive universe. But no matter how strong this connection appears to us, I can guarantee you that if you are in love with someone now then eventually, eventually indeed, you will not be. There will be a morn, some morn, when you wake up, turn over to them and you realize you are no longer in bed with a person you are in love with; whatever passionate fire that consumed you for them will have been utterly, completely extinguished. It may indeed also be very true and likely that some morrow after your passions will be rekindled, but in the interim you will not be in love with them. Period. Full stop. Given this then how devastating indeed is it for us to attach the most sacred role one can occupy with another person — soul-mate — in connection to at best a perennial emotion: to be in love? One moment we are in love with our soul-mate, the next moment we are not in love and they, too, then are not our soul-mate? Sound ridiculous? It sounds ridiculous because it is ridiculous. But in our culture this is the norm, not the exception to the gestalt of being in love, we confuse our lovers with our soul-mates but then wonder why we find ourselves confused and disappointed when they “disappear.” They did not disappear; they never existed as our soul-mate in the first place.
As depressing as this may all seem, it is not. Let us return to our other infinitive form, to love. While I have no inkling of the relative closeness or distance between the etymologies of to live and to love, for myself the only significant difference I can tell between the two is the one I can spell: i versus o. For myself, to love is life made manifest and whole, it is taking all the potentials of our the world and people around us and making it wholly manifest through our simple act of acceptance. To love is to be in a state of acceptance, no more nor no less. I do not believe you can both love a person and also judge a person. We can and should love every person we meet — it is both our sacred duty but greater still blessed gift to learn about the world around us through the act of accepting people for who they are and are not. If we believe the world must be good then it is difficult, even impossible, to truly love everyone we meet. We create a schism whereby we must sit as judge over people, putting them in our various arbitrary camps of good and bad. And if we wish to throw the Hitlers and Stalins of the world into this argument then we confuse the extremes with the middle. We are all humans; we all, every one of us, are imperfect. We do both good and bad things even as we are all good people. At least in my own experiences, people who judge others are most often the self-diagnosed victims, too hurt and angered by the indifference of the universe and prompted by their misguided belief that the world should be fair, that in their act of self-defense that they lose the ability to recognize this simple fact: good people do bad things. I am hungry to make this point that judgment is in polar opposition to love. Love tempers us, tenders us with the capacity to forgive. We forgive the people we love who hurt us for that simple fact that good people, all people, do bad things.
When we do finally come to accept the world and more so accept ourselves as whoever we are alone then do we have a chance to find on the most intimate level, the most sacred of roles our soul-mate. And it is only in this state of acceptance that soul mates can be found let alone nurtured and sustained. Note my use of temporal change through the words nurture and sustain; soul-mates are not born but grown through shared experience. When we accept (love) a person for who they are and are not, we are ready to take a journey with them through life. We are able to accept the many forks and cul-de-sacs they take as they learn and grow, making mistakes and even doing bad things all the while remaining a good person and all the while we loving them for who they are and are not. In this context we are able to grow with them and they with us; we are willing to let the road lead us on and forever on, and we find ourselves in places and in states we could have never have foreseen or imagined the long years before when we were merely in love but had not yet found love. And once something as precious as love is found, I guarantee you there is no way to unfind it with the days you have left in this world: love truly is eternal and forever, it is life itself.