What is Love?

Yesterday, I read a travel post about a European romantic trend called Love Locks.  Apparently, an Italian novel whose title translates to “I Need You” has spawned the custom of lovers affixing padlocks to public fences, bridges, gates and whatnot as a sign of their everlasting love.  This idea really rubs me the wrong way, so I’m sorting out my thoughts to figure out why.  Of course, this is about me, not about judging any of the couples who have participated in this ritual nor about anyone else who thinks it’s romantic.  So, what do I know about me?

First of all, I worry about the accumulation of stuff.  Seeing all those padlocks encrusting a surface reminds me of the proliferation of manufactured gadgets and things that we humans often allow to run unchecked.  Apparently, many city officials also consider them “an eyesore”.  It occurs to me that if they were something natural or biodegradable (like flower petals or garlands?), I would probably not feel this instant repulsion.  This may be just the surface of the aesthetic mismatch, however.

Second, I think a lot about symbolism.  What does a padlock say about love?  In all fairness, I have not read the novel, so I am probably missing the finer points.  I understand the desire for security in a relationship.  I was married for 24 years, “until death”, and I positively flourished under the safety of that bond.  But now that Jim has slipped all surly bonds, I think that anything everlasting must be a bit more mutable than metal, more plastic than any tangible material.  The words of a song by John Denver keep floating to the surface of my consciousness.  The title of the song is “Perhaps Love”.  Here’s a bit of the chorus: “Some say love is holding on and some say letting go; and some say love is everything and some say they don’t know”.   I guess I have to say that lately I’ve been sitting in the “letting go” camp.  Out of necessity, obviously.  I did the struggle of holding on.  I found it to be an ego thing, ultimately unsustainable.  Letting go, opening up, imagining expansiveness is a way to include a lot more without confining it to an embrace.  I believe love wants to include a lot more by nature.

Two nights before my love died was Valentine’s Day.  We celebrated at home with champagne and salmon in the company of two of our daughters.  My oldest brought out a book of Pablo Neruda’s poetry and read this one (Love Sonnet #92):

My love, should I die and you don’t,
let us give grief no more ground:
my love, should you die and I don’t,
there is no piece of land like this on which we’ve lived.

Dust in the wheat, sand in the desert sands,
time, errant water, the wandering wind
carried us away like a navigator seed.
In such times, we may well not have met.

The meadow in which we did meet,
oh tiny infinity, we give back.
But this love, Love, has had no end,

and so, as it had no birth,
it has no death. It is like a long river
that changes only its shores and its banks.

Translation: Terence Clarke

I cannot imagine trying to put a padlock on a wheat field or on the desert sands, on the wind or on a river.  I cannot imagine putting a padlock on time, even though that’s a concept we made up, just like the padlock, as a way to try to control things.  I do know that the impulse to lock down an experience is very human and very old.  The ancient story of the Transfiguration of Jesus comes to mind.   Jesus and three of his disciples (Peter, James and John) climb a mountain, and there the disciples have an experience of seeing Jesus in glowing white raiment talking to Moses and Elijah.  Good old impetuous Peter gets all excited and bursts out with an idea.  “Let’s build three booths (or tabernacles)!  We can put each of you in one and hang on to this experience for a while longer, perhaps invite others….”   He is silenced by a booming voice from the clouds. “Listen!”  When the cloud lifts, Jesus stands alone, and they decide to keep quiet instead.

I am beginning to recognize a kind of flow, a yin and yang of contrasting energies, in myself.  I think it has something to do with my biological cycle, but it also manifests in a mood cycle.  I feel that expansive, fecund, open sense bubbling up in me, settling me down, inviting me to nurture and set free.  Then, a while later, I feel a feisty urge to grab hold and wrestle with my circumstances and force them to conform to some idea in my brain.   I could say that I am still loving with both energies.  I used to tell my children that I disciplined them because I loved them, and I believe that’s true, but I think there’s an ego love and a non-ego love.   They are both part of me.  One is not “right” and the other “wrong”, but I think that the non-ego kind is more beneficial in the universe.

Valentine’s Day is a few weeks away.  It’s a time when many people are thinking about love, romantic love.  I keep challenging myself to think bigger, to open up.  I hear the voice booming from the clouds, from the trees, from the water and the air.  It asks me to Listen.  So I guess it’s time to shut up.

9 thoughts on “What is Love?

  1. You are such a great writer – I now I keep saying it and it’s probably boring for you to hear it but you are !!
    Great ending to this piece. Thank you for sharing your thoughts..

  2. I’m with you in your aversion to the accumulation of stuff, but find a kind of anthropological curiosity in trends like this padlock thing. I haven’t seen it, but I have seen shoes slung over power lines, graffiti, tag stickers, kilroy and lots of other trends. Whatever I think of the aesthetics of the place, I also recognize the urge to make a mark to express oneself. There is something very human and poignant about that desire for permanence in a transient world.

  3. I never liked those padlocks, from the first moment I saw them, the idea was strange to me… but this is the first time I see this point of view clear like this… and also with such a moving story… thank you for sharing. 🙂

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