Love: Trivial or Transformational?

Posted on June 26, 2018


I deeply resonate with this. Is love the answer? Can love save us? How??? If we never really see it or feel it transformatively?

“The nuclear family is a recent invention and a death blow to love—an unprecedented demand on a couple to be everything to each other, the family a tiny echo chamber: history one layer deep. None of the great virtues—even this—is meant to be carried in isolation.

“When my marriage ended, I walked into a parallel universe that had been there all along; I became one of the modern multitudes of walking wounded in the wreckage of long-term love. Strangest of all, on this planet, is the way we continue to idealize romantic love and crave it for completion—to follow those love songs and those movies. After my divorce, I created a welcoming home and took great delight in my children. I cooked dinner for gatherings of friends old and new, invested in beautiful far-flung friendships, and drew vast sustenance from webs of care through the work I do. Yet I told myself, for years, that I had a hole in my life where “love” should be.

“This is the opposite of a healing story—it’s a story that perceives scarcity in the midst of abundance. (In this context a “healing story” is a story we tell ourselves in order to survive times that are hard or dark. Whether or not they are true, they carried us through, as did the ancient myths.) I have in my life, many forms of loving. As I settled into singleness, I grew saner, kinder, more generous, more loving in untheatrical everyday ways. I can’t name the day when I suddenly realized that the lack of love in my life was not a reality but a poverty of imagination and a carelessly narrow use of an essential word.

“And here is another, deeper carelessness, which I am absolving in a spirit of adventure: I come to understand that for most of my life, when I was looking for love, I was looking to be loved. In this, I am a prism of my world. I am a novice at love in all its fullness, a beginner.

“The intention to walk through the world practicing love across relationships and encounters feels like a great frontier.

• • •

“On the future of my ability to make this move, our ability to make this move together, I have more questions than answers. But good questions, generously posed, seriously held, are powerful things. We’ve begun to hold the question of hate in public life, creating a new legal category of crimes to name the breakdown where tolerance gives out and the human condition at its worst rushes in. All I know is that, at every turn, I hear the word love surfacing as a longing for common life, quietly but persistently and in unexpected places.

“We are at such an interesting, unnerving moment. As we take up the task of inventing common life for this century, we are struggling, collectively, with divisions of race and income and class that are not new but are freshly anguishing. Here’s what is new: a surfacing of grief. It’s not a universal reckoning, but it’s a widespread awareness that the healing stories we’ve told ourselves collectively are far less than complete. There’s a bewilderment in the American air—both frustrating and refreshing for its lack of answers. We don’t know where to begin to change our relationship with the strangers who are our neighbors—to address the ways in which our well-being may be oblivious to theirs or harming theirs. We don’t know how to reach out or what to say if we did. But we don’t want to live this way. I don’t want to live this way.

“The virtue of tolerance told us to keep observations of moral or spiritual imagination to ourselves, to check them at the doors of our places of vocation and learning. We held them close and starved them of the oxygen of living questions as well as answers, communally, in a corrective interplay with each other. Meanwhile, we developed too ready and fluent a vocabulary in the blunt metrics of the market, the numbers. I’m stretching my point only a bit when I say that in American life, every vision must begin and end in an economic argument in order to be heard, on urgent matters of human life: labor, education, immigration, refugees, prisons, poverty, health care.

“Rename these “issues” in light of what is at stake in human terms, and consider the complex mix of questioning, applied virtue, and, yes, political and economic wisdom we need to muster for robust, sustained, generative grappling: the future of human vocation, of how we punish wrongdoing and create space for redemption, how we treat outcasts and strangers and the hungry, how we reimagine health in a world of ever longer lives, how we nurture our children’s minds and equip them for the world they will navigate and make. We know in our hearts and minds that we are bigger and wilder and more precious than numbers, more complex than any economic outcome or political prescription can describe.

So what if love, as Elizabeth Alexander asked on the Washington Mall on inauguration day in 2009, is the mightiest word? How would this word, openly injected into our grappling, reframe and challenge it, informing all the other necessary computations and strategies? A poet can’t carry this question alone, nor can a politician. The question in and of itself invites each of us out of aloneness. The exacting, enlivening aspiration of love does send us inside to know and honor the particularities of our identities and our struggles. But it coaxes us out again to an encounter with the vastness of human identity. Spiritual geniuses and saints have always called humanity to love, as have social reformers who shifted the lived world on its axis. When the civil rights leaders began to force a reckoning with otherness in the 1960s, they did so in the name of love. The political, economic aspirations of this monumental work of social change in living memory grew from an aspiration to create the “beloved community.”

“I did not grow up understanding this movement and its vision in this fullness, though it unfolded during my lifetime. It was brought home to me tangibly by the intensely dignified, pragmatically loving presence of John Lewis, now a congressman from Georgia, who was beaten senseless on what became known as Bloody Sunday. I was privileged to attend an annual civil rights pilgrimage with him, to holy ground in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery. I’ve “remembered” so much in conversation with John Lewis and other veterans and leading lights still among us. The movement they brought into being was a spiritual confrontation in the most expansive sense of that word, first and foremost within oneself and then with the world outside. For weeks, months, before any sit-in or march or ride, they studied the Bible and Gandhi, Aristotle and Thoreau. They internalized practical, physical disciplines of courtesy and conduct—kindness, eye contact, coat and tie, dresses, no unnecessary words. Neuroscientists now would recognize the innate intelligence about the human brain in these rules of engagement. They engaged in intense role-playing—“social drama”—whites putting themselves in the role of blacks being harassed, black activists putting themselves in the shoes of policemen feeling threatened and under orders to gain control.
“This was love as a way of being, not a feeling, which transcended grievance and painstakingly transformed violence.”

Becoming Wise; An Inquiry into the Mystery and At of Living, Krista Tippett.