Tuesday, October 11, 2016


"There are no events but thoughts and the heart's hard turning, the heart's slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip and tales for other times." - Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm.

"Life is not about writing great books, amassing great wealth, or achieving great power. It is about loving and being loved. It is about savoring the beauty of moments that don't last." - Sue Suter.

Love is perhaps life's greatest mystery. Where does it come from? Where does it go? What do we talk about when we talk about love? It seems so simple and yet so large both at once. It can be such an overwhelming life-force and at that same time curiously irrational. It feels so important, and somehow different from all the other things we think important.

Philosophers sometimes talk about "emergent" or "second-order" properties, things that characterize a system but cannot be found in the components of the system. A baseball player doesn't have "teamwork" per se, but when you group a bunch of them together, "teamwork" emerges. A single neuron may not think, but a network of them might have the novel and irreducible property of consciousness. I have not yet read a philosopher bold enough to tackle love as an emergent property, but that is what fascinates me most. We live in a physical, deterministic world. How does love fit in?

Poets and writers love to ponder the transience of love. The unrequited love, the love lost, the entreaty of love, the many masks of love - these inspire libraries of literature. We don't know what it is. We don't know why it exists. We vow to love endlessly. We decide to move on. "All things come to an end. / No, they go on forever." (Ruth Stone, "Train Ride"). We struggle with the feeling that love is so powerful, so irrefutable, and so out of our control. We try to reconcile the pure, perfect love from poetry, pop songs, and promises with the dingy sheen of practical love, love that fatigues and confuses and leaves us wanting.

I don't have a particular direction in this post. It comes from being at the most beautiful wedding this last weekend and also thinking about dear friends who may, someday, part. In seeing the many manifestations of love and thinking about its many faces in my life, I realize I know so little of it and want to know so much more. Love feels simultaneously mundane and magical, perfect and incomplete, ritual and personal story. We make ourselves vulnerable. We become gourds and vessels. We drink and thirst. We invite our friends to dance madly into the night. We invite our friends to hold vigil. There is no greater mystery.

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