Sunday, December 16, 2012

Is This Love?

I want to know what love is. So many stories swirling through my head. A relative leaves his wife of 30 years for a younger woman who makes him feel awake and alive. Is that love? She dumps him and he returns to his wife, caring for her gently when time disables her. Is that love? A friend is married five times, and five times enthralled with each new husband's magic. Is that love? Another friend leaves her long-term angry husband and promptly falls for a woman, exchanging depression for a suitor's anxiety 
I know baby love. Yes. It's so easy to love a warm, cuddly creature without wiles or guile, who cries when she's unhappy and smiles when she is glad--who depends on you for life itself. That love is unquestionable. That love is assured.

But what about this other, grown-up love? Does it even exist? I want to know the answer. I want to understand it in my bones, my tissue, my lymph and blood. I want to feel it in my ligaments and tendons, my muscles and fat--in the strands of my long silver hair, down to the very tips. I want to know it in the callouses of my footpads and mucous lining of my nose. I want the goddess to whisper it into the whorl of my ear. I don't want to wonder.  I want to know!!! 

The Greeks depict Love as a beautiful woman, married to a hardworking cripple, having a long-term affair with a violent, brutish man. She also has other lovers, mortals whom she might turn into a flower or a constellation if he displeases. Love is disloyal and capricious. She is also the goddess of Beauty. Are they inseparable? Do we only love that which is alluring, enchanting? Does that make love superficial? A trick with smoke and mirrors? An actress in full make-up on an artificial stage?

Then there's Love's son, the mischievous bow-boy, wrecking havoc where he will with his arrows,   enjoying the trouble he causes when he makes people fall in love with the most unlikely recipients--an ass, a friend's wife or husband, oneself. Did the Greeks know something we are missing? Is romantic love a kind of insanity? A pre-pubescent boy's joke?

Buddha and Jesus both said that love is universal--that we shouldn't love one person more than another. We should love everyone. Love everything. Does that make romantic love a failing? A trap? A misleading sidetrack on the one true path?

Last night at the restaurant, my love frowned and stared into space, unhappy with the service, unhappy with the menu, unwilling to make light conversation--a grumpy old man.

Then this morning, under the covers, his skin was warm and pliant. I grasped his hand and held it in both of mine at my chest. So many images swirling through my head: food he cooked for me; homes he repaired for me; paychecks he brought home to me; the family sitting in a darkened waiting room while I had surgery for cancer; the births of each of our three children, and the surprising words he whispered at the head of the bed that first time, holding my hand, helping to take me through the pain: "Swim. Swim to the top."

My life is like a long swim underwater: voluptuous, graceful, alluring, but with my breath held, with that slight anxiety that I might not make it back up to the top in time, might never feel my head burst through the surface into air and light.
The first image is a 1560 painting of Aphrodite, Eros, and Ares by Paris Bordone, the second is La Primavera by Botticelli. I found both of those on the Schmoop website, here.. The woman underwater I found by googling "underwater swimming" but can't site the source because now google is telling me it's me! Yikes!


  1. Robert Heinlein defines love as "when someone else's happiness is essential to your own." I think that's as good as you're going to get.

  2. That makes a lot of sense to me. I think there are many kinds of love, too, but all contain that element.