The Trouble With Gravity: Love and the Laws of Motion

Capoeira practice in Bahia, Brazil | © of Bruno Barbey

I have always lived believing that I am bound by very few rules, and the few I do live by are quite simple. There’s the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.” The Montana rule, “All I have in this world is my word and I don’t break it for no one.” And the words of my great-grandmother Sadie, “If you want to live to 100, say your prayers and tell the truth.”

Given that I am both a skeptic by nature and vehemently anti-police, I’ve long believed all other laws are up for interpretation. This is the logic of the impractical idealist, and its limitations are self-evident. When you always have to touch a stove to believe it’s hot, many times you will get burned.

Still, I do not fear the collateral damage of living boldly. With all the inhibitions that come with being black, a woman, and trying to survive history — I want to live as freely as possible.

And love was no different. If I got hurt, I let it go. I didn’t believe in trucking old pain from one man to the next. I didn’t want to limit my capacity for love by policing it. The burn marks of self-fashioning gave my love its character. After all, love is the only true stimulant; I wanted to get high and stay there.

So imagine my dismay when I realized love is also bound to a kind of law — the laws of physics. Not only is this law universal, it’s inalienable. Over and over I would find my love thwarted by these natural laws. Too often I would love men who were little else besides their potential — potential that I’d spend years trying to make kinetic in hopes that we could move on together. It never worked. I would leave them much like I’d found them. I refused to recognize Newton’s first law of motion: an object at rest must stay at rest. I would simply shrug my shoulders, count my losses, and look for the energy to forgive them.

Looking back, Newton’s first law might have saved me the trouble of loving successful men, too. Had I known an object in motion would stay in motion, I never would’ve tried so hard to put them to rest. I never would have coddled their anxieties and blanketed their insecurities, foolishly thinking they might return the favor.

For a long time I hated the laws of physics, not just because they brought me down, but because they placed into question the possibility of love, the only thing that had ever really held me up. And by consequence, they made me question myself, because I was not in the business of logic. Fashioning miracles from broken men was my specialty. It was a magic I had learned from my mother, and I believed in it like nothing else.

Perhaps the worst thing about physics was not the laws themselves, but how far I would go to disprove them. I did not want to believe that matter could not be created or destroyed, because I had seen love make something from nothing. I did not want to recognize the impossibility of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, because I was an impossible and difficult woman seeking loved in indifferent and unyielding men. I did not want to be left without.

I found my fear of physics and fear of loneliness were one in the same. Physics, after all, was a phenomenon over which I had no control. So while I could get high, love deeply, it was only as high as I willing to drop, because love and loss are inextricable. That’s the trouble with gravity, just when you think you’ve gotten the best of it, it brings you down, down, down.

Recognizing the limitations of my control over love was terrifying, but necessary. Because love is not simply life’s additive, it’s life’s imperative. I could not love honestly while living in fear of consequence, because fear and love cannot dwell in the same place.

I’ve come to recognize not only the limitations of my control over love, but the limitations of my understanding of it as well. While love may at times be measured by the laws of physics, physics is a science ultimately limited to the observable world. Love continues to abound in quiet revolutions both seen and unseen, and is so often held up only by faith.

Perhaps love is best reflected in Newton’s third law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Not simply because our greatest hope is to love and be loved in return, but because our love has the definitive ability to change, and in the words of Octavia Butler, “All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you.”

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