Of Love and Meaning
There is not one subject favored more by men and women alike than love, and I would be lying if I said I did not understand why. It’s beautifully melancholic, poetic in that way, and meaningful most of all, though the story is a bit more complicated than all that. Meaning, much like honey which, according to the apiologists, requires that bees visit countless flowers should a single single drop be produced, is a thing difficult to derive in sufficient amounts. We hope above all else that this life which we did not choose, with its ceaseless waves of activity, its impalpable storms, provides a break in its tempest, a brief end to its downpour, and is gentle, soft, kind enough to allow the discovery of purpose. But any honest look at what the world generally provides toward the satisfaction of that object will turn up nothing. Meaning, like the treasure which we in our youth were anxious to find buried beneath old shores, is a thing the search for which is almost impossible to begin, as we have no clue where it might lie, and if this is not evidenced by so many of us “waiting to find our passions,” then certainly this revelation unfolds, in a fashion similar to the Apocalypse of John, with those self-willed visions of our own destruction, with the ease with which the mind, having nothing to live for, makes a habit of suicidal ideation. But love, love is the exception. Love is a thing whose meaning is readily known, and whose accessibility is more near to us than anything in the world. To be held, to have our existence justified with a kiss, to be exalted in the mind of another above the ophanim which surround the throne of God, to be the center of all things, of songs and poems and plays, of thoughts and prayers and dreams kept secret, and all this moreover without any prerequisites to be met on our part, without condition, to be worth more than the world and all its parts for the cost of nothing, and in the course of only a little time; this is the promise of love. But, as opposed to being the favorite fruit of some poetic god as we imagine romance to be, the nature of love and of its accessibility suggests that it is nothing more than a lazy man’s wellspring of meaning, as it does not take skill to convince someone to give their love, and despite what the heart might think, it does not take skill to keep it. And, moreover, at the end of every romantic period, we bear away only memories to which worth is conferred only by the actions which follow from their remembrance, and as a result are worth little; as, for example, when the abandoned romantic has only that palpable absence of his love to keep him company, giving a kind of “blue feeling” to his lonely flat, with every item and quality therein — the stiff bed, the desk on top of which she would once sit, the scent of her delicate perfume — stirring in his mind memories of lost days and the desire for their renewal, he wonders why those same memories failed to keep his lover close by, failed to incite in her those same desires for intimacy, and what they could all possibly mean in her absence, what those days might mean now. That is to say the worth of a romantic memory is determined by its mutual acknowledgment, which is only a certain thing while the love lasts, and that afterward, more often than not, it amounts to nothing. And really, a shared memory considered valuable by only by one of its participants is, I think, a common cause of death. I know it has certainly killed me. At any rate, anything that does not come to the aid of the romantic worldview, that love is the essence, the purpose of life itself, I understand, is the terror of the more romantically inclined, the pangs of passion, the reveries of whom I once intimately knew. But not because of a love lost but because of ends, of pursuits more meaningful found (as we will see at the end), do I now believe that love has been lifted up beyond its rightful place, and that this is a sin committed by each of us, one whose consequence, a fall from a kind of heaven, is worse even than that suffered by Lucifer as a result of his pride, since with our fall we do not have a third of an innumerable number at our back, and at our front no world to rule from on high; at the end of every bout of love we have, unless we are poets, nothing to show for it. And the romantic reads these words and naturally raises the argument that, “I’ve loved and I’ve grown as a direct result of that love. The scars I now bear are both the sigils, the burning emblems of miserable days, and the proof that I have overcome, that I have not loved for nothing.” And to him I say that that medium which he credits for his growth is not so particular, but in fact more general. The growth, if there is any at all, which we derive from our romantic periods is not, as it might seem, a result of that romance, but a result of interacting regularly with another person, as any regular interaction makes self observation (from which arises self correction) inevitable by exposing those faults of ours which, generally, go unseen in the “how do you do”s of everyday conversation, to the light of careful study. Every man appears decent on his first impression, but whether or not he is hated by his peers is a matter of time spent in his company. And, further, one who lives for love lives for nothing else at all, his interests centered, like the earth in its immutable path round the sun, only around his amorous object, the effect of which being that he carries on perfectly well even during the collapse of his health, his financial standing, and everything about him, so long as someone loves him. He says to his lover that, though the physicians are good for nothing, though work is hard to come by, and though God, despite the petitions made by the local priest on his behalf, refuses to reveal Himself to him, to answer his earnest prayers, that she is all he needs, and he certainly means it. And it seems to me that one who in this way abandons the world does not cultivate the same degree of strength as one who bears it on his shoulders. (The romantic considers himself the bravest of men, but the scars of love pale in comparison to the scars of life; and there is nothing which so thoroughly compels even the most fervent “men of the world” to flee from it in haste, without looking back, and choose to live out their days idly and, at times, in perfect disquiet, like romance.) Though, as I think it’s important to mention, the little value that love may provide is not cause to assume that happiness is impossible, as happiness and love are not convertible terms (which they are often mistaken to be). Whether or not happiness exists is another matter entirely, and I contend here only that in love we will not find our reason for being. And seeing, after following it unskillfully, the value of that path of masterful works set by those few great men of art, Proust and Goethe in the domain of literature, Bouguereau and Boucher and Ruisdael in works of illustration, and in music Debussy and Wagner, I submit instead that meaning is a result of the difficulty, the anguish, melancholy, the rapture of bringing an idea down from the sphere of the mind and into the world, since, unlike love, suffering is self-justified even in a work half finished, and even a work abandoned is a thing immune to the passage of time, unlike those amorous, those rose hued memories of things passed which are all we ever bear away, which we cannot show to another, and which in short order, soon after the end of it all, lose their feeling, their detail, and any meaning they might have had in the heart of our past selves.