To Have and to Hold
One cannot try to decipher life or think about life without, at some point, coming to the topic of love. Aristotle asked: “”To the query, in the same text, “What is love?” What is life without love? Love is like the sun; without light, there’s no life.”
Augustine of Hyppo thought of love as the impetus for verbs, the motive behind an action. “Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.”
Leonard Cohen saw love as that one thing transformed an ordinary human being into a saint. “What is a saint? He queried. His response: “A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is the caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape. His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world. He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love.”
Plato also saw love as a motivating force. “Love will make men dare to die for their beloved—love alone; and women as well as men.” So is love the mover, the saver, or that one thing that could possibly lead us willingly to our death? Is it a sense? Do we feel it, see it, touch it, taste it, smell it, or is it just a figment of our imagination, a pleasant story we tell ourselves to give credence to our actions?
The Greek Empedocles who lived in the fifth century BCE called Eros, the Greek god of love and desire, a force that bound the world together. With Plato’s “Symposium”, love was divided into three parts, a description that has remained in the time that followed him. The first description of love consisted of two parts – one rational, and the other based upon and exciting desire. The second was based upon Aristophanes’ belief of the beginning of mankind as the splitting of an atom. He saw man and woman as the splitting of an original whole. Freud also utilized this theory in his theory of repetition compulsion: “everything about these primeval men was double: they had four hands and four feet, two faces.” The third was built upon Plato’s sublimation theory of love: “mounting upwards…from one to two, and from two to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair actions, and from fair actions to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty”.
With Aristotle, love became the parent of friendship on which he placed greater importance. Cicero spoke of the delineation of love as coming from friendship. Some classical writers might have praised the goddesses of love but most simply criticized the lovesick. In the twelfth century, based upon literature and Islamic influences, came the notion of a courtly love and with Petrarch would come the romantic love the modern world knows.
But what does it truly mean to love? Where did it come from? How do we decide what it is that we love? What does it not always last? For many, love is a temporary state of being, a fickle emotion that blows both hot and cold but never stays around for long. For others, love is as lasting as their life. Tomorrow we will delve further into philosophies of love. Today I hope you simply love. Feel the warmth of it on your face, the comfort of it enfolding you, the strength of it moving you forward. Today let love propel you forward in your living, in your laying the foundation for a better tomorrow.