Valentines 50%

Driving home tonight I saw the sign above, which inspired this belated V Day post (the holiday that never goes away, even when you wish it would).

I gave a sermon at church this past Sunday about love and other wonders. I quoted my favorite lines on the subject, from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke:

“Love does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person (for what would a union be of two people who are unclarified, unfinished, and still incoherent?). [Love] is a high inducement for an individual to ripen, to become something in himself…to become world in himself for the sake of another.”

Here and now, at the age of 45, I’m not confident I can say what love is. This is just one of many things I feel less able to define now than twenty years ago. At this rate, I won’t be capable of asserting anything by the time I die. Which is a bit of a professional liability for a writer and minister. Although if I run out of certainty at the same time I run out of breath, there’s good timing (and poetic justice) in that.

On the upside, I feel more clear on what love isn’t. This might be a habit of mind acquired from hanging in zen circles, where concepts are often elucidated through negation, like “Not one, not two” or “No form, no sensation, no perception, no formation, no consciousness.”

Be that as it may, here’s what I think love isn’t: it isn’t one person saving another. I’ve tried to rescue people I loved, and failed miserably. Either the project is fundamentally flawed, or I’m lousy at it. Both are possible, but I lean toward the first interpretation. In my experience, people save themselves — by dint of imagination and awe-inspiring hard work; that’s pretty much what it takes to free a person, as far as I can see. And I believe it’s by definition an inside job.

At the Indianapolis airport, there’s a mural that lifted my heart like a bird every time I saw it. In aqua and azure glass, the Mari Evans poem “Celebration”:

I will be bringing you someone whole
and you will be bringing me someone whole
and we be twice as strong
and we be twice as true
and we will have twice as much
of love
and everything

Ready when you are.


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