Sunday, July 24, 2011

Love and Other Origins

I was reading someone's life just the other day, and I found myself lingering in the most melancholy of moments. The moments of sorrow--both real and imagined--harbored the sharpest insights. They caused the woman to come alive. She was unequivocally her in these dark flashes.

I tried not to listen too carefully, but I heard her tell the man by whom she felt betrayed: "These tears are not for you, not really. They are for all the betrayals and sadnesses that have come before you, the ones that have lodged themselves deep inside of me. You are just the smallest flicker at the end of a long line of disappointments. You haven't really hurt me. You have simply reminded me." He had become a trace.

And I thought of things, as I do. I thought of the impossibility of separating one thing from another, one sorrow from the next. Everything, even our emotional responses, functions midrashically, one sorrow an extension of another, never discrete from its dark predecessor. Each sorrow is enriched by the next. We are always reminded of origins.

I suspect we often become emotionally involved with people who represent our origins, who return us to the self. Love and loving are rarely distinct from a certain degree of narcissism.

A year or so ago I wrote about a poem I had discovered, by Cheryl Dumesnil. The poem was prefaced by a Rumi quotation:
"Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along." Love, then, at least in this regard, is about the act of recognition, of responding to something we already know and allowing that knowledge--that understanding--to be deepened and enriched.

There are at least two ways to spin this. I can call it beautiful--that is, I can see in it what I want (or should want) to discover, which is something lovely and promising. Or I can despise one's selfish impulse to claim to have found love when really one has found another version of herself to idolize.

I suppose it's the aspect of "need" that I find especially distressing. To love another human being because he has been in me "all along," as Rumi suggests, might simply be another form of self love, a manner of fulfilling a need. For this reason it has always chilled me to hear a man say that he needs me. I know that Levinas says something, somewhere, about how love ceases to be when one person "needs" another.

Love without need, however, may not exist, not even between lovers.