- And why to love someone is a process, not an event
‘We are all fools in love’ wrote Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice. Fools, dear reader, know right from wrong yet choose to not care one jot. Their reason abandons them, the advices of closed ones fall on deaf ears, the dangers ahead don’t register and the only face, the only voice, the only touch that can save and/or doom a lover is of beloved.
But this is how it begins. As time passes and two people come to know the dark, dreary side of each other the freshness and novelty make way for knowledge and routine. The ‘I’ that had once taken a backseat makes a comeback. The ‘You’, that was whole becomes a part. And the march of love’s beauty inches closer to its brutality.
The triumph of love is in the courage and integrity with which we inhabit the transcendent transience that binds two people for the time it binds them, before letting go with equal courage and integrity.’
‘To say I love you one must first be able to say the ‘I’, wrote Ayn Rand, an American philosopher and novelist. Another giant from a different place and time imagines inferno in the following lines ‘What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.’ writes Fyodor Dostoevsky in his magnum opus The Brothers Karamazov.
The fleeting, precarious nature of love and its many guises has been aptly summed up by Nietzsche when he wrote: “One can promise actions, but not feelings, for the latter are involuntary”. He who promises to love forever or hate forever or be forever faithful to someone is promising something that is not in his power. He can, however, promise those actions that are usually the consequence of love, hatred, or faithfulness, but that can also spring from other motives: for there are several paths and motives to an action. A promise to love someone forever, then, means, ‘As long as I love you I will render unto you the actions of love; if I no longer love you, you will continue to receive the same actions from me, if for other motives.’ Thus the illusion remains in the minds of one’s fellow men that the love is unchanged and still the same.
In our land, Faiz Ahmed Faiz was busy weighing the allure and beauty of love against the brutalities of want, need, suffering and misery. Following is an English translation of one of his finest poems, Mujh saey pehli sei Muhabbat meray mehboob naa maang.
Do not ask, my love, for the love we had before:
You existed, I told myself, so all existence shone,
Grief for me was you; the world’s grief was far.
Spring was ever renewed in your face:
Beyond your eyes, what could the world hold?
Had I won you, Fate’s head would hang, defeated.
Yet all this was not so, I merely wished it so.
The world knows sorrows other than those of love,
Pleasures beyond those of romance:
The dread dark spell of countless centuries
Woven with silk and satin and gold braocade,
Bodies sold everywhere, in streets and markets,
Besmeared with dirt, bathed in blood,
Crawling from infested ovens,
My gaze returns to these: what can I do?
Your beauty still haunts me: what can I do?
The world is burdened by sorrows beyond love,
By pleasures beyond romance,
Do not demand that love which can be no more.
The great prophet of freedom Sartre had his own take on love and its many trappings. ‘There is nothing wrong with hoping that love will last. In fact, the hope that it will endure differentiates romance from lust. For Sartre, lovers define themselves by choosing to love each other both now and in the future. Yet that is the paradox of love: we can’t know what we will be like in the future, and as much as we can freely choose to commit to it, to tie down a future self is its own denial of freedom-An excerpt from Advice on love from Sartre published in the Paris Review.
Lastly, a rumination on time’s ultimate sovereignty over love: ‘Are we to despair or rejoice over the fact that even the greatest loves exist only ‘for a time’? The time scales are elastic, contracting and expanding with the depth and magnitude of each love, but they are always finite — like books, like lives, like the universe itself. The triumph of love is in the courage and integrity with which we inhabit the transcendent transience that binds two people for the time it binds them, before letting go with equal courage and integrity.’
Jotted down by Maria Popova, curator of Brain Pickings, an online forum where nuggets from literature, philosophy, art and history are curated with care, affection and devotion they deserve.