Cupid's Erotic Meditation
It is Valentine's Day, and I have -- sheep-man that I am -- have purchased the obligatory items for my wife so that she does not feel slighted on the day that commerce has decreed should be the "Celebration of Passionate and Affectionate Love." Not that I am counter to the Spirit of Eros, mind you; I just cannot get over the image of me as a now middle-aged man in the "throes of eros." However, I am not so jaded that I cannot remember the adamantine urges that comprised one healthy set of glands calling out to another or the intricate plans and routes I traversed in consummating what I believed to be the quest for High Romance. It is just that in retrospect, much of it now appears to have been prodded by the biological rutting instinct of a testosterone-saturated Lothario.
Eros, often thought of as that winged cherub armed with quiver and bow that personifies and perhaps dignifies the pursuit of romance, carries with it a deeper perspective that perhaps illuminates what the Greeks viewed as love. In its loftier Platonic incarnation, Eros is the search for meaning: for longing -- for uniting disparate parts into wholes. In philosophy it is the divine medium that draws lovers of wisdom inexorably from opinion to knowledge. It elevates us in our desire to transcend ourselves -- to both know and to be known. To be at one with knowing. Eros of this sort produces a tranquility of soul. It fuels the noble pursuit toward the apprehension of reality and transcends by an order of magnitude that fiery merging of bodies that rapidly burns and cools, having spent itself in a quick burst of passion.
Now, I am not adverse to a good burst of passion, mind you, but any old settled couple will tell you that the character of that love imperceptibly evolves as it ripens and deepens. C.S. Lewis remarked that: "Love is unselfishly choosing for another's highest good." Love of this quality ceases to objectify the other as a tawdry means to attain our own pleasure. It crystallizes into a real concern for the loved one -- independent of what that person can do for us. Such a love requires the maturing organ of empathy as its noble engine. It often requires that one puts their needs on the back burner and that one diminishes for the sake of another. Although this is not the sexiest view of love in a modern world saturated in self-absorption, it is clearly the more heroic. And if the lover is great of soul -- infinitely more satisfying.
This idealized love is perhaps merely the shadow of a greater and transcendent love that we understand as Divine, but that quality of love is so far beyond us we can only catch glimpses of it in fits and starts. Therefore, it is well and fitting that we should fully comprehend the fullness of human love in the aged couple who endure in caring for one other when flesh and reason fail and when no hope of reciprocation is any longer possible. It is love of this character that reveals the biblical aim of matrimony, for the two have effectively become "one flesh." Can it be so surprising that when one half of such a loving pair passes beyond the earthly veil, they are oftentimes quickly followed by the other? The idealized sentiments of St. Valentine's Day cards were composed for loves such as this.
If you live long enough you are bound to have your heart crushed at least a few times. Conversely, if you are blessed you may experience that great and golden love of a devoted man or woman; or the indescribable joy that comes from a child or grandchild loving you from their soul's full breadth. More importantly, you will learn the profound lessons of love when you ultimately kiss your loved ones a final Good Bye; for death, above all things, brings to bear the recitation of love that will school us beyond measure as it breaks our hearts with a pain that we should never have dreamed bearable.
And so, in the midst of our annual mad scramble for card, rose, or candy, even the best of us may be tempted to question the entire enterprise of love's odyssey. Once again, Mr. Lewis says it best: "Why love if losing hurts so much? We love to know that we are not alone."