Love Hides Behind A Riddle
Post from July 11, 2017.
Despite living in the blue bubble of Princeton, I still have some right-wing friends, including on Facebook. Their posts give me some awareness of what’s being said on the other side of the partisan divide. Last week one friend shared a post by conservative Christian commentator Matt Walsh, from Glenn Beck’s The Blaze. If, like me, you hadn’t heard of Matt Walsh before, you can get an idea of who he is from the post shared on Saturday in which he argued that Earth Day is a pagan holiday. But I’m not talking about that one. I’m talking about the earlier piece where Walsh wrote “I didn’t fall in love with my wife.” It caught my attention because it reminded me of something I had written about a year after Laura died.
The earliest posts in this blog were organized around four things that Laura said during her last illness. One of the most profound and most enigmatic was “Whoever you are, I love you.” When I was first organizing my thoughts with the idea of writing a book, my draft introduction included the following.
I never found a way to tell Laura that I had never been “in love” with her. I could not find the words to explain that loving her deeply was not the same as being “in love.” And it’s very dangerous territory for a husband to start trying to tell his wife that he thinks the reason he hasn’t become infatuated with another woman since he met her is that he isn’t “in love” with her. That didn’t stop me from romantic sentiments like the note to Laura I found recently when moving. In the note, I quoted from Plato’s Symposium: “It’s obvious that the soul of every lover longs for something …; his soul cannot say what it is, but like an oracle it has a sense of what it wants, and like an oracle it hides behind a riddle.” As much as love is a riddle while the beloved is alive, love after death can get caught up in magical thinking, as Joan Didion so well describes.
For me, the magical thinking started in the month after Laura’s death with the idea that she is open in the now. If I could achieve present moment awareness, perhaps I could join her or at least do good things to ease her at the moment of death. I was forgetting that Plato considered Orpheus a coward, and Alcestis the one with the real guts to die for her beloved.
This was not a new thought with me. In May 2009, about halfway through Laura’s illness, I made the following entry in my diary:
05.14.09 Was just thinking the other day that my love for Laura is not DeRougemont’s romantic love. Because it isn’t, I don’t spend my time chasing after other romantic loves. Makes life, and love, much better. Reminded of this tonight after watching “Proof of Life” with Russell Crowe, Meg Ryan, and David Morse. An archetypal, impossible romantic love story. Not the best of movies, but what I needed to distract my exhausted self. Also liked the closing song, “I’ll be your lover, too,” sung by Van Morrison.
Just because Walsh’s piece reminded me of my earlier thoughts does not mean that we are coming from the same point of view. He’s trying to use the glimmerings of an insight to make a political argument. The problem with his argument is that he displays little appreciation of the theological, philosophical, and literary history embedded in the phenomenon of “romantic love.”