Monday, July 23, 2007

The Opposite of Love

Anne Lamott wrote, “I don’t think anything is the opposite of love.” Throughout the chapter, she had been commenting on how writers often try to find absolutes and set up comparisons/opposites in black and white terms – like love and hate. She pointed out that love and hate are not opposites. She’s quite right in that – and there are very few absolutes in the world outside the science of physics.

Love and hate have far too much in common to be opposites; they each evoke the extremes of human passion and really are parallel emotions. Love, true love, seers itself into one’s spirit. Hate does the same. The intensity of the feeling and the rarity when love and hate exist together make them seem as opposites but it does not hold true.

Poets would have us believe that hate destroys. It tears apart the spirit, eating it piece by piece much like guests do a loaf of bread being passed around the dinner table.

Love, they say, conquers all, but how many have died of love? How many have penned tomes to love lost or unrequited. Poets love a good pining away in the name of love, but just like hate, love consumes.

Maybe Ms. Lamott meant that “nothing” is the opposite of love which would be closer. If love has an opposite it is emptiness; the blank heart shielding itself from feeling, vesting itself in the armor of itself. A man can exist easily enough without passion, but can he live?

We all know people whose heart pumps every bloody emotion for all to see. We also know the person who, though he may be sociable enough, never lets anyone in. He laughs and jokes and makes water-cooler conversation, but you never see blood – just skin.

Humans are not meant for emptiness, but for passion. Feeling brings with it pain, hurt, and anger but also warmth, succor, and joy. If all goes well, life’s balance tips toward joy. The myriad feelings we have, all in shades of gray, tend toward the lighter.

One acquaintance I’ve known for nearly twenty years has been delt a life with its grays tending toward the darker shades. Despite trial and pain, her outlook always manifests joy and I come away from each of her sadnesses uplifted by her spirit. Donna is not empty. Every cell, synapse, or plasma particle – whatever constitutes her spirit – is filled to capacity. When she breathes her last, St. Peter will throw the gates open extra wide to make room for her spirit – so fully inhabited and engorged with experience and passion.

Because so many sad things have happened to her, Donna’s passion could have moved off the loving rail to the hating rail very easily as they are never very far apart. Neither has she let love nor hate consume her. She lives and is filled by the experiences.

I have another friend who lives just the opposite of Donna. His life has been easy and handed to him, but he is an empty man. He’s had a partner for years, but I always wonder how. He expects everyone to respond to his every emotional whim, but he does not have the capacity to honor or respect any subtlety of those he knows: he’s a demanding friend who is incapable of being a friend to those he knows.

I’m trained as a counselor (Master’s degree in counseling), but I cannot endure his emptiness. Nothing I have found personally or professionally has ever even tempted his soul.

As much as Donna has overcome the sad events of her life, M’s successes suck him further into need.

No, hate is not the opposite of love: emptiness is the opposite there.

I pray I’m never that empty. Let me suck up life. Let me live each moment be it in pain or joy.

My shyness makes me hard to know. My education (counseling) makes me even harder. Even though I share openly – it is only my skin, not my blood. I really do guard my heart because of too many breaks and even more years of pretending I was straight. Therefore, I know what emptiness is.

I don’t think I’m stuck in emptiness; I just know what it is like.

And because of years of emptiness, I speak from personal experience in believing that it is the opposite of love (and hate). I’m not stuck at empty, because, unlike my friend, I believe I can be filled and satisfied with another person and I want everyone else to experience the same thing.

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