Monthly Archives: February 2012

Love

I’ll admit, I tremble before the subject. So much has been written and said about it, that it seems redundant to make any sort of comment. Well even if what I have to say has been said before, it’s important enough to warrant some repetition.

The old clichés about love, like all clichés, exist because they are true – it has inspired great works of art, toppled great empires, and such and such. One can recall any number of quotable quotes. We have Lord Tennyson to thank for that nugget about it being “better to have loved and lost”, John Lennon for the simple profundity of “all you need is love”, and let’s not forget Socrates for reminding us that “the hottest love has the coldest end”. Our culture is saturated with tidbits of wisdom, from the great artists in our history, on this one subject.

Yet, we find ourselves hopelessly confused about it. For an emotion that has been so closely examined, so thoroughly explored, and so beautifully explicated, it still tends to defy understanding.

Do you know when you’re in love? What does it feel like? What are the signs? Or should I say, what are the symptoms? Is love the initial attraction that one feels? Or does it slowly seep in through the cracks? Is it guaranteed by a wedding band? Or does it wither away like petals on some sad little flower? Can you love two people at the same time? Do we only love what we can’t have? Does love need to be reciprocated to exist? Is all of this just an illusory psychological and social construct produced by our ape-like sex drives?

To confuse matters, we distinguish between different flavors, taking our love a-la-carte, dressing it up in fried onions, relish and bacon bits. We all like to “have it our way”, justifying our decisions by convincing ourselves that love is sometimes “true”, sometimes not. We revise and annotate the mythos of love every day.

Well I can at least say this: I’ve had my own experience with love, and I have my own answers to these questions, but it doesn’t really matter what I have to say, because my life is not your life, and your answers make sense for you just like mine do for me.

But there is one comment on love that I would like to make that I believe applies to us all.

Love is not something that one “finds”. It’s not for sale on any shelf, it’s not up in the sky watching over us, and it doesn’t care how good-looking you are. It’s not going to one day appear in your life, sweep you off your feet, and escort you to the ball. It doesn’t “happen” to you.

Love is something you make. It comes from the wellspring of your own heart and soul. It is an entirely conscious act, one that we must all learn to make. And it is the one thing in this world that your get more of, the more you give.

So don’t let the cloying stench of cheap cinnamon get you down. Let the memories of playground rejection fill your heart, and remember that we all share the same pain. Then love like you want to be loved.

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Christopher Hitchens: Journalist, Polemicist, Drinker

If I had to tell you the most important thing I learned in university, it would be this: most people who call themselves “intellectuals” are so stupid that they don’t know their asses from their faces.

However, while in university I managed to find one author who tickled my pickle with just the right finesse. His name was Christopher Hitchens, and he died on Thursday.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you liked him too, so I won’t bore you by eulogizing him (dozens of world renowned authors have already done the job better than I ever could). But he has been my favorite writer for years, so I would like to take a moment to explain what I liked about the man, and why his legacy matters.

The important thing about him is that he was a dissenter – he hated authority in all its many forms. This is the common thread in all his work, including his critique of religion. At the core of all his writing was a strong feeling of anti-totalitarianism, and a fervent hatred for intolerance and injustice. Yes, I use the word “hatred”, because that’s the word he used.

And he didn’t shy away from saying that some people, and some ideas, were evil. The word “evil” isn’t one that fits comfortably into civilized political discourse – some progressively minded people sneer at the word. But when we’re talking about genocide, mass graves, and murder, why should we avoid it? Would we not do better to call evil by its true name? It may seem minor, but I think the precision with which he chose his words is a big part of the reason Hitchens is important.

These rhetorical subtleties are what set him apart from the masses of public intellectuals who took safety in platitude and prevarication rather than facing up to the reality of “sensitive” issues. For example, whenever the Catholic Church was embroiled in one of it’s many “child abuse” scandals, Hitchens always made a point of calling it “child rape” instead. Many people found this off-putting, even offensive. But think about what an important difference it makes; to use euphemistic language, he argued, was to strip the word of its true gravity. In this way, Hitchens fulfilled the duty of a good journalist; he challenged the status quo, and elevated the discourse.

Interestingly, he described himself not as “atheist” but “anti-theist”, for he was not withoutreligion, but “positively opposed to it.” Again, a subtle yet crucial difference.

I have no doubt that his writing will have a permanent seat in the canon of secular and humanist literature for generations to come. His committed support for the empowerment of Muslim women ranks especially high on his list of causes. Throughout his entire career, he has been a defender of human dignity, a voice for reason, and a paragon of moral integrity.

And he did it all while looking sexy, smoking cigarettes, drinking Johnny Walker Black and staying up til four in the morning. In his own elegant words, he “burned the candle at both ends, and found that it gave a lovely light…”

RIP HITCH

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I actually remember when we drove her off the lot. When you’re nine years old, the purchase of a new family vehicle is a pretty memorable thing. Especially when it’s a Jeep. It wasn’t your standard four-door family sedan. It had no storage space, it was loud as hell, and it was hard to climb into. It didn’t even have a radio. In other words, it was awesome.

For years, it faithfully transported me to soccer games, piano lessons and sleepovers, connecting the dots of my childhood. It waited for us in parking lots and driveways, content to be alone, just so long as we’d return. Occasionally, she’d be incidentally captured in the background of some family portrait – unassuming, but ever-present.

In a sense, the Jeep and I grew up together, for I was a young boy when she was a new car.  So when, at the age of nineteen, her insurance was put in my name, and her keys were entrusted to me, we entered into adulthood together. By this time she’d had a few dings, a few break-ins, and a few breakdowns. But we had something in common: personality. Sure my hair was scruffy and her carpets smelled like mold, but by god, we were a team.

As the years rolled by, friends and lovers came and went, and just as each of them had some kind of relationship with me, so too did they have a relationship with the Jeep. Whether it was a top-down summer and four-wheel-drive winter, she seemed to charm her way into people’s hearts, just as she did mine. Many of you reading this now will easily be able to recall a fond memory of her.

And she collected her own memories. Once, while riding in the passenger seat, a friend folded a piece of plastic into the shape of a treble-clef and, smiling silently, hung it on the back of my rear-view mirror.  I barely remember her doing it, and I didn’t find it again until years later…

So, gradually, the space inside that vehicle became more familiar, and more personal as I grew older. Some time ago, I began to realize that she might not last much longer. Winters were a little harder – we had to replace more and more parts, and breakdowns became more and more frequent. For the last couple years, I have caught myself gripping the gear knob a little more tightly, and driving a little more gently.

But some things are inevitable, and yesterday she went for her last ride. My final experience with the Jeep was to carefully drive her home from the mechanic’s. As I rested my hand lovingly on her dash, and felt her engine struggling and seizing up, I felt like she was trying to prove her loyalty to the end – she was trying to get me home one last time.  

Some may say that there is no love in lifeless things, and that may be true. But to imbue those things with love, is to give them a life all their own.