In The Next 500 Stories, Willi Hoffsuemmer tells the story of an intelligent young king who ordered all the learned professors of his kingdom to gather and write down all the wisdom of the world.
The professors got right down to work and forty years later, they had a thousand books packed with wisdom. The king, who had meantime, reached sixty years of age, told them: “I cannot possibly read a thousand books. Reduce all that wisdom to basics.”
Ten more years passed and the professors reduced the world’s wisdom to a hundred volumes. “That’s still too much,” the king said. “I’m already seventy years old. Condense all that wisdom into absolute essentials.”
So, the professors tried again and squeezed all the wisdom of the world into just one book. But by that time, the king was lying on his deathbed. So, the leader of the committee of professors condensed the thousand volumes of wisdom down to just one sentence: “People live, they suffer, they die. The only thing that outlives them is love.”
The Holy Bible itself says so. I Corinthians 13:13 puts it this way: “Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.”
Faith is what we believe, hope is what we wish for and love is what we feel and experience. When we go to heaven, we don’t need faith and hope because we are already with our Creator but love will always be around.
But despite being one of the most talked and discussed subject matter, love is still inscrutable and impenetrable. It remains a mystery to most although everyone experience it every now and then. “The madness of the gods” was how the ancient Greeks called love. Modern psychologists define it as the strong desire for emotional union with another person.
“What is love?” someone asked. “To solve that riddle with just one answer is beyond me, for love is many different and contradictory things. In the early stages of love is excitement and breathlessness, it is the ache of separation and the comfort of togetherness, and it builds inexorably to that moment when ‘I’ becomes ‘we.’ Later, if blessed, love becomes a stronger, less transitory thing, a foundation for two lives lived as one.”
Love, which often seen as “the beautiful, wonderful, mysterious mortar that binds two souls together,” is beyond description. Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian lyricist and novelist, shares this thought: “I’ve been in love before, it’s like a narcotic. At first, it brings the euphoria of complete surrender. The next day you want more. You’re not addicted yet, but you like the sensation, and you think you can still control thigs. You think about the person you love for two minutes then forget them for three hours. But then you get used to that person, and you begin to be completely dependent on them. Now you think about him for three hours and forget him for two minutes. If he’s not there, you feel like an addict who can’t get a fix. And just as addicts steal and humiliate themselves to get what they need, you’re willing to do anything for love.”
Howard Jones, a singer-songwriter who is known for his chartbuster, “What is Love?” has the same opinion. “Love is letting each other be who we are without fear of censure,” he opined. “Love is not wanting the other to become a clone of ourselves. ‘Other’ offers resistance, pushing us to find what is self. Love is actively embracing our equality and pushing each other to realize our full potential and make our full contribution to the world.
“Love is facing forward, both fighting for a common goal – both strong, both independent and positively choosing a knowing dependence,” Jones continues. “Love is always leaving the door unlocked and continuing that love when ‘other’ may choose to use the exit. Love is letting go and wishing well. Love is aching joy. Love is the safe haven. Love is arriving home.”
So many stories have been written about love. In fact, no movie or novel has been done without love; it always there somewhere. “What love is depends on where you are in relation to it,” wrote Jojo Moyes, a romantic novelist who has written more than a dozen novels. “Secure in it, it can feel as mundane and necessary as air – you exist within it, almost unnoticing. Deprived of it, it can feel an obsession; all-consuming, a physical pain.
Moyes further wrote: “Love is the driver for all great stories: not just romantic love, but the love of parent for child, for family, for country. It is the point before consummation of it that fascinates: what separates you from love, the obstacles that stand in its way. It is usually at those points that love is everything.”
Love brings out the best or worst in a person. “Love is temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides,” wrote Louis de Bernieres in Corelli’s Mandolin. “And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is.
Bernieres went on to explain what love is not: “Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not the desire to mate every second minute of the day, it not lying awake imagining that he is kissing every cranny of your body. I am telling you some truths. That is just being ‘in love,’ which any fool can do. Love itself is what we left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.”
But alas, literature is replete with tragic tales of love. So is the Holy Bible and history. To tick off only a few: Romeo and Juliet, Heathcliff and Catherine, Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, Emma and Charles Bovary, Samson and Delilah, David and Batsheba, Anthony and Cleopartra, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Lauren Olivier and Vivien Leigh, and Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
Police blotters are cluttered with unrequited, ill-fated lovers. Perhaps that celebrated English wit Oscar Wilde was damn right when he wrote: “Every man kills the thing he loves; the coward does it with a kiss, the brave men with a sword.”
To end this piece, allow me to share one of Mrs. Donald Lowe’s treasured possessions. It is actually a poem written by her 14-year-old granddaughter named Heidi who lived with the couple for three months in Massachusetts.
“I wrote this for you,” Heidi told her grandmother, and concluded her poem with these lines: “Love needs time but most of all, love needs you. For without you, there is no time or love.”