“What is the worst thing that ever happened to him?” her sister asks her. And the answer is nothing ever has. “That’s the problem,” she says. “He’s just a nice boy from Ohio. He has no idea how to fix something like this.” – Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill
In a commencement speech, Joseph Brodsky, quite possibly the only Russian author I can stand, said the following, “If you must rebel, rebel against those who are not so easily hurt. Parents are too close a target (so, by the way, are sisters, brothers, wives or husbands); the range is such that you can’t miss.” I would add close friends to that list, the kind of friends who become family.
A few weeks ago, after two years of being on projects, I finally found myself on bench. Taking it upon as my right to “chill the heck out”, I have wasted my time in exquisite ways. During this downtime, I found that my mind was a riot. I observed and thought about everything.
I thought of how wonderful it was to write, and yet I didn’t do it. About how Walter White fascinated me and pissed me off. About poetry. About how I know only 2 cute guys. About how maybe life is essentially a huge band of sorrow light and we have to puncture it with happiness. About how I have nothing going for me, and maybe it was time to give up. About how food is such a vital medium of happiness and joy. About how Ra’s Al Ghul had got it right and Batman was just getting in the way. About how I could hold only 2 coherent thoughts while fasting, so I had to pick them carefully every day. About books, the procuring, and storing of them. And then, I thought about something that I haven’t been able to shake off. That we humans are going to dislike the people we love time and again, and we’re going to have to learn to like them all over again while we love them.
They said love can save this world.
But no one has been able to define love for us, so far. And I am not talking about romantic love, here. Maybe there’s a reason that love is indefinite and unquantifiable so that we can be constantly vexed by chasing it and yet, never make it. For some reason, I would imagine that that’s a great way to be since love is less susceptible to any kind of attack. How can you destroy something you don’t know? Maybe that’s why it has survived over centuries. Maybe it’s the single greatest intelligence in the universe. Maybe, it will save the world, after all.
At the beginning of the year, I came across the book Essays in Love by Alaine De Botton by pure chance. Alaine De Botton is a modern-day philosopher on success, marriage, happiness and, yes, love. After I had shelved the book online, Alain De Botton reappeared to me in other forms – a New York times article: Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person, the release of his new book: The Course of Love, and his TED talk: A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success. The talk made much sense, but then I discussed Botton with dear friend (henceforth referred to as DF) who argued that maybe Botton’s philosophy wasn’t something to abide by. For instance, how does he give marriage advice when he’s never been married? Fair enough, I thought, and let the book slide away for the time being. (I believe books can find people. So I am not all that worried.)
It seems to me that in spite of globalization, the one-world concept, and the Internet, humans haven’t changed who they really are – trying to proselytize others into their point of view, and deciding who is worthy of association based on scattered opinions than largely the complete experience of knowing a person. Yes, even the messy parts. Because that’s what I had largely begun to wonder, did we want to love perfect human beings? Did we want the people in our life to be flawless and only then would offer them our oh-so-valuable love? Did we have an ‘If…Then’ clause for the people we took into our lives? Only then would we not punch them or rebel against them?
I was talking to AT the other day and we had been discussing (between her back-to-back calls and my endless Internet browsing) about the trials of growing up. The losing of certain friends, the death of parents, mother-in-law versus mother, marriage, religion, and how all of this played into both our lives. AT is an insightful woman to talk to, in case you ever get the chance. We spoke about the letting go of certain friends because at this age it seems to have finally occurred to us that some people have played their parts in our lives, but now it is time to let them go. I paraphrase what she said: As a part of growing up, we will need to constantly weigh our value systems against others’ and see if certain people fit into the scheme of things. You also have to constantly introspect on the person you want to be. Based on these parameters, we have to make certain decisions which can be painful. However, it’s good to work with the assumption that when people make certain choices or decisions, they’re making them with the maximum emotional resources available to them. If you can accept that, it tends to not be so hard.
Well, fair enough, again. So, I kept thinking about this, because there have been certain times when I have completely disliked certain things my childhood friend does. But there’s a part of me that knows it’s her life and her choices. Instead, I love her. Through her inane, reason-defying habits I love her. Because that’s my job. The same goes for my mother, when, sometimes the roles reverse and she behaves like my child. Or about my guy friends who make sexist remarks occasionally or pass stereotypical comments about a marriage they walked into willingly. These things bother me, they do. And I dislike such passing behavior. As I am sure they do some of my characteristics. But I have wondered long and hard if this means the end of my relationships. Of course, they’re good human beings. They love the people they do fiercely. They’re honest at their workplace. They don’t litter. They pay taxes. They’re crazily good at one thing or another. But I still dislike certain parts of them. And so it scares me? Do I not love them enough?
I refuse to believe in an ideal relationship of any kind. I would imagine that though the pursuit is a worthy one, it is unattainable. Because we can never fucking outrun entropy. We can never straight-jacket humans to believe and behave in a certain way. I want to make a case for shortcomings, for the failings of us humans. Against the ‘If…Then’ clause that we may attach to our relationships. For knowing that one cannot place conditions on how we’re going to offer our love. For disliking the people we love time and again, and learning to like them again.
I believe in the messy parts of life. I wholly believe in them as a matter of fact. Something that I have come to accept after a long time. I know that we don’t put this as a part of the definition of love, but we must. Love is to resist the idea of perfection of any kind. We have to make preparations and reservations for the ugly parts. That’s why Brodsky makes sense to me. Resist the idea to rebel against those closest to you. You’ve accepted them and agreed to love them. Love them, do.
Last year, someone told me something I haven’t forgotten. There will be times when you’re going to completely detest the things your loved ones do. You’ll know that it’s not the right thing for them, but they are adamant on doing it. This is exactly how your parents feel when you do certain things they know you shouldn’t, but you go ahead and do them anyway. The ability to stand back and watch the people you love, live their lives in a way you don’t agree with or know is harmful to them, is love. It is disagreeable to you, but you stand there and be patient. If they win, you rejoice. If they’re hurt and want to come back, at least they should know you’ll be standing there.
“The story of human intimacy is one of constantly allowing ourselves to see those we love most deeply in a new, more fractured light. Look hard. Risk that.” – Tiny Beautiful Things. Cheryl Strayed
- I have read Dept. of Speculation twice, back-to-back. I will read it again this year.
- At some point in the future, I would like to take up embroidery again.