It’s strange how small, inconsequential memories tower over their roots. I can remember wearing a flower in my hair, but can’t recall the reason I put it there. I remember walking the streets of Sewanee in the fall as a junior in boarding school, but have no idea what drove me out of my dorm room. One baseless memory still rattles around, frozen against a backdrop I like to revisit when I need a grin. A very shocked face, and a quick smile as she accepted my nervous offer for a cup of coffee. I can’t help but laugh (and blush) at the thought of it, especially the point where I caught my bag in the door as I ran for shelter. But you know what? I really can’t remember why, or how I had convinced myself that I was, uh… “madly in love” with her. It was just your run-of-the-mill high school crush, but at the time I would have gladly jumped through hoops, if she wanted me to. But it did open my eyes to one thing. If a crush, a baseless love that dives only deep enough to last a few months, could drive me to insane lengths, what could real love do?
Real love, as I see it, is a connection that pushes me past my boundaries. It is the shocking realization that another person can see though the barriers I place around my deepest insecurities, fears, and doubts, and the resulting empathy that stems from my own recognition of these traits in others. That’s it. It comes from the strangest places, and I find it in people I would never imagine. I find myself unguarded in its face.
If you think that’s a little idealistic I would readily agree. It doesn’t take much to shake my faith in love, as even the slightest turn can turn a starry eyed lover into a cold skeptic. The melodrama of young relationships, constantly breaking and reconciling, usually convinces some that real love is a fantasy. Some men stand in the center of their world, never glancing up from the pavement. To them reality is only what can be felt and cut, measured and catalogued into their current view. They see nihilism as a lifestyle, rather than a concept. And they cringe at the thought of love, progressing to scream at the notion of real love.
To some extent, these people would be right. Real love cannot save the world. But this misses the point entirely. Real love isn’t intended to save humanity. It can’t. Real love is my irrational defense against the crushing reality of humanity. Against wars, gangs, rape, homeless men, starving dogs, and the darkest aspects of human nature I offer only the love that I share with another. Real love cannot destroy these things; it can only protect me from the spiraling half-reality that occupies the newspaper.
The skeptics will no doubt gleefully say that by my own admission, my notion of real love is simply an escape from reality. Is it weakness? If it is, then I gladly surrender. I’ll happily raise the white flag, tucking my tail between my legs as I hand over my realistic tendencies. They can have them. But for all their moaning on the wasteland of life, the pointlessness of existence, and the absurdity of love they have not yet dissuaded so many from seeking out the connection. As for me? I saw the lights go out on campus one night, and was stunned still by the northern starlight. I guess I’m a romantic. But for what it means, I’ll take my chances with the wine and roses.
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