A Metaphor on Sisyphus. I have come to realize recently that my love life is becoming more and more a parallel of the eternal punishment of Sisyphus. Sisyphus, as you may recall, was doomed to push a heavy rock to the top of a mountain, only to find that as soon as he reached the top, the boulder would slip back down to ground level, and he would have to start over again. No matter how many times he gave his very best and put his very soul and heart into this task, he would be met with failure and disappointment. On the millionth failure, he accepted his fate and simply prepared himself for the next attempt. Did he ever give up hope? No. But did he ever succeed?
I have been pushing and repushing this rock for several years now, with varying degrees of success. As I give this endeavor my all, and with unending hope strive for the top of this mountain (which I call “unfinished business”), I find myself just as quickly reversing, with the rock crushing me under its weight. Will I ever give up hope? No. But will I ever succeed?
Happiness and Contentment. Far too many people in this world confuse the ideas of happiness and contentment. We ask them if they are truly happy, and they tell us that they are content, as if these feelings are the same thing. They are not. Contentment is not happiness.
For example, when I order my meal at an area restaurant and there is nothing wrong with the meal I receive, I am content. “Content” is a polite way of saying that I have settled, or that I have stopped striving for the greater principle. My meal might have made me content, but did it really make me happy? Each individual has varying degrees of satisfaction depending on their preferred tastes and how they would like their meals prepared. The likelihood of the customer getting precisely that which they were craving is an absurd notion.
Sisyphus is content. He has accepted his fate of pushing a rock up the same damn mountain again and again. He has settled into a rut of mediocrity and oppression. Only a fool could say that Sisyphus’ contentment is equivalent to happiness. Happy to push a rock for eternity? No. When he reaches that mountain top and gets his reward (if we recall what that even was), that will be true happiness.
Sadly, I see that love is often contentment for people. Love is a very wonderful thing, but there is foolishness in saying that this emotion is unique or a “once in a lifetime” occurrence. A person may love once, twice, or ten times in their life. But it is a rare occurrence to find someone with both love and happiness. You may find couples who struggle through a relationship on love alone, saying that they are content (and therefore they believe they must be happy), when in reality they find themselves trapped. Sure, all relationships have certain disagreeable aspects potential lovers have to accept and tolerate about the other person, but if this toleration becomes a chore, the lovers might want to consider – are we happy?
This anecdote is in no way a defense of capitalism or imperialism.
A Nietzschean Perspective. In his damning attack on Christianity, The Anti-Christ, Nietzsche offers his own thoughts on the idea of happiness as opposed to contentment. I shall quote at length: “What is happiness? – The feeling that power increases – that a resistance is overcome. Not contentment, but more power…”
If we are careful not to take his figurative use of the word “power” too literally, there is much that can be gleaned from this analysis. The idea of happiness as an internal drive to strive upwards and take the next step, while contentment is an emotional “giving up.”
There is a sense of power in happiness. We can all relate that happiness (and, with it, love) give us the sense that we are “on top of the world” and “can accomplish anything”. These are sure signs of happiness – an internal power and motivation unlike can be achieved in any other way. Nietzsche notes that contentment is the opposite of power, and I am inclined to agree. It is not merely a settling, but a point at which things can only go downwards if we cannot “break our chains” of contentment with the “power” of happiness.
It might be interesting to compare Nietzsche’s idea of happiness with the psychological concept of learned helplessness, where the subject’s will is broken (or their happiness diminished) and they accept their fate (become content) of infinite torture and repression. As free beings (if that is what humans truly are), we can always overcome this learned helplessness, but what can trigger the happiness to empower us to try again?
The Bryan Adams Question. When I was fourteen, I was asked to sit down on the living room floor at a friend’s house and told to listen to “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” by the Canadian musician Bryan Adams. The challenge was to listen to it while thinking of a girl I liked and not cry. Well, I thought of a girl I had a major crush on (who happened to be a soccer player), and I can tell you this: not a tear did I shed. I was too young then, I had no concept of what it really meant to love a woman.
This evening I was in my vehicle when the song came on, and I decided to try the challenge once more, although this time not thinking of the soccer player. I tell you this: I wept as I have never wept before, and the tears flowed out like vast Danubian brooklets. These droplets were the tears of a love so deep that once inside, it is unknown if one could ever truly climb back out. A love that drives its bearer to madness, and places before them several roads – all leading to the same conclusion. Seemingly, for once, this friend of mine actually knew what he was talking about.
Eight years ago the challenge was presented to me. I present the challenge now to you.
A Knight, A Muse, A Dragon, A Princess, A Grail. Every man fancies himself a knight in shining armor. But there are certain elements that make up a knight that not just anyone can possess. These “true” knights are but the gifted few.
The first thing all knights require is a muse. What separates the knight from other men is his passion, his striving to go on, and his way with words. The muse will come to him in some form of great beauty and inspiration will beam down like sunshine – his armor gleaming in brilliance. This is what it means to be noble.
Secondly, what is needed is a dragon. No knight has been placed within the annals of history without a worthy adversary – an obstacle to overcome. Be it Gawain and the Green Knight or a rival sent forth on the same quest, a knight is defined by his courage and bravery. He is confident, thanks to his muse, and he will never give up the fight. A good knight never says die, and should that possibility arise, he valiantly strives onward towards his ultimate fate. Even Arthur himself was not immortal.
Third, the knight requires a princess or a lady-in-waiting… a damsel in distress, perhaps? Stronger than a knight’s steel is a knight’s heart. Under the hardness of his armor is a love so pure and warm that it could melt ice. The knight is a man of contrasts, facing down the most fierce of foes on the battlefield and moments later presenting the woman he loves with a single rose – a symbol of his tenderness and devotion.
But last is the aspect which makes all good knights such tragic figures: the Grail. A knight must have a goal so lofty that he is almost sure never to reach it, yet he will stop at nothing to achieve it. Often this Grail is one and the same with the beautiful princess, whose heart can simply not be won. He must not be deterred, or he is not the faithful knight he endeavors to be. Only upon death shall he be free of this quest. Or perhaps he is the one to complete it?
On Trust and the Borrowing of Shovels. Trust is a very interesting concept, and up until now it has been almost impossible to measure. In a dating relationship, trust begins on the very first day. A man who does not allow his lady to spend time with her male friends is going to find out relatively soon who is more important in the woman’s life. This problem is a Catch-22 situation, really. If he allows her to visit these friends (and he must), he has to go through that uneasy period of jealousy and worry. Because he does not really know her for the first month or so, now does he? But if he does not allow her to go, he is an incredibly insensitive jerk trying to separate her from her friends. So he must trust her – but this emotion isn’t real trust at all. This is false or “forced” trust, a farce.
The test for real trust comes in the form of a shovel. Seriously. I am asleep in the middle of the night, resting peacefully after a hard day contemplating the true essence of what it means to be a verb. I am now dreaming thoughts of fractals, when suddenly there is a knock on my door. A little bit frustrated, I go to the door and see [insert name here] standing there in the rain. Without the usual small talk, the visitor asks if I have a shovel he or she may borrow. The test of trust has arrived. If I say yes, I must trust this person more than I trust my own mother. If I say no, my trust in their motives is sketchy at best.
Ladies and gentlemen, there are only so many things a person can do with a shovel. While seemingly innocent enough to ask for one, if you really think about this situation, – you know exactly what you might be getting yourself into. This feeling is trust. Ladies, if your boyfriend lets you fraternize with other men, he is doing it because he has to. If he lets you borrow his shovel in the middle of the night – he truly loves you.
Broken Hearts, Broken Bones. Bones and hearts have the distinction of being the only two body parts that are susceptible to breaking. But the similarities stop there.
When a bone breaks, there is a relatively brief time of pain following the event. The break is sudden, the healing quick. Once the bone is healed, it will be stronger than ever before, and the rumor is said that the bone will never be able to break again in the same spot (although a few stuntmen have proven this theory flawed). In the end, it is almost as if you’re coming out ahead on the deal!
Broken hearts do not work the same way. Often the break is not sudden at all, dragging on for weeks before the heart finally snaps. For a day or two you think “what a relief!” and that the tension has ended, but soon enough you realize the worst is yet to come. The break will suddenly become fully realized, and you can do nothing to stop the pain. Drowning it out with “self-medication” will not work forever. The scars are permanent. And unlike bones, the heart does not become stronger – it becomes colder and harder. It can break again and again, and it becomes colder with each injury. Then comes the self-loathing and the gender-bashing. Eventually everything seems worthless, so you kill yourself.
Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. Take your day or two (or seven) of self-medication. But then take a deep breath and ask yourself what it is that makes you love life. And don’t say “my ex,” because you’re a fucking liar. Everyone has a passion, a hobby, a goal. You had one before your ex; start it up again. And once you’re back in stride, consider dating again. There are over three billion people of each gender on this planet, and if you’re bi, you potentially have six billion to choose from. Someone out there probably likes you at least a little. If not, I guess it’s back to Plan A.
Water and Love. I have always seen water as the symbolic element of love. Others have argued that water is the symbol of life, but I think this belief is slightly misplaced. Life requires all four elements (water, air, earth, fire) in proportional amounts, but it is water that best represents love. When I walk in the rain, I feel the love of God directly upon my skin and dripping down from my hair. This water is God refilling the lakes and refreshing the flowers and trees. The heavenly rain is a feeling of fulfillment, just as love fills the emptiness of our hearts.
Even in the shower there is a sense of love. The shower rinses away all the dirt we have accumulated throughout the day (or the week, if you’re English). Is this not exactly what love does? When we come into contact with pure love, does it not eliminate all of our past sins through forgiveness and understanding, and make everything new and exciting? Our true love doesn’t judge us for our past mistakes or hold our transgressions against us, no matter how unsavory they might be. Our true love sees us as we are after a heavy rain – clean, even if just the night before we happened to borrow his or her shovel and “accidently” lost it. Water is no substitute for love, but it is the greatest reminder that love is all around us. Most of us are 70% water, but perhaps some of us are just a little bit more.
A Walk to Remember. One of the most emotional films of my lifetime is by far this film. But the message of love embedded in this film is overlooked by most of the people who view it. They go home crying, knowing they saw a powerful love story, but they pick up on the wrong, or lesser, point. Most people will tell you that it was a powerful love story because Shane West stayed with Mandy Moore through all her troubles, stood up for her, and was there for her when she finally passed on (sorry if I spoiled the ending for anyone, but the film is based off a Nicholas Sparks novel – you should have assumed). Yes, this point demonstrates love, but this is not the message of love that the movie wants us to perceive.
Shane West’s love for Mandy Moore was really powerful in that he let the spirit of love move him from inside. He had nothing going for him, and he was on a path that was heading straight to a six by nine cell. But he loved Mandy (as Barry Manilow once had) and let this love mold him as a child molds his Play-Dough. He began to care about school and drama, he pursued her dreams with her, and eventually he followed his own ideals (despite his mom warning – almost dissuading – him that they were lofty goals). It was love that accomplished these goals and helped him through college. Mandy had died, but his love for her lived on in each paper he wrote and test he took. As a doctor, each patient he cared for would be treated by his love for the woman he could never live without.
That is the message of love in A Walk to Remember – that love’s most powerful ability is the ability to mold us, even after our lover’s physical death. With love, only good things are possible.
Patience as a Virtue. There is a scientific (mathematic) maxim that states “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” If we disregard the ideas of wormholes and tesseracts, this concept is undeniably true. But when we apply this mathematical truism to things outside of mathematics, we are met with disastrous results.
Imagine a skydiver who wished to take the quickest route between Point A (the airplane) and Point B (the ground). The way to accomplish this is simple: remove your parachute and jump. Or imagine the plumbing in the Sears Tower. If the pipes from the top floor’s water closet were to lead directly into the subterranean waste disposal infrastructure, the impact would cause a mighty explosion with entirely negative results.
We must treat love in the same sense we design the plumbing in skyscrapers. The young man who feels desire in his heart must quell himself and be patient – coming on too strong will only backfire with disastrous results. Some people are natural lovers, most are not – and our society does not accept instant love anymore. Drop hints here and there, seem disinterested, and never drop the L word before it becomes evident the feeling is mutual. All you young Cassanovas out there in your bedrooms studying Rostand and Moliere: this is the real world, and your heart-sung prose will only take you so far.
Be yourself and love will come to you. Maybe it will be the young man from your high school geometry class, or perhaps some new co-worker down the hall. Perhaps even, although I doubt it, some smooth-talking Egyptian player at the local dance club. Sometimes the hunt is most effective when you just stay still.
Automatic Flowers. I have been running ideas through my head for the past week of what I intended to place in this anecdote. Originally I was going to expound on the words of musician Raine Maida until I read the lyrics and discovered his words were not at all in the same vein as the message I was planning on conveying.
This morning, as Christmas crept up on me with increasing pervasiveness, the radio offered a perfect synopsis of my problem. A man said to me, “Are you trapped in the doghouse? We can help you get out at the Flower Company.” There they were – those blasted automatic flowers!
If you have been involved in the “dating scene” you know precisely what I am talking about. A man and a woman get in a debate and the man (naturally) loses and is sent on his way. The next day he arrives with a bouquet of daffodils and the woman forgives him without much thought. Is there not something seriously wrong with this?
Any man or woman who thinks flowers are a solution is naive and is overlooking the real problems here. Whatever the argument was about, chances are it will arise again and again indefinitely. Small gifts (or large ones for that matter) are not the answer – communication! Too many times couples fall into this trap of “buying” their way out of trouble, and what eventually happens is that someone gets fed up and the relationship crumbles. If they had discussed the problem initially – like adults – they would have either solved the problem before it escalated out of control or come to realize that this was an “irreconcilable difference” and parted ways before things became too serious jeopardizing the lives of their kids and all those around them.
Perhaps I am giving in to the slippery slope, but don’t misunderstand me. I am not opposed to flowers and dinner, I simply want to see people make decisions for the right reasons.