Thursday, June 21, 2012

Existentialist Love

I have several definitions of love. The one I'm going to talk about in this post is the weird, existential definition I've been developing.

Philosophical speculation has left me with the following (nope, not answer...) question: Never mind "what's the meaning of life", why don't I know it already, inherently, simply by existing? There are many religions and theories that deal with finding an "ultimate meaning", and personally I think it is indeed possible to discover such a state of existence where everything is whole and makes sense. However, there is still no (satisfying) explanation for why something is missing in the first place!

Neither logic nor emotions bring me any closer to finding an answer to such a question. Thinking about it only leads me in circles until I'm convinced that it simply does not make sense! And so, all I can do is look at the facts; here we are with this confusion, this lost feeling, this unidentifiable "missing piece" in existence. Here we are, capable of both deep joy and deep dissatisfaction. While I believe that a state of being must exist where everything makes sense and is whole, evidently there are also states of being where things don't make sense, and something is missing. Such is life as we know it.

This is where love comes in. None of us have all the answers. None of us are completely whole. However, each of us have found reasons to continue existing. We wouldn't be here otherwise. Each of those reasons are at least slightly different. At the same time, humans have enough in common with one another that many of these reasons can be communicated. Some people may be a lot closer to happiness and meaning than others, but everyone can benefit in one way or another from kindness and communication.

In one definition, love means caring about another person, wanting them to be happy, and doing or saying whatever is necessary to help them see meaning in life. Lyrics from a song by the Beach Boys (of all things) started me on this train of thought. It's the one that goes:

I may not always love you,
But as long as there are stars above you,
You needn't ever doubt it,
I'll make you so sure about it.

Really sweet, right? And a really interesting way of phrasing things. But it's the next verse that got me thinking:

If you should ever leave me,
Well life will still go on believe me,
The world could show nothing to me,
So what good would living do me?

So this song is describing the classic kind of romantic love where two people feel like they need each other so badly that if separated they're just... horribly depressed. But that line, "The world could show nothing to me", made me really sad. Myself, I've never been in a relationship with a guy, not even close. And yet, the world has shown quite a lot to me. Beauty and meaning is always there, waiting for me to recognize it. I've been heartbroken before, and the world was still there, happiness could still reach me when I looked beyond my pain.

I started thinking; if ever I wind up with a life partner and I died first, I would want them to continue to find beauty and meaning in life, even without me there. Seen from this perspective, love means communicating my own ability to be happy as best I can; it means I have one lifetime to pass on whatever I learn about happiness and meaning.

On a larger scale, it means that those who live on must remember the teachings of those who have died, so that they can in turn build on the knowledge and pass it on to the next generation. Caring about another person means wanting them to be happy, which means wanting them to have the ability to find happiness on their own, even when you are no longer there to guide them directly.

This concept is not limited to life partners; it applies to all human interaction. One lifetime is the maximum amount of time any person has to give what love and guidance to others that they can. But even passing a stranger on the street, just once, provides the opportunity to communicate meaning, in one way or another.

Love means helping each other, in whatever way possible, to see what the world has to show.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Beauty of Flight

Earlier this week I sat in a plane, looking out the window as it took to the sky. I've always loved flying. This particular experience had a more surreal quality to it than usual. I watched the city below disappear to be replaced by farmland, then deltas; tendrils of clear water reaching out across the cracks in the land. Before long, I was looking down on the tops of cumulus clouds, the light from the sun coloring them from the sides, the subtle shadows making them appear soft and yet more substantial than they are in reality.

It was a sea of clouds like this, as far as the eye could see. The beauty of what I saw made my eyes start to water. It reminded me of those times I would look up at clouds from the ground and think of how they looked just like the Renaissance paintings of the heavens. Only, the shapes of the clouds from above looked different. I realized that the people who created such paintings had never seen the sky the way I was seeing it now. I realized that throughout history, there have been humans who have always dreamed of flight, that they could only have imagined an experience such as the one I was having now.

I thought about how it must have felt to be one of those first few people to go into space, to see their entire planet from far away. I thought of how most of us, if given such an opportunity, would be overcome with wonder. And yet today millions of people board airplanes, take to the sky, and go places our ancestors could not even come close to reaching. What is now common was once unimaginable.

That day I counted myself lucky. Had fate been different, I could have easily been a land-bound dreamer, staring up at the sky and wondering what was up there. Instead, with barely a thought at the start, I was flying. For the sake of all my ancestors with unfulfilled dreams of flight, I took in all I saw around me with the same wonder I would feel if I were drifting through the cosmos and amongst the stars.