Monday, 2 February 2009

This is for you. Called: I love you.

Three tiny words. Eight letters or ten characters. Five vowels and five distinct vowel sounds (count them). Three consonants, none of them plosive or percussive or in any other way harsh. One glottal stop, or 'voiceless glottal plosive', according to Wikipedia. Why does so much hang on them? The softness of the phonetics means they're easy on the ear and easy to say, once you get past the awkward glottal at the beginning - which makes them hard to start to say. 'Je t'aime' ('I like you') or j'adore ('I adore you') are not the same. 'T'estimo' (Catalan - 'I esteem you') is even worse. Liking, adoration, esteem, are fine emotions, but they are aspects of love and not the whole. Adoration puts an object on a pedestal; liking does not convey the urgency; esteem is formal and distant. Gaelic makes more effort - there's a whole list.*

- Gráím thú (I love you)
Simple enough, that. Like the English, though, it's imprecise. A cipher for a million things. Shorthand, in the way that a hug or a touch is, for feelings that would take a lifetime to express in words. That would never be complete. That can't be precise or complete, because words don't cover all of the elements in the right ways, all at the same time. Everything that follows is part of this phrase - it has to be all-encompassing, in as many senses as I can think of. But it remains a code.

- Tugaim cion duit (I give you affection)
- Tá cion agam ort (I have affection for you)
- Tá mé ceanúil ort (I have affection for you)

Three ways of saying 'I care', but 'care' is not enough for the whole feeling. 'Having affection' is better than 'adoring' or 'esteeming', though. Better even than 'liking', because one can like many things in a purely cerebral way; it does not demand the involvement of emotions. Affection is human and warm. Close, safe, content. It's curled up on the couch under a blanket watching a film with that person and the cat. It's not about thinking or analysing. It is coming down to find your breakfast laid out for you in the kitchen. It's not about pain. It is safe and easy and content and close. This is love, too, on one day or at one time. Not all the time. It doesn't show the pain or the danger or the exhilaration or the need or the mania, the heights and the depths. It is level, safe. A part, not the whole.

- Tá grá agam duit (I have love for you)
- Táim i ngrá leat (I'm in love with you)

The distinction between loving and being in love is important. If I have ever said 'I love you', I have been certain of meaning the first of these - nobody ever believe otherwise. I love easily, for reasons I am rarely able to fathom until I get some distance. I may not have been certain about the second. I may have believed that I knew what I was talking about, but I may not really have known underneath. Almost, not quite, every time I fall in love, I feel that I have never been in love before. Maybe I just fall harder each time. I certainly understand more, and seem to stretch and grow with each time. So that the last time I expand so much I feel enormous. Great. Empowered. Alive. Loving someone is the extension of affection, going deeper and further, but it ultimately lacks the urgency of being in love. I'm not sure that the need is there in loving, and it is fundamental to being in love. It hurts when you give up something you love, and you miss and you hurt - but you aren't made less in the same way? Being in love is mutual, and you can love someone who doesn't love you back - and if they don't love you in the same way, then you can never be more than yourself, because they do not give totally of themselves. Being in love with someone, makes you more than yourself. I think that could almost be the definition, at least for me. [How much 'romance', in the most pejorative way of inflecting that word, can I betray in myself? Quite a lot, probably. I only like to pretend I'm a cynic, I suspect.] The two become more than the sum of the parts, in the way that two building blocks can interlock and form something entirely different. One brick is a brick; two bricks can be a wall, and if their shapes are right, they need never come apart once they have come together. And it is circular, never ending conversations that have to stop because it's four hours past too late where there isn't a moment's silence and you have gone so many places that you wouldn't be able to visit even with anyone else and you have held one another and talked with touch as well as voices aware of nothing outside the compass of yourselves, but since the whole world is in that space what is left? and it is sex that makes your body shiver with just the thought and it is when you have found out the souls of one another and discovered them fractal and total and it is silence understanding without contact and the reason to get out of bed and the reason to go back and it is finding yourself stripped naked and it being ok and stripping the other to their core in your turn and finding them beautiful and being beautiful because they find you so and this list is trite and partial. It is the whole of these and more, and it changes and it ebbs and it flows, always greater than it would be possible to be alone. And people settle for 'affection', for 'comfortable', for 'suits me', for 'safe' - for an image of happiness that they think they fit, if they fit at all. I have learnt that I want more than that.

- Tá mo chroí istigh ionat (My heart is within you)
- Ádhraím thú (I adore you)

'My heart is within you' is probably reason that this list is in Gaelic and not any other language I could have found. That's the poetry of the Irish right there, written into their idiom. You can think like a poet when that kind of phrase is built into the everyday lexicon. I wish I could pronounce it - maybe I should learn. It says, "The centre of my being is part of you. I do not hold it back - cannot, now. It goes with you. I cannot live without it, but it is in your keeping. I am incomplete without the part of myself that is in you. Stunted. But with you, I am fully alive. More than it was possible to be, away from you." To me, this is 'true' 'romantic' love. What is the phrase from Oranges? 'Romantic love has been diluted into paperback form and has sold thousands and millions of copies. Somewhere it is still in the original, written on tablets of stone.' This is one of those tablets, in an ancient language.

I was going to write about Greek love, too. About 'storge' and 'philia', which encompass friendship and affection; about 'eros', which is total devotion as well as erotic love; and 'agape', which sounds better as 'caritas' in Latin though I suspect it's then slightly different, but which covers an unconditional love often used to describe religious devotion. See here for more. It's a bit Christian (C.S. Lewis), but it's worth reading for the underlying themes, that aren't about religion. I found I'd written them, mostly, though.

Oranges, again:
'The emperor, walking round his theatre, could see them all at once, if he wished.
Round and round he walked, and so learned a very valuable thing:
that no emotion is the final one.'

I only had one RS teacher at school who said anything I remember. He was called Mr Campbell, and someone had weasled him out of retirement to come and teach us. I rarely remember us keeping an RS teacher at school for more than a couple of terms, and he was no different - but the whole school begged him to stay. There were letters and impassioned pleas and all sorts. For a man older than most of our dads, in a school full of spoilt little rich girls in the south east of England. He never taught us anything that seemed to be part of any curriculum, we just sat and debated. He started every lesson with a 'wise saying', many of which I remember. There was 'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,/ Than are dreamt of in your philosophy'**, and the passage that starts at Luke 12 verse 27 'Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these', and there was 'Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free' (here). There were more, and I still have the exercise book that I copied them down into with the rest of my class, somewhere. They weren't all religious, either. I must dig it out again. He spent a whole lesson teaching us about love and its types. An odd thing for a 60 odd year old man to spend his time discussing with 14 year old school girls, really. I don't think I ever realised that he was using C.S. Lewis as a pattern until I did that search, but he was. I am grateful to him for the time he took to teach me and my schoolmates about things that were more than our exams or our curriculum and for the thought he put into our lessons. I never liked RS unless it was philosophy, and he seems to have been the only person who thought it necessary to try and make us wonder about the world around us and our place and our lives, the entire time we were at school.

*See here for source.
**Hamlet, Act 1, scene 5

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