Editor’s Note: Love as Lens
I attend Calvin College, a small liberal arts institution in Grand Rapids, Michigan. By most accounts, the school has been a place conducive to learning and has brought me close to a number of good friends. Snow covers the whole campus in the winter, and all the students have the look of soldiers marching to battle, leaving their bootprints, darker white-on-white. Amidst this kind of cold, I retreat indoors. From the inside, the cold is starkly beautiful, wearing a face of brute intimidation yet hiding a smile somewhere under the drifts.
I write all this as analogy for my own situation. At all times, but especially during the winter, I look at life as a foe, a challenge to be overcome. Living to me resembles a scene I’ve often imagined: I’m standing on top of a slippery ice floe, wearing the faux-resplendence of a ringmaster. Lassos are dragging impotently in the river, creating miniature wakes in the stream. I throw out rope after rope, struggling to catch hold of something on the shore that will arrest my progress. I want to touch shore, to master the wild animals whose red eyes leer out from the fir trees. They are unknown; they patrol the edges of my knowledge. Beyond, perhaps, is a great plain, a sprawling woodland, a vast city of ice ruled by giants. Who knows?
Yet I go on. And on. And on. All the landmarks blur together, and I am driven by a illusion fueled by desire. All this obscures my memories. No one around but the ringmaster and his traveling, frigid circus.
I tell stories because they split the world into recognizable chunks, like spiderweb cracks in that ice floe. They etch details into memories, making them more real, oddly, than the bare facts of the case. Yet sometimes it’s possible to see stories the wrong way, to put the pieces together by forcing them instead of finding the fitted grooves. The way we interpret stories is always tied to our lenses, the particular situation in which we find ourselves. If you are like me and have an innate drive to interpret and find conclusions quickly, you might be accustomed (as I also am) to making terrible mistakes.
Pivoting to culture, I have been waging a quiet internal war against romance since I was too young to even consider an attached relationship. At the age of twelve, after I had learned all I could hear about love and sex, I found the word celibacy incredibly calming. Here was a story I could bind myself into, a story that excluded all this newness. What could there be to life other than success at school, finding a good job, enjoying the bounty of the first world? I had no time, I insisted, I was too holy, I insisted, I was completely against becoming attached. I insisted all of these things. I never told anyone unless asked, at which point I would become defensive and snappy.
Please, good sirs and madams, spare me your talk of love. Bards and songwriters, film directors, advertisers, and television producers, cleanse your ears! Let me tell you this: I have no interest in these things you crassly call love. I am free of all that.
A declaration of independence. The empire of love had no sway. I would stay alone, writing my stories and contemplating the world. Love songs were tolerable if other elements of the song could distract me from the lyrics. I was utterly unmoved by Shakespeare’s sonnets, wondered aloud why Romeo and Juliet, or for that matter any of the great romantic couples, would even want to be together. Etc. My critical and investigative lens through which I viewed the world was fragmented, without a significant piece. An essential one.
Two weeks ago, I spent hours and hours building a playlist made up almost entirely of love songs. I became enamored with Prince’s seductive and eclectic songwriting, began to see the true ironies in Stephin Merritt’s sad sad songs, laughed at Kanye’s bizarro universe of vampiric women and inflated egos. Life experience is a powerful lens, and it reshapes how we see culture. For me, love songs have now become a staple of my music listening.
What happened? What do you think happened? I find that I don’t have to write “that sentence.” I am better off with this stumbling beating-around-the-bush.
It’s a happiness and sadness qualitatively leagues beyond what I had previously known. Perhaps “beyond” is inaccurate. It erupted from within all the pieces of my personality I had previously thought dormant or unquestioned. It’s an affection, a perspective that welled out of who I am but without leaving me unchanged. Indeed, like few other things in my life, finding a dear one has scrambled how I see culture. Culture being almost everything, that’s an expansive change.
Love as a lens. That’s the title I chose. I now see the world in overlapping colors. There’s all that I was before passing through madness and back into romantic love. All that I was that still remains, hardly vestigial but less busy, is in turn overlaid by eros. Oh, the other fancy Greek loves are there too, but they haven’t been joined by their little sibling for some time.
Uncertainties are a given in a world stitched together by interpretation, in a world where stories are putting cracks in the ice we all stand on. By creating, we destroy purity. By loving, we break ourselves down. We’re not promised a recreation, either. It might be that we are forever and seriously weakened by our attachments. Unfortunately, I have to abide the risk. The rewards, or so the lens of love is reading this story, is infinitely greater than what I could lose. I could lose myself. What’s that to the world? I could gain…well if it’s anything like that I’ve already gotten, it’s only good business sense to keep moving forward.