52. Thomas Merton and love (cont.)
So if a Trappist monk wasn’t able to say for sure that he understood love before being in a relationship with a woman, what does that say about my capacity to know love? These monks spend all their time in a community devoted to contemplating God – and when I say devoted, I mean that in the hard core sense of the word, not in the hopelessly-devoted-to-you kind of way. (For a great book about what it is to live the monastic life, see the excellent Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris.)
I’ve made the admission before that I don’t understand love, and I suppose now I have an excuse. I suppose I always have my imagination, but with something as powerful and complex as love, there will never be a substitute for experience.
Which reminds me of something else I’ve been meaning to write about. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about love recently and that’s been made evident in a lot of my blogs lately. I mean most of my blogs have been about love in some form (usually complaints about how elusive it is) but look at the dates and you’ll see that writing about love (or anything else) used to be a rare event – once every few months, if that. Now I’m still writing about love but now I’m far more prolific – a few blogs per week. And I suppose that’s just another part of me that’s waking up, making itself known (see blog 49).
Having the romantic (for lack of a better word) part of me reawaken presents somewhat of a conflict/paradox for me. I’m glad to have it back but at the same time it worries me because it’s the hopeless romantic part of me that always gets me into the most trouble. Indeed, it’s probably responsible for most (if not all) the trouble that started me on the decent into despair that I’m only now emerging from. I’d like to think that age and experience has made me better able to deal with the danger but really, I only have age to rely on since I’m still woefully lacking in experience.
But what can I do? It’s not like I’m a component stereo system where I can selectively turn parts of me on or off. It’s a holistic thing that I have no control over. And though I’m fearful, I’m also glad because even though it brought me a lot of grief, this (hopeless) romantic side of me also brought me a lot of inspiration, some good songs (if I do say so myself), and when it wasn’t getting me into trouble, it often brought out the best in me.
Oh, and there is something else that I have on my side – great friends. One thing that experience has taught me is to rely on the advice of friends in matters of love. I’ve learned that love can rob you of all reason, reducing you to village idiot status. Love also makes you feel invincible which makes for a deadly combination (sounds a lot like alcohol, only a lot more expensive). In the turbulent throes of love, I know that I have to rely on advice from friends. In the past, I discounted such advice thinking, in my romantic fervor, that I would gallantly prove them wrong and write a grand new chapter in the Book of Love only to wind up crying on their doorstep, heart splattered all over my sleeve.
Love, love, love. What on earth was God thinking, entrusting us with so powerful an emotion? Might the world have been a safer, saner, more peaceful place without it? I suppose, but it would also be a far more staid, bland reality. If I opt for the safety of a world without love it’s only because I’ve yet to master its intricacies and experience it’s true power. I’m like some martial arts novice learning to use nunchucks. I flail away, bruising my balls and looking the fool but once I’ve worked out the kinks, watch out because I’ll be kicking some romatic ass (wait, that didn’t come out right, but you know what I mean).