The babble recedes: Some general theories on love

Whether or not we all share the impulse to connect with another human being to the same degree, there can be no denying we all recognise it when it happens. Whether we are searching for it or whether we are satisfied to live without it, we know beyond any doubt when that strange something has taken place that binds us to another. The moment might be as fleeting as an intake of breath, or it might linger and seep into our thoughts. It might occur with a friend we have known for an age, or it could happen over a second or two with someone as otherwise ambivalent toward us as a woman working on a supermarket check-out. It can happen in silence in the shared knowing of connected glances. It can happen mid-oration with the slightest nod of agreement from a single person in a packed auditorium. It can happen over a pithy, humorous line you’ve cast out like a fishing hook—when one other person in a crowded, babbled-filled gathering hears it, smiles, and looks in your direction, there is a moment. A transition. A joining, a belonging, a recognition. Something intangible, though carnal, passes from him to you across the crowd. And a change comes over the room. Space folds down into the moment, and time suddenly slows. The babble recedes like white noise into the background. Your words are set in bold type and lifted from the page. A communicative event which says, I have heard, I have enjoyed, I have noticed you. There is shared in that moment, however brief, something which burrows to the very core of what we want most as human beings. It almost seems not to matter whether I describe it poorly or poetically, for we all know what it feels like, what it means, and what it promises. It says, You are!

Descartes said, I think therefore I am. His irreducible absolute was the indisputable knowledge of his own thinking thoughts. Our experience tells us that we ARE when we are noticed, known, and loved—and that once this has happened our solitary thoughts are never quite enough. What occurs in a moment of mutual recognition and understanding feels more grounded, more deeply rooted, than either pleasure or sorrow. “Loneliness outweighs most pain” (A General Theory of Love). Why? Because we find our purpose, our context, our SELVES, in relational connection with others. It takes us into the heart of what it is to be truly alive, to be truly human. It is definitive. Ontological. It is, dare I say, eternal. To those of us who believe in such things, it resonates with what we are told was in the creator’s imaginative design, which makes complete and utter sense if what it is to be God is to be relationally connected with the other. This is why C.S. Lewis understood “glory” as “acceptance by God … acknowledgement, and welcome into the HEART OF THINGS.” It is why Dostoevsky said hell was the suffering of being unable to love. And it is why the apostle of love, John, wrote “When we love we live in God.”

Such a moment, fleeting and commonplace as it is, is a dynamic event of possibility, potential and promise. The other has already emerged from my horizons as something different to a chair, or a television. They have ceased to be an “it”, and have become a “you”.

But Lewis also recognised that such moments can be fleeting, illusory. Humanity’s “inconsolable secret” is the longing to be connected—to life, to others, to beauty—but such connectedness evades our reach time and again. For some of us, the tragedy is that we don’t even yearn for connection. We are “half-hearted creatures” who are far too easily pleased.