Our souls float across the sea of life, in vessels made of blood and bone, taking on water as they go, occasionally sinking ever so slightly — perhaps even imperceptibly — into despair and decline. It is the hell of life’s long autumn, an elegiac march to our inevitable decay into the earth that birthed us. In spring and summer, if we choose to, we shine as warm and bright as we ever will, all boundless energy and burning desire, and humanity is all too eager to cozy up next to us to bask in our glow, should we let them.
Love is humanity’s ultimate pursuit, most innate instinct save for survival itself, and most relentlessly researched, opined, romanticized and prized condition. It is the noun and the verb, the yin and the yang. It is the gods upon which we’ve built our churches, and the art which paints our progress. It is socialized, cultivated, and unique within the self and between the afflicted. Distilled to its essence: It is a ritualistic, highly coveted, goal-directed firing of neurotransmitters in just the right proportion —the perfect cocktail of testosterone, serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine playing the harps of our axons in just the right key, occasionally arbitrarily, often in harmony. But if this is all in our brains, and this is all just one great biological trick, why do we love at all?
Our lives are inherently lonely. The body is a vessel and a prison, a perpetually confining hall inside of which we exist and outside of which we would cease to begin. We are unwitting hall monitors, guardians of the temple, inmates within the asylum of the self. No one can ever really know the around-the-clock, underneath-the-skin version of us. As we observe the outside, experience the essence of being, buy into the causes and motives of others, we are slightly careened off course, irreparably and irrevocably altered. You can find it, in infinitesimal yet infinitival doses, in the lasting gaze into James Stewart’s glare upon realization that he is, in fact, alive, or the minutes spent immersed in the intro of “New York City Serenade,” to use two highly personal and highly specific examples. An unshakable discomfort, a fleeting euphoria and warm glow that carves neural pathways the way time and water etch their names in stone. It is this that allows us respite from endless imprisonment, from a yearning loneliness. It comes from where you find it, should you seek it.
To be born human is to be born with capacity to beat back this loneliness the way light conquers darkness, day conquers night and gravity conquers flight. It is through action and presence, immersion and emotion, that we affix ourselves to the whole, attach ourselves to one another, and momentarily transcend the curse of a locked coordinate in space-time. When we reach out to heal, stand up to our bitterest demons, paint with a fine brush or build with our hands, we are doing so to reach outside ourselves and lasso the world closer to us. The greatest things we will ever do in our lives are those things which breathe life into the souls of others. In doing so, we can only begin to realize that the universe is not merely something that happens to us, but something that we happen to. We find the kingdom of shared suffering and collective experience in the smallest of things, should we seek it.
Our lives are also inherently transient, tiny and random, too temporary for comfort. We buzz like bees, and hunt like sharks. We’re loosely tethered to this earth by the breath we inhale and the blood that courses through our veins. Should we ever find ourselves thinking our concerns are of great import, that our life lacks purpose or meaning, we can rest easy knowing that our impermanence is the hallmark of our existence. Immortality waits for no one, not even the believers. And the reason we reach out, our capacity to connect, is our way of tying ourselves just a little tighter to life itself. It is duality of humanity: Our altruism and selfishness engaged in a desperate tango. It is our extraordinary desire to feel like we matter at odds with our compulsion to alleviate the suffering of others.
I do not mean suffering in an overt or obvious sense, though that certainly qualifies. Life itself is suffering. We wither, we break and we ache. We yearn and long and need. We wrestle with darkness, our restless souls feverishly seeking a place to belong, a home for our quirks and passions. All this warmth is too much not to share. We are time-bombs hoping for a cozy place to nestle before we burst into flames. This endless parade of days, this relentless attack of years on our vessel scars us and cracks us but only wins once. I don’t say this to scare you. I say this to encourage you.
We love so that we may feel less lonely and more permanent. The loneliness imprisons us, the transience eats at us. We love to free and feed ourselves and the world around us. No other truth will do this. Not change. Not the present moment. Certainly not death. Our wandering souls are taking on water, and that water has to go someplace, it begs to be shared and divided among the whole. The suffering is our shared struggle, and it is the singular disease that we all feel to some degree. It is more true than the gods we kneel to or the art we reach out to. It is only through this bloodletting of our suffering, through this love we exchange, that we can ever attempt to overcome ourselves.
People careen in and out, bound only by struggle, each locked inside a cell made of cells, warming ourselves by the cauldron of life before the light flickers out. Tears and sweat and booze are spilled, and we are drawn to this place the way moons orbit a planet, or the way light bends in the water. Nothing is forever. The water evaporates. The solar systems melt into the abyss. Yet, just because love ends doesn’t mean it never happened. All of this warmth, all of this ache, this is the only thing other people can see, hear and feel. By sharing it, holding it, and decanting it onto others, love is the only thing that lasts long after we do. It is the anecdote to the shared struggle, and the only thing that lasts. Love is the truest thing we can do, feel or become — and that’s why we do it. We love because it’s the only thing we make that makes us real.