Many years ago, when I fancied myself to be a teenage intellectual (the adjective, at least, can be verified in fact: I was indeed 15 years of age), one idle afternoon I poured over the latest issue of that journal of the highbrow intelligentsia, Newsweek magazine. There, in the waning days of the maligned 1970’s, the issue featured short essays by various writers in which they anticipated the perils and promise of the coming decade of the 1980’s, the decade in which I would, at last, be recognized as an adult (or, failing that, at least be old enough to have a driver’s license).
One essay in particular caught my attention. “Can Love be Reinvented?“, asked Octavio Paz. The question struck me as odd if not contrary to the obvious: after all, the fact that Mary Margaret Gillogly, the smart and pretty new girl at my high school, informed me of her plans to enter a convent did not particularly mitigate the (decidedly unrequited) crush that I had on her.
Love, Paz wrote, is “attraction for a soul.” He lamented that in the present zeitgeist, “love is becoming an abstraction”, conspicuous in its absence from the sexual revolution that was permeating Western culture, circa 1979. The concept of the soul had become subordinated to sex, which was in turn subordinate to politics. If love cannot be reimagined, and hence revived as central to the human experience, “life is going to be a desert.”
I have been reminded of Paz’s essay in recent months as I have sought for the signs of the existence of a trans women’s community. In my searches on the Internet and my sojourn to Camp Trans, I have encountered a publication with the unambiguous title of (expletive deleted) Trans Women. The expletive alluded to begins with the letter “F” and rhymes with the verb, “ducking”.
That the word in question is employed as a verb rather than as a pejorative does little to mitigate the phallocentric context in which it is applied. On the zine’s cover, one finds an anime-style image of pig-tailed vixen clad in a miniskirt (the front of which intimates the underlying presence of a bulge) and thigh-high leather boots while brandishing a whip. The message is succinct (if also, like the image on the cover, banal) : trans women are sexual — and sexualized — objects. In the absence of love — and social justice — we have recourse to sex, or at least to being presented as having the agency to participate in the degradation of our body, and, therefore, soul.
Ultimately, neither the title of the ‘zine nor its contents is of significant note. Pornography is, of necessity, an inadequate substitute for sex. And absent of love, what meaning can mere sexual behavior possibly have? Indeed, absent of the transcendence of love, what meaning is there to life, this vail of tears that Lord MacBeth laments as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”?
“I will show you a still more excellent way“, reads the sentence that immediately precedes a poem from which the title of today’s posting is derived. “Love is patient, love is kind,” a verse reads in part. “Love rejoiceth not in falsehood, but, rather rejoiceth in the truth; bearing all burdens, believeth all truths, hopeth all hopes, endureth all pains, Love faileth never.”
The siloquoy is included in the “Letters” section of a controversial bestseller. Though I am most familiar with the Elizabethan cadence into which it was rendered in the translation commissioned by James VI of Scotland, the poem may have been written in Greek as late as the mid-1st Century of the Common Era. Exactly who composed such words is lost to history.
There are many kinds, and gifts, of love, but the one same Spirit from which love emanates. Perhaps one might regard love as a latent energy that remains inert until that latency is converted into expression. Or so, on this 29th day of September, I am reminded — and haunted — once again.
Thirty-five years ago this morning, September 29, 1975, I noticed that I had slept late and that, as such, I was late for school. Clad in my t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, I hastened from my bedroom to the kitchen to retrieve my lunch sack and run down the street to the school.
On this Monday morning, I noticed that my older sisters were also not in school. Indeed, my father had not gone into work that morning. Both of my grandmothers were inside of our house, one of whom said that my father wanted to speak with me. “You won’t be going to school for a few days,” she was obliged to inform me.
A few minutes later, my father explained to me that during the night at the hospital, his wife, my sisters’s mother, had concluded her six-year ordeal with lymphatic cancer. She was 46 years old, which is also my current age.
Three-and-a-half decades later, my intention in stating such facts is not to elicit sympathy: everyone’s mother dies. Even so, my memory of that day is forever shrouded in guilt. “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I reasoned as a child“, reads a line from that ancient poem. As such, I did not comprehend that, six months previous, her oncologist had informed her that she had only a few months left to live. Thus, I didn’t get to say goodbye, or tell her one last time that I loved her.
Love faileth never, the anonymous poet wrote. And yet, love also has to be reinvented, and renewed, demonstrated and expressed anew again.
A few Autumns later, Mike Royko penned an open letter to the readers of his Chicago Sun-Times column. His wife had recently — and suddenly — died in her mid-40’s. He wrote that he would be taking a leave of absence from writing the column which his newspaper had published six days a week. I find it fitting then, to finish with the words of wisdom with which he concluded his brief October 5, 1979 posting:
“In the meantime, do her and me a favor. If there’s someone you love but haven’t said so in a while, say it now.
“Always, always say it now.”