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Category Archives: love

“…He started taking notes when he was listening to people, which helped him to maintain a certain distance from their despair. It also allowed him to remind them of things they had said before, to remind them of past happiness, and to help them construct a story that moved from one point to the next, rather than endlessly circling, and this allowed them, too, to view their suffering from a distance.”

– Larissa MacFarquhar, Last Call


“Seeing race is not teh problem. Refusing to care for the people we see is the problem. We should hope not for a colorblind society, but instead for a world in which we can see each other fully, learn from each other, and do what we can to respond to each other with love. That was King’s dream – a society that’s capable of seeing each of us, as we are, with love.”

– Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

“The seashore is an edge, perhaps the only true edge in the world whose borders are otherwise mostly political fictions, and it defies the usual idea of borders by being unfixed, fluctuant, and infinitely permeable. The seashore is the place that is no place, sometimes solid land or, rather, sand, sometimes the shallow fringe of that huge body of water governed by the remote body of the moon in a mystery something like love or desire…

“The sea lapping like a cat at a saucer of milk, or rather, since it is the liquid which acts, the sea like a vast saucer of milk lapping at a recumbent cat. The sea laps at the land, or the sea is in the lap of the land…

“The sea that always seems like a metaphor, but one that is always moving, cannot be fixed, like a heart that is like a tongue that is like a mystery that is like a story that is like a border that is like something altogether different and like everything at once. One thing leads to another, and this is the treasure that always runs through your fingers and never runs out.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “Seashell to Ear”

” ‘It won’t bring them back,’ Will said, ‘to merely complain.’

” ‘But it will,’ Gob said. ‘Don’t you understand? What’s grief if not a profound complaint? It’s what the engine will do; it will complain. It will greive with mechnical efficiency and mechanical strength. It will grieve for my brother and for your brother and for the six hundred thousand dead of the war. It will grieve for all the dead of history, and all the dead of the future. Man’s grief does nothing to bring them back, but just as man’s hands cannot move mountains, but man’s machines can, our machine will grieve away the boundaries between this world and the next. And then, sure as the rails run to California, the way will be open.’ ”

– Chris Adrian, Gob’s Grief

“Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we are saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we are saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own; therefore, we are saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”

– Reinhold Niebuhr

“It’s easier to imagine the experience of people most like you and nearest you – your best friend, the person who just slipped on the ice. Through imagination and representations – films, printed stories, secondhand accounts – you travel into the lives of people far away. This imaginative entering into is best at the particular, since you can imagine being the starving child but not the region of a million starving people. Sometimes, though one person’s story becomes the point of entry to larger territories.

“This identification is almost instinctual in many circumstances. Even some animals do it; babies cry in sympathy with each other, or in distress at the sound of distress. Neurologists now talk about mirror neurons. You see something you crave, you feel something painful, and areas of your brain respond. You haven’t only witnessed something but also translated it into your own experience, you have felt with and for that other. But to cry because someone cries or desire because someone desires is not quite to care about someone else. There are people whose response to the suffering of others is to become upset and demand consolation themselves.

“Empathy means that you travel out of yourself a little or expand… The root of the word is path, from the Greek word for passion or suffering, from which we also derive pathos and pathology and sympathy. It’s a coincidence that empathy is built from a homonym for the Old English path, as in a trail. Empathy is a journey you travel, if you pay attention, if you care, if you desire to do so. Up close you witness suffering directly, though even then you may need words to know that this person has terrible pains in her joints or that one recently lost his home. Suffering far away reaches you through art, through images, recordings, and narratives; the information travels toward you and you meet it halfway, if you meet it.”

– Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

“…it was not the disease of leprosy itself that caused so much damage to hands and feet. The disease strangles nerves, kills off feeling, and what you cannot feel you cannot take care of: not the disease but the patient does the damage…

‘Pain, along with its cousin touch, is distributed universally on the body, providing a sort of boundary of self. Even after surgery, [leprosy patients] tended to view their repaired hands and feet as tools or artificial appendages. They lacked the basic instinct of self-protection that pain normally provides.’

Physical pain is often lonely, felt only by one person who must trust that others will believe and emphathize… Empathy is the capacity to feel what you do not literally feel, and Brand taught his young patients a kind of empathy for extremeties that no longer seemed part of themselves. ‘I feel you,’ people say. If pain defines the boundaries of the body, you participate in the social body with those you empathize with, whose pain pains you – and whose joy is also contagious.

Some empathy must be learned and then imagined, by perceiving the suffering of others and translating it into one’s own experience of suffering and thereby suffering a little with them. Empathy can be a story you tell yourself about what it must be like to be that other person; but its lack can also arise from narrative, about why the sufferer deserved it, or why that person or those people have nothing to do with you. Whole societies can be taught to deaden feeling, to disassociate from their marginal and minority members.

Empathy makes you imagine the sensation of torture, of the hunger, of the loss. You make that person into yourself, you inscribe their suffering on your own body or heart or mind, and then you respond to their suffering as though it were your own.

…To injure, to kill, to cause suffering in others, requires first that withdrawal of empathy that would have made such action painful or impossible, and to intetionally cause pain in others requires you to kill yourself off a little in the process.

…You errected a wall between yourself and annihilation or horror and sometimes it then walled you off from life.The wall itself sometimes grew like a disease if left untreated. Those with leprosy lose only physical sensation; it is the rest of us who tend to lose moral, emotional sensation around their suffering. Which is to say that leprosy was for millennia a psychological disorder of whole societies, though it was a bacterial infection of only a minority.

…To feel for someone enlarges the self and then that self shares risks and pains. Perhaps it’s impossible for anyone short of an enlightened being to carry the weight of all suffering, even to recognize and embrace it, but we make ourselves large or small, here or there, in our empathies. I met a Thai Buddhist saint once who for twenty years took on tiny tokens and charms people gave him so that he would carry their suffering. Eventually he wore a cloak of a couple hundred pounds of clanking, chiming griefs at all times, and then it became too heavy or he’d carried it far enough, and he put it down.”

– Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

“It’s okay to realize that we do need help, that calling out for help is a very generous act because it allows others to help us and it allows us to be helped. Sometimes we’re calling out for help. Sometimes we’re offering help, and then this hostile world becomes a very different place. It is a world where there is help being received and help being given, and in such a world this compelling determined world according to me loses some of its urgency and desperation. It’s not so necessary in a generous world, in a world where help is available, to be so adamant about the world according to me.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “One-Story House,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“…nomads, contrary to popular imagination, have fixed circuits and stable relationships to places; they are far from being the drifters and dharma bums that the word nomad often connotes nowadays. This meant that it was all home. I have come to long not to see new places but to return and know the old ones more deeply, to see them again.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Blue of Distance,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“Men and women have always sought, by one means and another, to be together rather than apart. At first they were together by the simple expedient of being unicellular, and there was no conflict. Later, the cell separated, or began living apart, for reasons which are not clear even today, although there is considerable talk. Almost immediately the two halves of the original cell began experiencing a desire to unite again – usually with a half of some other cell. This urge has survived down to our time. Its commonest manifestations are marriage, divorce, neuroses, and, a little less frequently, gun-fire.”

– EB White, Is Sex Necessary?

“Female individual seeks male individual for loving relationship. And vice versa.

Low-status person with intellectual capital but no surplus wealth seeks high-status person of substantial surplus wealth for enjoyment of mutual advantages, including longer life-expectancy, better nutrition, fewer working hours and earlier retirement, among other benefits.

Human animal in need of food and shelter seeks human animal of opposite gender to provide her with offspring and remain with her until the independent survival of aforementioned offspring is probable.

Some genes, seeking their own survival, pursue whatever will most likely result in their replication.”

– Zadie Smith, NW

“It was a small thing, but it was a thing, and things have a way of either dying or growing, and it wasn’t dying. Years went by. And since they were a team, and all teams want to win, they continuously adjusted their vision to keep its growth invisible.”

– Miranda July, No One Belongs Here More Than You

“He might as well have squawked like a bird or moaned like a retard as said something like ‘I forgot how much I love you.’ But a novel could say such things, in between its lines and underneath what the silly wounded people said and did within its pages, in a way that made perfect sense and voided the curse of squawking retardation because what was said was never actually said.”

– Chris Adrian, The Great Night

“…it is difficult for me to see how sexual behavior and relations between the sexes can change at all unless our sexual fantasies change. So many of the conscious and unconscious ways men and women treat each other have to do with romantic and sexual fantasies that are deeply ingrained, not just in society but in literature. The movement may manage to clean up the mess in society, but I don’t know whether it can ever clean up the mess in our minds.”

– Nora Ephron, Crazy Salad

“Though He must have been young once, surely He was young once, and surely someone who has existed as long as He has, who has looked at as much crude and promiscuous sinning without grace or restraint or decorum as He has had to, to contemplate at last, even though the instances are not one in a thousand thousand, the principles of honor, decorum and gentleness applied to perfectly normal human instinct which you Anglo-Saxons insist upon calling lust and in whose service you revert in sabbaticals to the primordial caverns, the fall from what you call grace fogged and clouded by Heaven-defying words of extenuation and explanation, the return to grace heralded by Heaven-placating cries of satiated abasement and flagellation, in neither of which – the defiance or the placation – can Heaven find interest or even, after the first two or three times, diversion. So perhaps, now that God is an old man, He is not interested in the way we serve what you call lust either. Perhaps He does not even require of us that we save this one sparrow, anymore than we save the one sparrow which we do save for any commendation from Him.”

– William Faulkner, Absalom! Absalom!

“Marriage had diminished and deepened the mystery. She’d seen him on the toilet. She’d known him rank and sour. She’d caught him looking so empty and stupid and self-satisfied that she’d thought, This is the end of my interest. He can’t return from this. But at the same time his flesh expanded with familiarity. His particulars had become hers as well, so that the sight of them inspired a wash of mournful tenderness she’d neither known nor imagined, a careening sensation of possibility and loss. She believed, now, that no one was ever sure about love. Love arrived obliquely, at angles, but even when it lay dormant a boundary had been crossed, a sanctity relinquished.”

– Michael Cunningham, Flesh and Blood

” ‘I want somehow to get away with you into a world where words like that – categories like that – won’t exist. Where we shall be simply two human beings who love each other, who are the whole of life to each other; and nothing else on earth matter.’

She drew a deep sigh that ended in another laugh. ‘Oh my dear – where is that country? Have you ever been here?’ she asked; ‘I know so many who’ve tried to find it; and, believe me, they all got out by mistake at wayside stations; at places like Boulogne, or Pisa, or Monte Carlo – and it wasn’t at all different from the old world they’d left, but only rather smaller and dingier and more promiscuous.’ ”

– Edith Wharton, Age of Innocence

“Love is the envelope wrapped around the ‘ugh’ to make the groan pronouncable in polite company.”

– Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2

“There’s lots of good fish in the sea, maybe, but the vast masses seem to be mackerel or herring, and if you’re not mackerel or herring yourself, you are likely to find very few good fish in the sea.”

– D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterly’s Lover

“It saddened her that Luo insisted on holding on to her as if they had started to share some vital organs during their twenty years of marriage. She wondered if this was a sign of old age, of losing hope and courage for changes. She herself could easily picture vanishing from their shared life, but then perhaps it was a sign of aging on her part, a desire for a loneliness that would eventually make death a relief.”

– Yi Yun Li, “Prison”