Tuesday, October 16, 2012

On Love, Hurt and Forgiveness

Slope Dwellers, originally uploaded by halwis.

I used to believe that the key to solving any problem or misunderstanding was by effective communication that leads to a deeper understanding and empathy. Perhaps that’s only half true. Because, communication is a two way process and when one party or the other stops talking or listening or fails to muster the empathy and interest necessary to understand the other, don’t care enough to keep trying, or sensitive enough to use the right tone of words, communication fails all too easily. So, there are times such as when contact with a nuclear armed submarine is lost in Atlantic waters, or when hearts fall silent, or longstanding friends become too preoccupied or excited by shiny distractions; when communication is lost in a way that nothing we already know or trust about each other can transcend the gap it creates. Crisis ensues. Yes, even the Cuban missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of its destruction was, in the final analysis, nothing more than a breakdown of communications. (So, yeah... I was reading a paper on nuclear disarmament which sparked one thought that led to another that compelled me to write this post!)

When words fail, I suppose it doesn’t help to go on talking, or to keep reaching out. Sometimes thoughts are best left unspoken, feelings unexpressed, demands not made, concessions not sought. Sometimes a gentle hug - if that - would suffice, or even that is best held back. Words unspoken can be more useful if given a chance. There are times when silence - if only one can muster the courage to take the risk of being consumed by it forever – is the best option.

But we are never strong enough to take a step back into the shadows and immerse ourselves in silence when we feel our loved ones drifting away. To love or care for someone mean different things to different people. But human bonds are all too often galvanised by insecurity and parasitic needs that make it particularly difficult to withdraw, even to create space. We need constant reminders to be reassured that we are loved, thought of, prayed for... to know that we matter to our loved ones as they matter to us. Those very bonds that sustain and nourish us, also makes us vulnerable.

It is not solely the affliction of those whose sense of self worth is dependent on another. The joy of knowing that we are loved and needed is at the very core of this lethal romance and wonder of being human. That is why we dread silence – not so much for its emptiness, because silence is never empty – but because of our addiction to the thrills and joys of fellowship, camaraderie and indeed love.

So it is that we are at our most vulnerable when our human bonds are strained or broken. The depths at which they shake our souls defy rational understanding or empirical analysis. The only way we are able to respond is at a spiritual level, and therefore such profound experiences of helplessness and vulnerability become defining moments in our lives because of the way they shape our spirituality. There are many spiritual responses to such situations, some almost opposite - yet equally valid and rational ways of dealing with despair. One is to choose to love in the full knowledge that it will hurt. Another is to detach oneself from all sources of love and hurt. Principally they both arise out of the same understanding: that love and despair, joy and suffering, are merely manifestations of the same feeling that is rooted in human desire. We have a choice, either to embrace desire or to elevate ourselves above want and need and break the cycle of dependence. ‘Redemption’ can be found at either end of the same path: one through the ‘perfection’ of love in practise and the other in its passive transformation into something else.

Anyone who has been hurt or forsaken by a loved one, can draw instructive lessons about the dangers of choosing to persist with love. It is not a common experience that people we love would knowingly hurt us. Yet, if the strength of the argument for detaching ourselves from forming close human bonds lie in how it empowers the individual to rise above worldly afflictions, the case for embracing them lie in the promise of a love that transcends our fear of being hurt or broken.

Perhaps that is why I have never lost empathy for those who place all their hope in God. Belief in a love that no human can sustain, unwavering in the face of denial, betrayal or abandonment; the kind of love that can be hung on a cross and yet remain untainted and undiminished has been my inspiration in times of distress. But the paradox remains; that the love of a God or deity is perceived and conceptualised based on historically unverifiable events - not physically felt like in the warmth of an embrace or empirically tested as mortal relationships are. The love of friends, parents and lovers that is part of our daily experience however, will always remain inherently flawed and often strained by egos, neglect, selfishness and lack of empathy.

So, regardless of how we choose to respond to the imperfections of our loved ones, the simple truth remains that only those close to our hearts can hurt us. The ones who we embrace the tightest will inevitably be the ones who will cause the deepest wounds. So it dawned on me, that it is not love alone that sustains human relationships, but our willingness - ney, our commitment - to forgive those we love the most for the imperfections of their love that will hurt us often, and equally seeking their forgiveness when we fall short of the ideals of love, for as long as we love and live.


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