What true love is
And thus the heart will break, yet brokenly live on,” Lord Byron advised in “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.” In those immortal lines, we find a universal echo in our hearts’ ghostly memory.
Who among us hasn’t experienced soul-wrenching heartbreaks, that miniature death that accompanies the unexpected ruin of an all-consuming romantic journey? And yet, many among us manage to still “live on”: lurching forward, half-zombie and half-hopeful, yet ever haunted by the scars of a fiery past.
When it comes to Eros, Byron’s poetry remains unsurpassed in its magnetic darkness. And in life, he embodied, often with brutal destructiveness and amorality, the madness of passionate love. In the words of one of his fiercest lovers (and later critics), Byron was “mad, bad and dangerous to know.” In life and in death, he embodied the mythical and destructive force of romantic passion.
Truly, Eros is one of those transcendental life events that stubbornly escape the grip of reason. And that’s precisely what makes it so enchantingly perilous. Even Sigmund Freud confessed, “In vital matters… such as the choice of a [lover]… the decision should come from the unconscious,” which is beyond our control.
When we are in (romantic) love, we carry an inexplicable Byronite spark in us. For the past two decades, I lived a life that was at once wary of and obsessed with this impulse. Despite my best efforts, I neither could tame nor fully succumb to it, thus was trapped in a romantic twilight. This Valentine’s, I found myself in utter solitude, grimly reflecting on the graveyard of romance before my eyes.
Yet, I vanquished despair by reminding myself of what true love is, the kind that Byron largely ignored in favor of the flames of passion. Last month, in the gloomy corners of a public hospital, not far from the melancholic shores of the Caspian Sea, I met an old lady, with piercing blue eyes, youthful rosy cheeks and a kindly smile, who helped me understand a bit more about true love.
In her soothing voice, she often told me about her husband in the intensive care unit, where my father was also confined for weeks. For almost three months, she regularly visited her spouse, often waiting for hours just to catch a glimpse of him and tell him (while in coma) that he isn’t alone.
When told about his failing lungs, she offered her own. She never gave up on him even in the most desperate conditions. I saw her in the hospital almost every day, telling me, with her glances, the unspoken depth of her infinite devotion.
For several nights, I had to watch over my dad, often for 16 hours straight, along with other sons and fathers. We held our sickly beloved whenever they had seizure or pain, selflessly conquering the excruciating experience of bearing witness to their suffering.
We changed their urine bags, helped clean them up, and held their hands when they shrilled in agony. We tenderly kissed them in moments of fear, indefatigably checking on their vitals to make sure they were above the threshold of danger. And there, I knew I had caught a glimpse of true love, the one I couldn’t find in Byron’s poems, but sensed in Rumi’s.
I also saw true love in my mom, who has stood by my dad’s side throughout decades of insuperable difficulties. She is my ultimate hero.
I saw it in political struggles of many brave and progressive women like Risa Hontiveros, who embodies agape in her passionate advocacy for transformative change against the grain of reactionary darkness. I never cease to be amazed by her incorruptibility, earnest eloquence and genuine commitment to the highest ideals, which should earn her a place among our great political heroes.
And the same can be said of undaunted and fierce women like Maria Ressa, who has dedicated her life to transform journalism from a business of reportage to a vocation of speaking truth to power. It’s this kind of love that we should celebrate during Valentine’s, a selfless devotion with joy to a cause higher than ourselves.
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