Friday, February 26, 2010

What Is Love?

Terms of endearment

Although love defies description, this has not stopped writers and poets from waxing lyrical about the subject.

NO, the headline doesn’t mean the 1983 romantic comedy-drama film. It’s that time of the year. The splendour of love is in the air. Also, apt I thought, to embrace and celebrate LOVE as an antidote to the spectre of racial and religious taunts that harm social cohesiveness and the inherent Malaysian spirit.

Cole Porter’s song title asks, “What is this thing called love?” (note to teachers: an excellent question form to use for meaningfully varied punctuation and oral practice). We could respond with Frank Sinatra’s “Love is a many splendoured thing.” Indeed, love is a definition-defying entity since it has no particular form. Yet, its felt existence and particular experience empowers and continues to inspire endless definitions and descriptions.

Love, if we’ve experienced it, is neither manipulative nor abusive; it is humanitarian and seeks the good of all; it heals and restores relationships – “Love heals all.” Love transcends the politics and angry polemics of the day; it transcends physical attraction and emotion, beyond the ‘feel good’ factor, to empower an ascent of one’s spirit to a peak that is restorative in essence. This singular capacity and quality of love within our being is reason enough to celebrate the cause and course of love.

Love has been the cause for the rise and fall of many in history – both individuals and institutions – since essentially, love is relational, a quality, that has inspired a treasury of expressions on the essence and effects of love. It has also given us a list of intriguing terms of endearment used by loved ones to refer to their significant other, depending on the object and nature of love in question – romantic, familial, spiritual, humanitarian, aesthetic or patriotic. And, with apologies to the French, the language of love belongs to all, because according to Dr Gary Chapman, “The craving for love is our deepest emotional need ...” After all, we are all created in God’s love.

One of my favourite quotes on the immeasurable depths of love comes from Kahlil Gibran :

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.

Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;

For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”

This finds a bold parallel in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables: To love another person is to see the face of God. Divine love turns to “divine madness” when you fall “madly in love” and transform into “lovebirds.” Even Friedrich Nietzsche concedes: There is always some madness in love. But there is always some reason in madness. In turn, Don Byas squarely states: You call it madness, but I call it love. Blindness is another common characteristic attributed to love. Here’s a refreshing take on the “Love is blind’ cliché, by Will Moss: Love is not blind ... it sees more and not less, but because it sees more it is willing to see less. Makes sense.

Apart from the literary giants’ great works on the subject of love, the Good Book is equally rich on the subject since (like all faiths) love is the key to Christian life. The biblical chapter “Song of Songs” celebrates the beauty, sanctity, mystery, and power of love. Perhaps, the chapter from 1 Corinthians 13 is better known to many for its description of what constitutes and does not constitute love. The chapter is equally distinctive for the ranking of spiritual gifts and summarily states: In short, there are three things that last: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.

On terms of endearment employed, again, Kahlil Gibran strikes a soulful note with his “Eve of my heart”, and “A column of light”. A quote of his that both flutters the heart and tugs at its heartstrings is his description of his beloved: a beautiful tune on the lips of life (when alive); a silent secret in the bosom of the earth (when dead).

On the lighter side, the French have an interesting list, which amounts to “Darling”, “Sweetie”, “Poppet”. Here’s a sample to pick from: “Mon amour” (my love), “Mon ange” (my angel), “Mon bébé” (my baby), “Mon cher/Ma chère” (my dear for masculine/feminine), “Mon chéri/Ma chérie” (my dearie), “Mon Coeur” (my heart), “Ma belle” (my beautiful).

The list also features some barnyard animals. Terms that have been farmed out include, “Ma biche” (my doe), “Ma caille” (my duck), “Mon chaton” (my kitten). Other animals include hen, rabbit, otter, wolf (yes!), even pig and flea (reminds you of “love bug”, no?) Well, the annoying insect has even inspired a French farce, “A Flea in her Ear” by Georges Feydeau) – dwells on love (and sex).

Not to be outwitted, the English language has its own stockpile you can choose from. Categories range from heavenly bodies to earth-bound flora and fauna, and more. Popular on the list are “Darling”, “Love”, “Beautiful”, “Dear” (I had an uncle who endured unto death [no pun intended] the “dear” endearment that turned into “Listen dear”), “Honey”, “Sweetheart”, “Baby doll” and the like. “Angel”, “Star”, “Twinkle”, “Sunshine”, and “Dove”, have also made their heavenly descent.

Next, the bakery yields choice pastry, like “Cutie-pie”, “Cookie”, “Shortcake”, “Muffin”, “Cupcake”, “Honey bun”. Other food/vegetable/plant/fruit favourites include “Pumpkin”, “Sweet pea”, “Buttercup”, “Peaches”, and “Sugarberry”. From the animal world you can pick “Kitten”, “Duckie”, “Tweetie”, “Pet”, “Sugar bear”, or “Tiger” – apt too, if you make your match in the zodiacal year that began on Valentine’s Day!

Body parts, especially the face, surfaces above all with: ‘Angel eyes’, ‘Angel face’, ‘Sweet face’, Sweet lips’, and ‘Baby face’. Then in sheer abandonment to midsummer madness, nonsense words take on sense: ‘Koochie-koochie’, ‘Pooch’, ‘Mooch’, ‘Buttons’. Better still, create your own sweet nothings, ‘tis the season after all.

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