“Even if love is something other than a clockwork of sex that the Creator uses for His own amusement, it is still attached to it… Thomas thought: Attaching love to sex is one of the most bizarre ideas the Creator ever had.”
One of the great pleasures of being in a tropical country is the accessibility, affordability, and abundance of fruit. Every day, we indulge in exotic fruit that would be rare and expensive in the west. My favorite discovery in Indonesia has been the burgundy coated mangosteen, whose fleshy white interior I can’t seem to get enough of.
From my human based perspective, it seems like I am the one enjoying a freely provided tasty treat. But of course, we know the fruit is really a plant’s way of enticing animals to spread its seeds. Fruit trees and bushes have done such a good job of manipulating us into doing their bidding that we clear away large swaths of competitor plants, ensure that they are properly watered, and keep them free of pests. We think that we’re the ones in control- that we’re the ones who have domesticated plants- but it could easily be argued that they have domesticated us (see Michael Pollen’s Botany of Desire).
Isn’t it interesting that the propagation of life seems, in so many ways, dependent on deception? A flower, a fruit tree, or a human can’t just come out and say, please help me make more of myself! There’s got to be something more powerful involved to lure partners into agreeing to take on the work involved in creating a new generation. Beauty and desire are tricks that life uses to tempt itself into carrying itself on.
Of course, the amount of effort involved in planting and caring for a tree is far less than in gestating and raising a human (especially if you’re a bird whose sole task is to poop out seeds). Nature knows that caring for a human child is one of the most difficult and involved experiences any animal could encounter, so she gave us something even more powerful than some tasty, sugary calories: love.
The other day, at 6 AM, I had to force my eyelids open, which felt like trying to lift two concrete blocks. I had tried to ignore the crying baby, but his volume increased exponentially for each minute I continued to snub him. I finally got up with a grunt and changed him; the dawn had barely broken and already I had poop all over my hands. How in the world did the innocence, passion, and fun of the love between Giulia and I ever become…. this? And what force compels me to actually get my ass out of bed to care for this squawking creature?
Babies have fine-tuned and perfected the art of being simultaneously the most annoying and adorable thing on the planet. After taking Gabriel out of bed and out to watch the sunrise, I thought, he is really quite a skilled manipulator, getting me to sign up for decades of often frustrating, exhausting work.
Of course, like the fruit tree and the bird, he’s not really conscious or intentional in the process; the love that exists between parents and their offspring, as well the feelings the partners have for each other, are the result of countless generations who found what was needed to ensure survival. The fruit tree offers a free lunch, while we’re offered nature’s most extraordinary, multifaceted intoxicant.
Depending on the context, love can either incite or suppress madness. It can push us to violently defend what is most precious, or serve as the base ingredient in the soothing balm of forgiveness. It moves us to act in ways that are often irrational; life’s most rewarding and intense experiences happen when we leave the mind’s calculating confines. Love is the prod that pushes us out of what’s familiar and safe into the vulnerable unknown.
I’m a happy and willing player in this bait and switch. With one little smile or giggle from Gabriel, he fills me with a joy that erases my frustration and fatigue. He has pushed the boundaries of my heart to expand in both directions, to new extremes of desperation and exaltation. He has driven me to a new level of intimacy both with my wife and with life itself.
It’s true that I can’t really imagine going through this experience of raising a child without some kind of reward. But at the same time, I sense that love is so much more than a hormonal release, than merely the end product of a blind process of natural selection.
While it certainly serves a utilitarian function, I feel I’m tapping into something at the base of all creation, of the universe/God’s longing to experience Itself.
As humans, we are truly blessed to be able to experience and be aware of this in a way that no bird or banana ever could.