The Paradox of Love
Whenever I think of the people I’d loved and lost, for instance, my uncle who’d recently passed and the ones I will inevitably lose if I live long enough, I can’t help but think how ironic it is that the two things we humans need and seek with such vigor and intentionality — longevity and connection — actually come at such a huge price. Grief is the cost we pay for loving someone or something so deeply and earnestly. As Glennon Doyle put it succinctly: “Grief is love’s souvenir. It’s our proof that we once loved. Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world: Look! Love was once mine.” Yet grief is such a potent experience that can tear you apart, edging you to what feels like the brink of insanity making you question if loving is too steep a price. But then what should we make of life that is devoid of love?
I learned this bitter truth alongside history and algebra. My endless attempts at earning my father’s love — yes, I say “earn” because it wasn’t long before I came to realize that his love for me, if any, was never unconditional — failed to prosper, I became aware of the cost of unrequited love at a very young age. This cost is multifaceted: psychological sometimes manifesting as shattered self-worth and at other times as unhealthy perfectionism, the ripple effects of which likely to cause your relationships with self and others to suffer. If you then decide to pursue therapy at some point in your life to heal the old and freshly produced wounds, then the cost becomes literal. But there is another truth that most of us tend to be oblivious to.
Which is that it is in fact the threat of losing love that compels us to cherish it fervently in the first place. When engaged couples stand at the altar to profess their love to one another, there is a line that the officiator often requests them to recite at the conclusion of their vows, “…till death do us part.” This is a subtle reminder for the joyful and hopeful couples that even if their love manages to survive the inevitable challenges of merging and building lives together, there will come a time when they need to say goodbye to one another. And the wiser couples will heed the underlying message — their days are in fact numbered. This is to say that love and loss are two sides of the same coin: a package deal that will arrive as conjoined twins inducing both joy and wholeness as well as heartbreak and a profound void among its recipients.
There is a term that best encapsulates the paradox I have been trying to elucidate — scarcity heuristic. Scarcity heuristic stems from the idea that the more human beings perceive an object or resource to be less available or difficult to acquire, the more they tend to see it as valuable. For instance, diamonds would not have been as priceless if they were available in
everyone’s backyards. My sister and I just returned from our trip back home. We stayed for 14 days and when we told people that we were there for only two weeks, their immediate response was, “oh no, but that is so brief.” Indeed, it was rather short especially considering our big family and the fact that we had to fly for more than 20 hours to get there. However, what people didn’t realize is that it was in fact the brevity of our stay that led us to spend our short time as meaningfully and purposefully as possible. We just couldn’t afford to squander our precious time haphazardly. This principle can also be applied to life and death. The brevity and precarity of life can lead us to cherish life with all its beauty, mundanity, and complexity. Similarly, we treasure the summer when we live at a place where there is a punishing winter.
In one of his latest books, professor of philosophy, William Irvine, talks about an unconventional practice called Negative Visualization. It involves taking a reflective stance and visualizing what our lives would be like if we had lost something of high value to us.
Accordingly, for instance, when people entertain the idea of losing their loved ones to death for a flickering moment, more often than not he said “we are more likely to experience a rush of appreciation of the continued existence of that being in our lives” He confessed to practicing this on a regular basis and whenever he entertains the thought of living life without his beloved wife for instance, he would send her a short text that says, “Thank you for existing.” Ever since we learned this, my sister and I have also incorporated this practice into our lives. As a result, it’s not uncommon for us to exchange this line every once in a while: “Thank you for existing.”
Written by: Feven Seifu