If it doesn’t help me love you, it can’t possibly be true.
– Kurt Johnson
I have no patience for those who use our desperate situation as an excuse for inaction… The use of this excuse to justify inaction reveals nothing more nor less than an incapacity to love.
– Derrick Jensen
Let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.
– Che Guevara
I’ve just returned from a trip for work — a trip that took me through several airports in my journey across the country and back. What I love most about journeys like this is how immediately I’m called to attend to the “largeness” of our existence — walking through an airport, taking a cab through new-to-me city streets, observing the pacing and perceived busyness of people everywhere, engaging with life. These things fill me with curiosity and remind me that there is so much I do not know (and long to know). Furthermore, there is so much I take for granted in my highly-routinized life happening in the relatively (righteously?) small world of Berkeley.
There is something else that happens, too. Suspended between here and there (no longer in Berkeley and not yet at my final destination) I find myself quite suddenly on the see-saw I’ll call, Intimacy-or-Anonymity. You know the one? The Intimacy-or-Anonymity see-saw, for me, can be an ecstatic experience. Really! At it’s height, the playground ride tips me into gleeful appreciation (love, freely offered) for every being whirling by in the transitory nature of neither here-nor-there. For a period of time we are, all of us, pilgrims held captive in suspended time. All at once, departing and arriving, our wholly-unique stories propel us from one location to another. We are the molecules moving and forming all of existence.
And then, the see-saw swings back. It sets me down in my plane seat, forcing me to choose whether to make eye-contact with the one sitting next to me…or not. Maybe this person will be genuinely interested in an experience I have to share, or maybe we’ll be from the same town, or maybe (…c’mon, say it!) we’ll fall madly in love, or maybe we’ll discover in less than two sentences that we have nothing in common and no matter how many ways I convey with words, body language or otherwise, I will fail completely in my efforts to end all contact. Never-you-fear, introverts! In the talk or no-talk on airplanes debate, I have zero skin in the game.
The Intimacy-or-Anonymity see-saw can be illustrated nicely way up at 30,000 feet. But truthfully, my skin is in a tougher game; the one down here in the weeds, with the people we know, the people we love, and the people we know we could know better.
This week, as St.Valentine visits mailboxes, candle-lit dining tables, chocolate shops and flower stands, I’m thinking too
of the Climate Rally that will happen in Washington, DC on Sunday. I’m thinking of a friend from Montana, who last week told me about the people in her town who are relocating to South Dakota because the Keystone XL Pipeline is creating the jobs they’ve needed for the past 3 years. I’m thinking of the 5,000 new cars arriving on the streets of China….every day. 5000, every day. AND…I’m thinking about the jet-fueled flights I took last week, where I was offered countless
cups of beverages in single-use plastic cups, to say nothing of the sheets and towels and newspapers and coffee-makers made available to me and the hundreds of others occupying the hundreds upon hundreds of hotel rooms just like mine. AND — I know this is hard, but please keep reading — I’m recalling how many of us stared blankly at the countless television screens lining the airport terminals, as stories from far and wide invited us to consider our position on guns, women, trees, democracy…and how after a few minutes, most eyes returned to a hand-held device, clutching perhaps to some sense of intimacy in this vast ocean of anonymity.
And here’s the slippery part…with this subtle shift of our eyes, do we not also choose anonymity, brushing those gun-women-tree-democracy matters off to some other people — the ones more intimately involved? (deep breath….)
It’s Valentine’s Day. I have read and re-read the quotes above; like Zen koans they’ve been circling through my mind: “What IS my capacity to love?” “Is what I’m doing/thinking/feeling right now helping me love you? And if not, can I make a different choice?” “What is a true and loving choice?”
The Intimacy-or-Anonymity dance is a fun game to observe up in the clouds. And on the ground, it requires our engagement. In our homes, schools and offices, spiritual communities and neighborhood coffee shops, we can choose to grow our love….or not. Seduced by an apparent bargain, distracted by a momentary ego-gain, gripped by a project deadline, allured by the reprieve of not-in-my-backyard, it is sooooooo easy to get caught up in the short-sightedness of no intimacy. Fearing the impact of eye-contact and real encounters, we deflect Cupid’s arrow….only to shoot ourselves in the foot.
Start where you are. Begin with the ones you love the most. Move toward those you want to love more.