One step in the wrong direction

Maynard Keenan sings:

Saturn comes back around
to show you everything.
It lets you chose what you will
or will not see
then drags you down like a stone
or lifts you up again,
to spit you out like a child,
light and innocent.

Saturn comes back around
to lift you up like a child,
or drag you down like a stone
to consume you…
(from The Grudge, by Tool)

I’ve been thinking lately about how love has the disturbing ability to turn to its opposite with a fierce quickness. Deep, positive relationships are always just one turn, one step, away from burning animosity. Why is that? Psychologically, it makes some sense. The real experience of love carries with it affirmation, nourishment, a certain safety for expression of those things that are otherwise embarrassing or painful. Love is a place where your vulnerabilities gain new meaning. Where they used to be cradled fears – secrets like Achilles’ heel, Superman’s kryptonite, or Samson’s hair – they become, in the bath of love, a new thing. We become priests to ourselves, offering our self up to the other person who, like God, can heal and pour life into us, and, there, the spots where we are the most easily injured become the spots where we can be touched most deeply.

When we expose ourselves – which is deep love’s greatest and most basic requirement – and we are further injured or humiliated, there is no logic or explanation that can quickly or completely assuage that deepest injury away. So the weak become weaker; they’re crushed into a possibly permanent humiliation, and the strong become more unbridled in the assertion of their will; they burn with a hatred, and can become consumed with the task of righting the world of these heartwrenching wickednesses, often doing so blindly and destructively.

There’s probably nothing in these observations that is new to anyone. But it sets one up to see a serious implication of being in a loving relationship: along with the great possibilities of loving people (in any way), there is a great danger and a great responsibility of being a lover of people. Love is like a ship; if it is functioning (what a dry word!) properly it will move you drastically and beautifully, and give you a perspective from where you can see and appreciate things you otherwise never would. But if it is failing, it’s no longer your salvation from the cold waters – it will sink you to the bottom like a stone. Instead of empowering you to flourish in the world more widely and brightly, it seals you into a very dark place. Love becomes a tomb.

These, being the real-world possibilities for love between people, demand that we meditate on and strive toward being the sort of people who make our relationships gardens where people flourish, not graveyards where people go to die the death of hatred and seclusion. This all starts with clear thinking about the lives we’re living.

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