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The entire world has now become largely afflicted with the Western view of love as an event, in much the same way that most scholars mistakenly view creation as an event.
Furthermore, we have come to view love as an event that we are powerless to control. Defined this way, love happens to us—like a traffic accident, only worse, because there is no insurance coverage for it.
Even more unfortunate is the fact that we are taught to desire this accident, even to long for it. Thus we place ourselves in the most likely places to have it strike us down. Metaphorically, we stand in the middle of an eight-lane superhighway and close our eyes. It matters not whether such an event is appropriate to our lives—whether or not we are married or single, immature or mature, already in a relationship or not—because we are constantly and ceaselessly bombarded by the message that a meaningful life can be brought about by nothing except the ecstasy of the bloom of new love.
But the cruelest part of this neurotic vision is that once we are struck down by the SUV of love, this intense desire and infatuation cannot, must not ever change. But if it does, it is not our fault. After all, love is not an act of free will. We simply fell out of love. The SUV struck us and then drove off—what we might call a hit-and-run love affair. From any sort of rational or objective perspective, this sort of relationship sounds more like the title of a poorly written country-and-western song—but this is, in fact, what we increasingly think as a global society, and why we are liable to excuse any act performed while one is in the throes of passion, whether it be murder or simply abandoning one’s husband or wife or children to pursue this central objective.
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That kind of love, we are constantly reminded, is the one event worth living for.
Furthermore, if we would rather sustain this feeling than destroy our family, we will try just about any product to maintain the initial sensation we once had, including a plethora of multicolored pills, artistically crafted undergarments, and all manner of methodologies to rid ourselves of unsightly human hair or to acquire thoroughly exfoliated skin that retains the texture we had at sixteen.
Naturally, all of this effort, however sincerely and rigorously pursued, must ultimately give way to nature itself—the inexorable and apparently intractable process of aging and, in time, death, nature’s unavoidable way of exhorting us to give up this struggle to stay forever young. Then—or, with those who have attained some slight degree of wisdom, slightly before then—we hopefully come to realize that all the myths about love with which we have been raised, trained, and indoctrinated, are unhealthy, unnatural, and impossible. We realize this verity partially because, as students of nature, we in time appreciate that nothing in physical or metaphysical reality can exist in a condition of stasis. Nor should we desire stasis, especially in relationships, because stasis, as the Baha’i teachings so helpfully point out, is agonizingly boring and therefore doomed. In fact, Abdu’l-Baha said in a talk he gave in Boston in 1912, no stasis is possible in either the inner or outer world:
Creation is the expression of motion. Motion is life. A moving object is a living object, whereas that which is motionless and inert is as dead. All created forms are progressive in their planes, or kingdoms of existence, under the stimulus of the power or spirit of life. The universal energy is dynamic. Nothing is stationary in the material world of outer phenomena or in the inner world of intellect and consciousness.
Nevertheless, Western society has inherited the mythical belief that love can and should always be the same, a static concept which really defines love as an event more than a process. That’s why we seem comfortable treating love as an event, a mysterious Cupid-caused accident that evokes incredible psychic and physical sensations. Furthermore, because we accept this event as an accident and thus quite beyond free will, we also conclude that this event is all the more enticing because it transports us out of the realm of responsibility and accountability. “Sorry, honey,” our spouse might say one evening at dinner, “but I have to leave you and the kids because today at work I was struck by the SUV of love. ”
Of course, your lawyers will work out the details of the practical repercussions of the accident—who gets what furniture and which child—but you can hardly argue against an accident any more than you can argue against a tornado or a flat tire. The SUV of your love just up and drove away, and another Escalade in midnight blue came and struck your spouse at lunch.
To avoid these fatal accidents, we may want to reconsider and re-evaluate the entire myth of romantic love, which we’ll courageously attempt in the next essay in this series.
This series of essays is adapted from John Hatcher’s address to the 2005 Association for Baha’i Studies Conference titled The Huri of Love, which comprised the 23rd Hasan M. Balyuzi Memorial Lecture.