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Love's Punishment

I told my students that only those who take the chance to love--those who gamble and raise the stakes, those who pose love's question and expose themselves to an answer that comes from elsewhere--I paradoxically told them that it is only the lover or the one who affords to lose everything that can never lose. So they asked me to clarify.

I said that the beloved, who by definition is only loved and need not love, does not seem to stand to lose anything in front of love's advance. Again, how could she?--when she only receives (or rejects), answers (yes or no) or ignores the love-question.

But on the other end of love's gift, the giver, who by definition only knows how to give, in this case, give love, seems to be the "party" that is most susceptible and vulnerable (like the open hand which can be slapped, the wide embrace that reveals and uncovers the heart, the admission that is necessarily followed by a judgment).

In our everyday experiences, it is the one who loved and is not loved in return who suffers the "heartbreak." We do not see those who reject love staring into space midday or hiding their tears or lending their sorrows to the cool hand of night.

Verily, this is love's punishment: that he who dared to love, through the virtue of his own courage, will equally have to wager between a glorious victory or a terrible upset. Of course these words of war and games neither really apply to love nor the lover; but the point is clear: only the daring can be victorious--and only they could fall.

But--and this was my point: while it may at first seem that the broken lover is the one who "lost everything," and while the beloved, in contrast, in her petrified immobility, seems to have neither gained nor lost anything; that is, while the one who loved more will suffer more (always in balance) at the beginning of love's end than she who did not love as much or love at all; or finally, while it is the giver who suffers the lost gift when she did not receive it--such immediate loss, suffering, and brokenness are but momentary, I say.

It only takes some time for the lover to see that he could not have done otherwise--could not but love, as he is, by definition, him who could only love: and there is dignity in this.

The lover, who seems to lose everything in love, ends up not losing anything precisely because he did not contradict his essence in denying himself a possible love. What is more, the lover fulfilled his identity of being a lover and no other.

As courage and daring never stop short in front of the possibility of loss for they are what they are because they can stand to lose themselves, the lover still prevails--no longer as a glorious victor but as the valiant failure--because the lover becomes what he is.

As for the beloved? In her rejection of love's gift, a gift she did not need and can do without, she at first does not seem to lose anything. But this is an illusion which hides the sadness of her loss. Yet what loss?--when she did not give or gain!

Only the highest loss worthy of her name: in rejecting the lover the beloved is disqualified as beloved, hence dispossessing her of her essence, and finally sentencing her to a silence where only the echoes of the lover's retreat can be heard.


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