I’m not sure what the opposite of love is.
I don’t think it’s hate; hate seems to me more like love gone wrong, love’s failure. Perhaps the opposite of love is indifference, lack of care at all. It is against this, this seeming incapacity to be moved, this evident lack of will to be bothered, that Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi, the great testifiers of the Holocaust, inveigh. Yet even indifference is a form of love’s failing.
For human life is defined by the fortunes of love. Love’s hopes and conquests, its frustrations and grief, form the secret history of every person, which we garner in our heart and bequeath, knowingly and unknowingly and in all its complexities, to the next generations.
As a rabbi I often stand as witness to love’s beginnings and love’s endings.
Except that the beginnings, under the wedding canopy, aren’t really beginnings any more. We don’t live in a context where parents arrange the marriages of their offspring, or when a man, smitten at the mere sight of the picture of a young woman sent him by some fussing, well-meaning aunt, commits his heart and fortunes all at once. (I know couples who ‘met’ that way and fifty years of happiness followed).
Perhaps love begins in some serendipitous encounter in line at the bus stop or airport, or simply on-line, full stop. As George Elliot wrote, somewhat wryly for my taste: ‘Destiny stands by sarcastic with our dramatis personae folded in her hand”.
Or perhaps love begins when a mother receives her baby from the hands of the midwife. Then commences the joy and anguish of parenthood, the unfulfillable longing to protect from all harm and mischance, from every cold wind, cold teacher, cruelty, illness, accident and torment this swiftly growing and changing person, while striving to let go and not be hurt when he or she pushes you away and tells you firmly: ‘It’s absolutely none of your business’.
Inevitably, whether as parents, partners or children, we find ourselves asking, in those moments when we have the restraint to stand back from our misapprehensions and conflicts: Why didn’t I? Why couldn’t I? Why did it take me so long to understand? Then, if we are not too proud, and true care has softened our stubbornness, we seek to make apology and forgiveness a part of our love too. No one escapes such mistakes.
And I witness love’s ending, the ineluctable moment when death says ‘Let go’, when a person must part from the body whose hand they held, whose love they craved, and turn with a broken heart to what looks like the endless bleakness of the future. Except that it is never the end because love is never over. It travels with us wherever we go, inextinguishable in our heart, and all our future love is always the branch and leaf of the love that has been.
And we are all witness to love’s longing, to the eyes of bewildered children which look at you from the street, or the screen, or the tent-flap: ‘Do not hurt me; do not forsake me’, they say. Thousands upon thousands of children, and adults too, look at us like that, refugees, or homeless, or with a house but not a home because there’s no companionship, no love. ‘Who are you?’ they ask us, ‘What are you?’ ‘Are you human?’ There are eyes, too, which have no more strength or hope to look up and meet us in the eye.
We say that God is love, surely not because empirical evidence points consistently in that direction, but perhaps in the trust that the infinite movement of life itself somehow retains whatever molecules of love we have contributed to love’s totality and brings them to fulfilment somewhere, some time, in its unbounded becoming.