Literature and Life: LOVE

Literature, life, and love--it appears it's an alliterative day, at least!  In The Water is Wide, Shawn tells Hugh about a modern Valentine's Day, as they head out with James Douglas for what will be the battle of Skaithmuir, or Coldstream, the hardest battle James ever fought, according to James himself.

Shawn handed him a bannock, checked his sword and knives, and the two set off into the white-washed forest.  With a low whistle, they found the night guard and relieved him.
"Tell me more of your time," Hugh said, as they settled on a dark ridge overlooking the camp's eastern flank. 
"For starters," Shawn said, "if I were there now, I'd be planning a big surprise for Amy for Valentine's Day."
"What's that?" Hugh chewed the hard bannock. 
"A day for love.  You never heard of St. Valentine?  I'd think in this holy time, you'd know your saints." 
Hugh chuckled.  "It might be Malcolm knows of him." 
"Aw, hell," Shawn said, "maybe he hasn't even been born, yet.  Or maybe when Niall and I changed history, it killed off his ancestors and he never will be.  I don't even know where he was from." 
"What kind of surprises?" Hugh asked. 
"Our first year, it was roses, dinner by candlelight, the Merlot she likes.  The next year, it was a trip to Hawaii." 

"What's that?" 

"This incredible tropical island."  Shawn heard the smile in his own voice, as he slipped into memories of hot sand and bright sun and lazy days with Amy, much nicer than the frosty ground groping with cold fingers through his breeks.  "Like paradise.  I took her to this incredibl hotel with a jacuzzi in our room."  
They mounted, three dozen men wiping sleep from their eyes, gnawing last night’s meat—the only breakfast they would get—and jamming helmets on their heads. Their garrons snorted, and kicked through early morning gloam twisting among their fetlocks as they darted among the trees, picking up speed from a trot to a canter to a gallop. 
Shawn leaned over his pony’s neck, protecting his face from tree branches swooping down low. His sword felt solid on his back, and his knives at home in his belt and boots. A few raiders was nothing. Maybe he’d even pluck a daisy on the way home and stick it in his pony’s forelock, since he couldn’t give Amy a rose. He could pretend the tough, boiled English beef was a juicy filet mignon from the Strip House. 
He’d convince himself the ale was sweet Merlot, and kiss his pony on the nose. His animal veered around a birch, ghostly silver in the morning mist. Sometimes you just had to look life in the face, he told himself, and say, Nice try, I’m going to have a good day anyway. He patted the pony’s neck. “At least I’ll kiss someone on Valentine’s Day. Better you than the rest of these lunkheads, aye?”

Valentine's Day, the Black Douglas, 1316, medieval Scotland
What the world needs love, sweet love!
Okay, so I was having way too much fun with the Love Monkey this morning (please don't take that line out of context!) posing him with medieval warriors, in light of the passage above.  (Yes, kids, now you know what I do when you all head off to school!)  But hey, a little levity never hurt a serious subject (although the guy throwing stones might not be good for the poor Love Monkey's head.)  So onto serious and weighty matters--more serious than the look the Love Monkey is giving to the guys with swords and far weightier than that plastic stone.

Our modern notions of romantic love spring from ideas that grew up in medieval times.  (Which will make a great blog post that I hope to get to--after taxes--which I do not love.)  But many of our ideas of 'love' fall very short today.  We mistake infatuation and shallower feelings for 'love.'

So what is love?  The world is full of books on what it is, the differences between kinds of love, and ways that forms of love can be characterized and categorized.  Angus quotes parts of Corinthians to Amy when they discuss this question and what she and Shawn felt for each other:
Love is patient.  Love is kind.  It does not envy.  It does not boast.  It is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking.
The Greeks spoke of agape, phileo, storge, and eros.

Agape is the grand love for humanity, the action of love--acts of kindness toward others, feeding the poor, holding a door, stopping for a stranded driver, shoveling your neighbor's driveway.  This encompasses love even for 'enemies.'  It's also called Christian love and selfless giving.

Phileo is a 'warmer,' more personal love of desiring friendship and relationship with a person.  You may feel agape for strangers, but not phileo.  Other sites call this cherishing and friendship.

Storge is familial--the love of parents for children and among siblings.  It is forgiving, sacrificial, unconditional.  Also sometimes called affection and belonging.

Eros, longing, is what we think of on Valentine's Day: romantic love, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses; Shawn's jacuzzis and roses and romantic nights out.  Lust, hormones, passion, having fun together, and shallower things are often taken for 'love.'  This, of course, doesn't necessarily last without something deeper.  One of those deeper aspects of love, I believe, is that:

All love, if it's genuine, makes us better people.  

Someone who is moved by love to rescue another who is in danger is a better person.  Someone who leaves a party to be with her friend in a crisis has become better by that act of selflessness and putting another ahead of her own desires.  When a man decides to leave behind parties and irresponsibilities to care for others, or leave behind vices and put someone else first--he has become a better man.  When the good parts of someone's character grow, that is a sign of love being genuine.

Love may well be the most common theme in all literature.

One such book I read was about a couple who found love again years after they had known each other in high school.  Beautiful story, right?  However, the man cheated on his wife and abandoned his sons.  At the end of the book, these two were the same people they were at the start--utterly focused on themselves, shrugging off the harm they did to others as justified because they were 'in love.'

How about the 'love' we see in Natural Born Killers?  Yes--love.  Mickey and Mallory Knox no doubt feel some 'love.'  They are clearly passionate about each other.  Yet they leave a trail of destruction in their wake.

By contrast, one of the reasons I love the book The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson, is the look at what love does for two very unique people--Marianne Engel and the never-named narrator, whom we first meet in a careening car on a mountain curve, as he's drinking whiskey, in the wake of a cocaine-snorting party--a regular part of his life as a porn star.  The opening words of the novel pertain quite well to today's topic:

great books, moving stories, poweful fiction, what to read nextAccidents ambush the unsuspecting, often violently, just like love. 

Driving on a mountain curve while drinking whiskey after snorting cocaine--I think we see what's coming, and let me tell you, it is described in a blaze of glorious, descriptive words!

Marianne Engel (she is never called just Marianne) has had--if her story is true--hundreds of years to grow and become better through her love for this man, through her self-sacrifice to redeem the mistake she once made.  He, likewise, becomes a very different and better person as a result of her love for him, and his slowly-growing love for her.  The book begins in a blazing fire; it does not end in a blazing romance, but it is a story of powerful love, nonetheless.

In my own books, of course, Shawn grows throughout.  We see him first as the self-indulgent hedonist, cheating on Amy, conning her out of her grandmother's ring, gambling away his trombone the night before a big concert, and swinging buckets of money with the drunk and giggling Caroline on their way to even more fun.  Then...there's that little catalyst of being caught in a different and brutal time, where the impact of our actions on others is stark.

But Shawn could have become like Simon, in that time.  Instead, he grows.  Why?  It is ultimately a result of love: Amy's love for him, his love for her which was far from perfect in the opening pages but still something more than he'd ever felt for anyone else; his growing agape and phileo for Allene and Brother David as they make their way through the wilderness and he understands there are men and wild beasts who will kill a woman and helpless, battered monk, and he is the only one of the three in any real position to protect them.

It happens as a result of his growing brotherly love for Niall and storge, belonging, familial love for the people of Glenmirril, and his growing love for Christina.  His ability to grow springs from his mother's love for him, the example of his father's love for others, and his own love for his parents.

There are many kinds of love, and they all impact him and help him to become a better man.

Love--genuine love--lifts us to become better people.

Happy Valentine's Day!

  • February 19 and 26: I'll be reading on the Vehicle of Expression, part of the Art Shanty Project
  • February 25, 2017: I will co-host Food Freedom on AM 950 with Laura Hedlund and Karen Olson Johnson.  Guests: Michael Agnew, craft beer expert and Ross Fishman on Russian literature.  We'll taste Russian beer: listen to the whole program from last month.

To learn more about my books, click on the images below.

If you would like to follow this blog, sign up HERE
If you like an author's posts, please click like and share
It helps us continue to do what we do

If you liked this article, you might also like
Painting the Darkness,
Beethoven in Love,
or other posts under the LITERATURE AND LIFE label



Popular Posts