Wissot: Love in the time of COVID
I thought about sending my Valentine’s Day cards this year with masks on them because I don’t know who has and has not been vaccinated. The last thing I wanted to do was infect people I love by mailing them an expression of affection and a highly contagious disease at the same time.
I confess that I ripped off this column’s title from the great Colombian novelist, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who wrote a novel about love in a time when another disease was rampant, “Love In A Time of Cholera.” It is not easy today to write of love when death is capturing the daily headlines. Not easy perhaps, but necessary.
Death is on so many doorsteps that maybe the 1965 Burt Bacharach lyrics, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing there is too little of” is just the medicine we all need to lift our spirits as we make our way through this year-long pandemic.
I eventually decided to use an online service, Doozy Card, rather than the post office to reach the people I love this Valentine’s Day. For a nominal monthly fee I get to send funny cards on the best and least-known holidays. Many of my friends were caught off guard on Aug. 12 when I reminded them it was National Pot Roast Day. Afterwards, they thanked me for celebrating the beauty of brisket with them.
In the past, I’ve tried my hand at writing semi-original love poems, semi-original in the sense that I will take a poem written by a famous poet and come up with my own unique imitation of it. To offer one example, the superb Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, in his book “Twenty Love Poems And A Song of Despair” had these lines: “Leaning into the afternoons I cast my sad nets towards your oceanic eyes.” My translation read: “Staggering into the time after lunch I thrust my morose tender hooks into your humongous orbs.” Pretty good, though a tad gory, don’t you think?
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Or how about Neruda’s “I have gone marking the atlas of your body with crosses of fire,“ which received this fresh treatment from me: “I love blowtorching your body with vertical and horizontal stripes.” It doesn’t get more romantic than that, does it?
I have no difficulty telling both women and men that I love them in a card or in person. And why shouldn’t I? We aren’t talking about erotic or platonic love in the vast majority of our relationships. Unless you’re Wilt Chamberlain, the number of sexual partners you have had in your lifetime doesn’t require a calculator to recall. As for platonic love, I’m not quite sure what that is, so I probably need to pick up a copy of Plato’s “The Symposium” to see if I’ve experienced it.
When I say “I love you” to a man or woman, I am not suggesting that I am in love with them but that I love something about them. When you get right down to it, there is a lot to love in the people who matter the most to us. And because of this unprecedented period of social isolation, we have had more time to think about the meaning of that love.
For me, it comes down to a killer quote from the esteemed novelist Henry James, who wrote: “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
More than any other quality, kindness is what the people I love have in common. Kindness encompasses a host of associated virtues: empathy, compassion, selflessness, generosity, altruism.
Returning to the lyrics in the song “What the World Needs Now, “ I don’t think it is a stretch of the imagination to say that when Bacharach laments the paucity of love in the world he might as well be saying the same thing about kindness.
You can’t have love without kindness; you can’t be kind without feeling love for other people.
Please remember that when you send your Doozy card today or share an expression of love on Zoom tomorrow.