I often refer to La Cañada as Constantinople, a crossroad of differences and commonalities. For the past two weeks, we’ve enjoyed the spectrum of reminders that love is in the air. It’s Valentine Day and the town is filled with red hearts, winged cupids with arrows and tempting sweets. The See’s Candies line is daunting. Florists are working overtime, restaurants are busy taking reservations and children are distributing cards that read “Be my Valentine!”
The Greeks were first to contemplate the mystery of love. This feeling was so incredulous and complex that they would have been shocked by our using a single sentiment to whisper “I love you” over a candlelit dinner and to casually sign an email “lots of love.”
In Plato’s “Symposium,” he explained love’s evolution, saying early humans were once round, in the form of a circle. They had four hands, four feet and one head with two faces looking opposite ways. They were so powerful that even Zeus, the great mythical god of sky and thunder, feared them. So much so that he sent a lightning bolt, cut them in half and diminished their strength. After the division was made, the two parts fell together, desiring their other halves and throwing their arms about one another, longing to grow back into one. The becoming of one, instead of two, is the very expression of our ancient need. They called love the desire and pursuit of this wholeness.
Of course love must have begun with the gods. Eros (his Roman counterpart known as Cupid) as commanded by his jealous mother, pulled back his bow to send an arrow armed with an amorous potion deep into the soul of Psyche. Thwack! Once there was a time before love and then love began!
Do we need another song or treatise about love? The libraries are filled with volumes expressing such magic. The Beatles have told us more than once that, “All you need is love.” The Romantic poets, Shelly, Wadsworth, Byron and Benet continuously wrote of its magic. For love does make the world go round and the Young Rascals got it right: “Love is a beautiful thing; and it can teach your heart to sing.”
Aristotle and Cicero imply the foundation of all love is rooted in friendship. In its purest form, friendship is a moral paradigm for all human relationships. It’s the foundation because each loves the other for what he or she is. Friendship is not based on an outward pose, but by a person-to-person relationship. Aristotle believed the essence of friendship has no purpose except the deepening of the spirit.
Eventually, love evolved from the gods and found its way to mortals. One of the earliest love stories is a compelling Arabian tale. It’s the story of Layla and Majnun, a tragedy not unlike its successors Romeo and Juliet, Beatrice and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
Layla is betrothed to another. Subsequently, Majnun wanders the desert, living in solitude. He was often seen by travelers reciting poetry to himself and writing in the sand with a long stick. They said he was driven to madness by a broken heart.
Within the classics, Layla and Majnun is considered to be the first story that expresses the pageantry of love, of loving someone till it hurts. That is contrary to today’s depiction of the shallow subtleties of love or the whimsical pleasures of the moment’s indulgence. The love of Lyla and Majnun was consuming.
Before Majnun’s decent into madness he composed his last poem visiting Layla’s castle.
“I pass by these walls, the walls of Layla, and I kiss this wall and that wall. It’s not Love of the walls that has enraptured my heart, but of the One who dwells within them.”