This evening — or yesterday evening, as I seem to have crept past midnight into the new day — I participated in a symposium on the theme of love put on by the faculty for our students to close of a Antiquated Day, a day devoted to old fashioned things and a new tradition as of last year at my university.
The readings were diverse: from Shakespeare and Dante, Alice Munro and John Donne, from humanist orations for — and against — marriage, a meditation on the nature of love as requiring a kind of completeness that can only then paradoxically understand itself as lacking, starting with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ode to a Skylark beautifully delivered from memory.
I brought two pieces with me: a passage on friendship from C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves, and a passage from my own story. I wanted to read my own work, but was hesitating — not wanting to put myself next to Dante and Shakespeare and Donne and Munro (except, of course, I do; in the sense that I want also to be classed as a writer with them; even if I am only a minor one). Then one of my colleagues mentioned how disappointed she was not to have been able to find her copy of The Four Loves, and when I expressed my doubts, encouraged me to read mine and for her part read the passage from C.S. Lewis.
So it was that I read a few pages from the heart of my story about the love of brothers and friends and the artist for his art and the lover for his beloved. I admit I didn’t look at anyone as I read it; I didn’t dare.
But I can say: I read some of my novel aloud in public,
I am so grateful for the opportunity. I am not sure what I can say I learned today that isn’t overshadowed by that gratitude, but I learned I can share something dear to me, fearful as I am of its quality, of its reception, of its worth.
I also learned something to think about — not that love is a paradox, which I had guessed already, but that part of its paradox is the dance of abundance and want, of completion and lack. Eros is not a god because he requires a beloved, says Socrates in the original Symposium of Plato; God is love, says many another tradition. God is complete, perfect, beyond all need: and yet he overflows with creation — perhaps because his love is fuller with an object to love and pronounce good? A mystery. But a beautiful one, the resplendent darkness beyond light of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite we read about today, this love that moves us as well as the sun and the other stars.