Valentine’s Day

When the Heart is Pierced

It’s a fairly violent image, really – Cupid taking aim at us, shooting pointed arrows meant to cross the skin’s thin barrier. Cupid really wants to get beyond all our defenses. Aimed at our very hearts, his projectiles not only have consequences, but often fatal ones – in the ancient Greek sense of fate. Lives veer off course and are inexorably altered. Formerly sane and self-contained, we start to long for someone annoyingly outside ourselves, and often beyond our grasp. It gets worse, this love business. Cupid, of all things, is blind. A stranger, a mere passerby, becomes a cherished, essential beloved – and we must reach for him or her. The object of our affections, worthy or not, becomes the precious objective of our lives. Does this mean that Cupid’s chooses randomly – or with some preternatural insight as to what we really need?

Most of us have loved and lost. Most of us have chosen foolishly. Good novels are full of such mad heroes and heroines. The unrequited, the impossible, the unsolvable dilemmas of status or distance or plain old bad timing. But love perseveres in these books; it perseveres to the point of lasting art. This essay is about these pierced ones, the ones whose paths were warped by love. Was Cupid somehow right to mark them in this way? Should they thank him for giving them a kind of majesty?

I think they should. Yes, we have the Bovaries, the Kareninas, the Montagues and the Capulets as cautionary tales. But do these works really caution us to avoid passion? Hardly, when it’s the hunger for passion that makes us such avid readers and voyeurs. For many women, in fact, the “tragic” Wuthering Heights is nothing less than an amorous bible. Heathcliff had no game and he had no shades of grey. He was coal black and bloody red, thundering and stomping without the least ambiguity. When Catherine memorably says, “I am Heathcliff” – confessing this while married to a sensible man, no one throws the book across the room. In my own novel, Down Under, I describe such a love, beginning when the protagonists are only fourteen. There may be rational reasons why an Irish-American boy, battered by his father, shoelaces untied, summons the soul of a “nice Jewish girl,” child of a bourgeois suburban family. But Cupid doesn’t need those reasons. That sightless sprite has bigger things in mind when he bonds opposites.

Maybe it’s true love he’s after. The kind of love that builds bridges between rich and poor, black and white, comfortable wife and cavalier, wild gypsy boy and prim English girl. Maybe Cupid is trying to expand our sense of what is palatable. Because suddenly an irrational hunger develops to know everything about another existence, culture, and consciousness.

I’m not saying these things tend to end well. What begins with a breach of defenses can often end painfully. Love can shake us and break us. But what can break, too, are our boundaries and our fears. The surrender to what’s unknown – like all our surrenders to loss – make us more human, more beautiful, more wise.

So from a passionate writer in a practical world, here’s my advice: Let it happen. Love is a very interesting kiss of life. And whether it lasts or not, whether it’s practical or not, it’s here for its own reasons, a gift of expanding consciousness that takes us by surprise.