I’ve been spending some time relaxing on the Greek island of Crete recently, and I’d be lying if I said my time spent exploring nearby Minoan ruins and getting my feet chewed up at the local fish spa hasn’t limited my ability to get some writing done. So I’ll leave you with a short piece about what’s been on my mind today. Hell, I’ll do better than that- I’ll open my damn heart to you. Greece is a romantic country. I’m not talking about the sexual kind of romance per se, although that’s certainly part of it. The people that populate these lands of olives and seashells and turquoise are an emotive, expressive bunch. They communicate in such a poetic way, weaving their hands in graceful gestures of innate rhythm, the cadence of their voices songlike and theatrical. The Greek language itself is a point of fascination for me; perhaps more so than its fine food and dancing, the ancient language of these islanders is so indicative of a culture that has persevered through thousands of years of outside oppression and occupation.
What I’m interested in most of all is love. It’s easy to mock the cliché of it all when taken at face value, but when you sit down and think of it, the concept of love and what it is and what it means is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the human experience. And at the end of the day, that’s the only thing worth talking about- the human heart in conflict with itself, as Faulkner put it. Every society that’s ever existed, every culture from the mountains of Peru to the frozen taiga of Irkutsk, has an idea of love and has tried to refine it through various means of creative expression. But it’s an elusive thing. Of course nothing is outside of the realm of science and it’s based in chemical reaction, but it’s such an overpowering, arresting phenomena that we can’t help but think of it in more lyrical and fanciful terms. It exists as much as an aspect of human biology as it does as an idea- and one that can be approached in many ways, over and over again throughout history.
I find that very compelling, the way science and art are intertwined, the way poets and musicians have tried to reduce the immensity of it into something sharp, simple and memorable down the millennia. The Greeks have six words for love. They communicate their concept of love in a way that’s entirely their own. The kind of love I’ve been thinking about today, in the breeze of salt-water that swoops off of the Aegean, is what the Greeks call Philia. This is the love that exists between friends and comrades. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience this in my life, and it’s not a word I throw around lightly. To me, love has a pretty strict distinction from just liking or being friendly with someone. We all know people in our lives that we like, whose company we enjoy, but how many of these can we say we are in love with? It’s a word that people- especially men- are hesitant to use in the context of friendship. Perhaps it makes people uncomfortable. I think a lot of people think you can’t really express Philia, or that it isn’t really meant to be expressed; it simply exists and we should stop thinking about it and just exist in it. But to me it’s such a powerful, such an extraordinary sensation, that I can’t really call myself a writer and not discuss something that is so integral to my life.
I knew from the beginning that a post like this would run the risk of being so sappy it’ll leave my readers puking their lungs out all over their keyboards, but bear with me. To me, the difference between a friend I like and the experience of true Philia– a friend I love- has everything to do with what I think love is. For me, to love someone is to discover a part of yourself you never knew quite existed. When you miss someone, when you feel their absence as a literal ache, that is when a person is a part of you and when you know love exists. I think it works the same for friends, family and sexual partners in that regard. In my definition of it, it’s a great joiner. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced genuine love in the sexual sense; for sure I have liked girls and been driven to acting stupid because of that attraction, but as for deep, romantic love- no, that’s not yet emerged in my life with any clarity. I think if you have experienced any kind of love at all you can consider yourself lucky. I know I do, because of my experience of Philia.
I started thinking about all of this because of the book I was reading today. It triggered a memory from last year and gave me a fresh interpretation of love that I can’t get out of my head. I’ll post the extract for you below. I love how the character’s definition of love captures so well the way we perceive it and how it makes us feel.
I’m going to respect the privacy of my personal life that must remain separate from my blog, but I will say that the passage above perfectly described the feelings I experienced a year ago in Barcelona when my two best friends got engaged. When a relationship is as strong and inspiring as that of my two friends, and when those in love with each other mean so much to you, the relationship itself takes on a larger meaning. In a way it feels as if on some level it belongs to all those who love them, and that we are partaking in some small way on their journey. I remember distinctly the sights and sounds and smells of Barcelona that day and it will forever be attached to what happened there between them. Like Greece and much of the Mediterranean, Catalonia is a romantic place full of romantic people. I might even go as far as to say that Barcelona is the most beautiful city I have ever been to. I am unable to see it as anything but the city of love. The soft glow of the lamps above the narrow, Gothic streets seem to scream romance. The experience of seeing each of your two best friends find such happiness in one another has been the most rewarding and profound sensation of my life. It’s worth writing about.
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