In a terribly sad song, Blake’s View, M. Ward speaks about comforting someone who has “lost their one and only.” Ward’s consolation, that “death is just a door, you’ll be reunited on the other side,” is sung in such a way that the listener knows that however true this might be, for the person who has lost their beloved, it is a hard and distant reunion that seems to await. After all, we only get there often after “a-weeping and a a-wailing, our heads in the hands of the nurse.” In other words, the long sought for reunion is one that requires our own deaths. And then, whether or not we actually meet our beloveds depends on whether what Ward and Blake suggest , is actually true. A-weeping and a-wailing, indeed.
Award winning, Canadian novelist, David Adams Richards, gives reason to hope as to the veracity of this belief. Our own experience of love, he suggests, indicates both its infinite and transcendent nature and, if our own love is both infinite and transcendent, what must that mean of that whose nature is itself infinite and transcendent?
Love as Infinite
The protagonists of most of Richards’s novels struggle against the seemingly harsh circumstances of their birth, including extreme poverty, lack of resources and education, and public services, designed to help, that have the effect of further alienating these individuals from the world. It thus is perhaps not surprising, that most of these individuals yearn for something that seems intractably beyond their reach. Lyle Henderson, for instance, in Mercy Among the Children, having lived in extreme poverty, faced the ridicule and persecution of his community, then loses his father, mother and younger brother, Percy, all in quick succession. Lyle spends the next several years travelling the world, ostensibly hunting for Mat Pit, the man he blames for his torment, but in truth he is seeking a kind of peace that does not seem to be at offer in the world At the same time, however, Richards presents us with characters who seemed to have succeeded in the world, and, whose desire, we might expect, should be resolved. But these individuals are in constant quests for more. Thus, Leo MacVicer from Mercy has amassed a small fortune and controls the small community in which he lives. Yet, even now as an old man, he lusts after the beautiful Cynthia Pit. Regardless of their socioeconomic status, most of the characters demonstrate that the nature of their desires or loves, like our own, I expect, are essentially infinite. I go to get gas, so I can go to the beach, so I can swim because I don’t have a pool, but I want a pool, and a really nice deck, which means a bigger yard, and on I go. I might just be crasser than everyone else, but I think that if we are honest with ourselves, we will all see the infinite and seemingly insatiable nature of our loves.
And if our desire is infinite in nature, then presumably it will take something infinite in its own nature to fulfill us. Dante, in The Divine Comedy, says that love itself is the solution. The stuff of the natural order is finite and thus exists in limited quantities. As such, it will never be able to satisfied infinite desire. Love, Dante says, is such that the more that one takes or uses, the more there exists. Again this is a phenomenon we have probably experienced in our own lives. When someone treats you with kindness, in broad terms, your natural response will be to be kind in return. As love is “used”, its quantiles multiply rather than shrink. The answer to the problem of our infinite desire lies in in the problem itself. Our desire or love is infinite. And so it will be in love that we will be satisfied.
Love as Eternal
Richards work also shows how our love transcends time. For instance, several of Richards novels traverse the history of western thought, and when taken together reveal that despite these historical differences, love is a constant. The Friends of Meagre Fortune takes on the landscape of a Greek tragedy, while Mercy Among the Children speaks to a Christian stoicism and The Lost Highway takes up a predominantly secular world. Despite the historically diverse “settings” one thing transcends all of their differences – the characters in these novels all discover that they are only fulfilled in love. Thus, in Meagre Fortune, Owen Jameson, like a Greek hero fights against a prophecy that indicates his fate is sealed while struggling to win a battle against the natural order and human nature. And as great a hero he ultimately is, his tragedy and much of the disaster lies in his early refusal to recognize the grace and love of Camellia, until it is too late. Alex Chapman in The Lost Highway, a declared atheist for whom prophecies would be objects of derision and whose entire adult life has been directed to advancing his own power, discovers that his greatest work lies in saving the life of thirteen year old girl, even though it means sacrificing himself.
Whatever the contingencies of time, for Richards, love is revealed as eternal. For those is us who have lost a loved one or have been divided by space or time, I think this essential point also rings true. Despite the what might seem to be insurmountable barriers, our love does not diminish, but continues and we cannot imagine that it will ever end.
Maybe I will Start Writing Hallmark Cards
Your love is infinitely satisfying and a premonition of eternity.