Essays About


A part of me hates to see my one year old cry. But given that she cries over trivialities like falling ten inches from a standing to sitting position, a part of me loves to see her cry, because when her lips wrinkle and tears flow my love for her wells up. There is a disturbing paradox in love: we take pleasure in loving; the beloved's pain intensifies our love; therefore, we take pleasure in the beloved's pain.

Though I loved my daughter before she was born and very soon afterward, surprise, not love, was my chief emotion as the doctor pulled her from the birth canal. She entered life a rough-looking creature: her skin was covered with a white film, her wet black hair was matted to her head, and her right ear, the first feature I saw, was so crumpled from delivery that I briefly thought she had cauliflower ear. Looking past her disheveled condition at her face, I saw no resemblance to my wife or me. Though I had no real expectation of what she would look like, her unfamiliar appearance startled me by reminding me that I did not know her yet. I had loved my mental idea of her, talking to her through my wife's skin during pregnancy, but now her reality and particularity said to me, slow down with your love, I am not made in your mental image. How could this be my daughter, my dearest, the flesh of my flesh, when I could not have told her apart from a total stranger?

I've sometimes felt a milder version of this estrangement from expectation when arriving at a vacation rental that I had visualized incorrectly based on photographs. Imagine, too, the soul's alienation when, the veil of mortality lifted, it beholds God and discovers that the God it loved in life was only a fantasy, and it must now learn to love all over again.

I used to come home every night to a childless house, and I was happy. But since my daughter's birth, if I come home and she is away for the night at a grandparent's house, my evening goes poorly. I check the video monitor of the nursery and feel empty to see an empty crib. My evening walk, without her in a carrier against my chest, is exercise without pleasure. How can I be dependent on a being who, six months ago, did not exist? I did not need her when I did not have her. But she has entered my life as a nail enters a block of wood, simultaneously creating a hole and filling it. Remove the nail, and the hole remains. Love completes unhappy people, but uncompletes happy people, because love means we can no longer be happy alone.

Some nights my wife is late getting home, and, bypassing the innocent explanation that she is running errands or had a meeting after work, my mind flies to the thought it dreads: she has wrecked her car, she is never coming home. I permit these morbid hypotheses because they renew my love with miraculous potency. In the midst of my anticipatory mourning, I hear a key turning in the lock: the door opens: she is resurrected from the dead! I kiss her and thank fate, and she kisses back, perplexed by my excess affection. For a happy marriage, the only counseling couples need is an occasional fear that each other has died.

I admire the seacoast for many qualities—the unobstructed immensity, the thundering surf, the hint of peril, the brisk and blowing vitality. However, I admire other elements merely because they are part of the seacoast, such as shipping and fishing. Why should these industries interest me more than, say, hunting and logging? Only because they occur upon the already interesting ocean.

There is a tipping point where love spills over to things otherwise not lovable. The ugly feet of a beautiful woman are made desirable by the body they are attached to. A loud laugh that annoys us in a co-worker cheers us in a brother, because our opinions are pinned to different contexts.

We come to love the whole on account of a few parts, then come to love the remaining parts on account of the whole.

The glue of a happy marriage is shared time. My wife knows my mind, and I hers, not from deep, late-night conversations, but by the osmosis of being together year after year. As grains of sand form massive dunes, small forgettable revelations of our personalities, accumulating daily, have grown into a detailed knowledge that makes all other relationships seem shallow. We share life's major experiences with a wide circle of family and friends, but the whims of mood, fleeting thoughts verbalized, and countless incidents too trivial to bother repeating to anyone else are our private possession and form the filaments of our intimacy.

Love is not an exact fit. Ours was not the instant connection of soul mates, the I delightedly encountering its mirror image in another. We were not two puzzle pieces, for our edges bumped and gapped and overlapped. But our edges were fluid like the walls of two amoebas, and over time each spread and grew into the contour of the other.

A conundrum of lovers is who will die first. Though the masses sweat and diet to live longer, in love dying first is lucky, because living longer means living on alone. Therefore both lovers wish the other to be lucky and die first, since worse than grieving is to think of the beloved grieving. Yet equally, both wish first exit for themselves, preferring not living to outliving living's meaning.

The only suitable death is simultaneous death, neither to leave behind nor be left. Happy is the widower who follows his cooling wife into the ground within a week. Happy are the honeymooners whose car careens from the cliff, smashing their atoms into everlasting union.

The more that models nip and tuck toward perfection, the more boring their beauty becomes. Have we not seen blond hair, spotless skin, implanted breasts, and a 24-inch waist before? Like Plato's eternal Forms, perfection has only one mold from which all copies are cast. Beauty is more alluring with a blemish, because imperfections add uniqueness. A beautiful face with an off-centered smile or oddly-dimpled chin says to the eye, there is only one me. Though beauty ought not to have warts, it ought to have texture. Polished beauty has a quality of mass production, while blemishes provide a patch of particularity to which desire attaches more firmly. No wonder Zeus, the Greeks' most amorous god, preferred mortal girls to goddesses.