One of my college professors once told me that the Alaskan Inuit have a hundred and twelve words for snow. This now reminds me that this culture is poor in the words that we have for love. We dont communicate gracefully about this subject. That same professor wrote that good design – as in architecture – is a marker of good thought. “Architecture is crystallized pedagogy,” is what Dr. Orr said.
Our modern American culture is amazingly clear about some very complex things (microchips, genetic engineering, even dance) and yet very fuzzy about love. Our words, our architecture, for love are poorly developed, which is a good sign that we dont think well about this subject.
Inuit culture was rich in its appreciation for what surrounded them. And though love surrounds all of us here -even in the lower 48 – we are encouraged today to notice commerce. My understanding of the words “success”, “wealth”, and “rich”, is strangely tied to commerce.
To love is to risk. But as with many things, to do nothing – not to love – is an even greater risk. I had a younger first cousin, my fathers only sisters second youngest. He died when I was eight, he seven. He was a kind, otherworldly boy. We buried Rafael in the wood lot on their farm, and planted a tree on his grave. A few years later, my great-grandmother died. Though she was 104 years old, it was still awful when she died. Just as it was when Rafi died. And theres nothing that I can do about that.
I hate to be Hallmark, but death is a part of life. When you need to control things in order to feel comfortable, you have a hard time appreciating the things that you cant change. I watched the movie Pay it Forward again the other night. I always cry at the end. The song “calling all angels” when the community brings flowers to Helen Hunt’s house just does me in. The movie reminds me that people place flowers in mourning
We place flowers in mourning. But flowers are a birth. They bloom. Why do we use them at death? Is it to make ourselves feel better with their bright colors? Or is it to remind us that even in death there is life? Maybe we are letting the flowers remind us that even in death, the mourned individual still blooms. Whatever once bloomed in them is beautiful, still.
Every flower withers. Whethe we notice it was ever there, whether we see the bloom again or not, everyone who has lost a loved-one knows that while remembering beauty is painful, forgetting beauty is worse. Society as a whole seems befuddled by love in life, but in death we know our love is a flower.
Love is expressed not one way, not two ways, but in 6 billion human ways, and innumerable non-human ways, including with the letters B – L – O – O – M. The only thing we can control is whether we notice and encourage our own bloom, and the blooms around us.
[original written 10/5/06. this version 8/9/08 – Both, Copyright Robert Bettmann]