Gamble everything for love, Rumi wrote, if you are a real human being. “Apathy does not reach majesty.”
Eight centuries later, we continue to spend our lives trying to win something we don’t fully understand but constantly identify, and we keep betting on all the wrong things: we mistake admiration, clarity, and manifestations of success with love, we mistake strong for being loved, we mistake need for love.
True maturity is largely a matter of getting rid of all these acquired confusion while dedicating ourselves to adulthood. So it seems that only the young and the old remember the basic truth about love – love is not as a bargaining chip but as a living prize both, weak and immensely persistent, radiant with Iris Murdoch’s immortal definition of love as “it is very difficult to grasp the fact that something other than self” .
This exhilarating understanding that expands reality shines through the pages what is love? (a public library) by the author Mac Barnett and artist Carson Ellis A modern poetic fable that reimagines uncommon tenderness and originality The oldest account of the search: that ancient hero’s journey of discovery and return home.
A young boy, yearning to know what love is, asks his gardener’s grandmother.
In a gesture that is in itself the deepest solution to the puzzle of life and love, she wraps him in a hug and tells him she doesn’t have an answer – but he might find it if he goes out into the world. This is Barnett’s fine summation of what it means to be human – we yearn for love, we yearn to understand how the world works, and we spend our lives searching for understanding as we make our unknown path through the wilderness of existence.
And so the boy goes, meets all kinds of people with all kinds of answers – a vivid reminder that there are infinitely many types of beautiful life, each with its own understanding of beauty and love.
The answers he encounters baffle him—each grotesque and questionable if taken literally, each glimmering with the suggestion of some larger abstract truth, each almost absurdly special and yet shedding sidelights on some spectra of cosmology. Along the way, love emerges as a sculpture of understanding – a stone of all that is not, sculpted to reveal the essence, a subtle yet powerful form.
Love is a fish, says the fisherman.
shining and scattering,
And the day you hold on,
If you know what you’re doing,
You give him a kiss
and throw it into the sea.
When the boy frowns and declares his disgust at the fish, with their gentle eyes and their strange eyes, the fisherman sighs, “You don’t understand,” and we are immediately reminded that while the human imagination began in the borrowing machine of children’s minds, metaphors are, in the beautiful phrase of the poet Jane Hirschfield, “knobs on a door what we can know and what we can imagine” — and sometimes, we must first know how to imagine.
And so the boy moves through the world, gathering knowledge of its diversity and the poignant ways in which its creatures wander in search of love. “Love is applause,” the actor told him. Love is a seed borne by the farmer. Love is the night of the cat.
Love, the dog barking on the shoulder while chasing the cat, is this is.
The boy goes on to meet people who hold their love and hold their love: a chessboard, a tree, a bear, the moon.
The carpenter says that love is a home, with her bandaged thumbs and her persuasive smile, really speaking of the home of life.
You are the hammer and the saw,
Arrange all panels.
swaying and screaming,
You adjust your plans.
But in the end, it stands.
And you live in it.
Finally the poet, who is like a cross between Rumi and God, comes and fills an infinite scroll with his attempt to get the answer.
As the long life poem sways as the sun sets, we suddenly see the pilgrim boy growing–now young, making his way into the little house where his gardener’s grandmother is now a very old woman, still tending to the sunflowers.
you asked me,
“Have I answered your question?”
I carried her in my arms.
Husband what is love? – A time-changing fascinating addition to this year’s coolest children’s book – with poet David White’s lyrical reflection on the measure of true love, then revisiting a similar celebration of the world’s diversity in Carson Ellis’ illustrated meditation on the many things “home” can mean and her colorful veneration for time.