Posts Tagged ‘Love?’

Do things signify love?

©2017 By Bob Litton
NOTE TO READERS: Please don’t become expectant just because I am publishing this post. I am still having various physical problems that make daily living painful, particularly degenerative joint disease, sciatica, and general low energy. But at least now I can get out of bed without the excruciating pain I was experiencing since earlier this month; it still hurts, but I don’t have to grit my teeth.
¶No, I forced myself up and to the computer keyboard because it is Father’s Day here in the U.S.—albeit a bit late in the day (6:39 P.M. Central Time). I want to display for my readers some facts about Papa that might make you think about character both obvious and hidden. I have tried to figure my family out for many years without much satisfactory success. I didn’t ask many questions of them, and they are all dead now; so our lives together and apart will remain a strange mystery to me until I too am dead.
¶I hope I have explained enough to make the following post understandable.
* * * * * *
¶Father’s Day is not celebrated as fully as Mother’s Day and, I think, with good reason. The moment of conjugal embrace, from which conception and birth results, is usually a time of pleasure for the husband and for the wife. However, the wife has to endure all the physical and psychological pains of pregnancy for nine months and in some cases longer. She is the portal through which the baby joins the universe.
¶Yes, all the father experiences is pleasure and, usually, pride when he sees the delivery has been successful and the baby is of the gender he had hoped for. Pappy was devoted to pleasure. He was a philandering gallant. That plus his occasional brutal behavior is what led to their divorce a few years after I was born.
¶But Pappy had other problems which I think were due to his limited education. I was told that he got through the second grade. Now, it’s true that many a youth at the beginning of the 20th century did not finish the regular school course, and that did not hinder them from finding a suitable occupation and satisfactory livelihood. However, as the century moved on, education level became a more prominent component in job interviews.

((Excuse me. I’m going to have try and finish this tomorrow. I am just too sore and weary to proceed any further right now. Goodbye.))


A Retrospective of Valentine Day Essays

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All rights Reserved.

Well, no, the doldrums have not gone away already. On top of that, now I have a sinus infection to cope with.

Still, Valentine’s Day is almost on top of us; and, as usual, I feel I must say something concerning that fateful day. There’s a tone about this period of the month that appears to have a most negative effect on my health and attitude; I just had that insight a few minutes ago while I was gathering the URLs below: I seem to endure a low energy level around February 14, so I dig up old newspaper columns I have written and publish them here in “The Vanity Mirror”, in lieu of fresh writings.

I no longer spruce myself up for Valentine’s Day, no longer call a girlfriend…because there is no girlfriend. As Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) wrote in one of his best poems, “They flee from me that sometime did me seek”. It’s all part of the territory, along with a broken tooth, graying hair, an overly stout midsection…and an empty pocket. An ebullient personality and scintillating conversation cannot make up for all those deficits.

Nonetheless, you folks can still find something to peruse about Valentine’s Day in my “archives”; and, just for this year, I have made the reading easier for you by pulling together the URLs for those essays: here they are; enjoy!

Be sweet to your Valentine…if you have one!



What Is Love?

By Bob Litton

To tell you the truth, I don’t know what love is in my own life.  What I have experienced in the past, and at times called “love”, I now look back on as some lesser emotion — like adolescent dependency or lust.

However, I have seen what I considered to be love — genuine love — in others’ lives.  In one instance, it was a little old lady who came to my brother’s carpet store to buy carpet to replace the worn-out floor covering in her living room.  Her husband had died a few months before.  When she started talking about how his cigarette ashes had dropped down on the carpet beside his easy chair, she choked up and, in a voice almost gasping for words, said, “He didn’t do it on purpose.  He didn’t know those ashes were spotting the carpet.”

Another time, I was watching a 60 Minutes segment about thalidomide children.  One of the victims, now a mature woman, had married and had two sons.  She had only stubs for legs. Like the two other thalidomide victims featured during the segment, she didn’t feel sorry for herself but seemed very well-adjusted and cheerful.

The most striking thing about her, however, was the way she met her husband.  She had been fitted with artificial legs and most of the time did quite well on them; but one time, when she was walking down a sidewalk, she fell and couldn’t get up.  A man came along and helped her get back on her legs.  Subsequently he became her husband.

Both of that woman’s sons loved her, and her husband loved her.  There was a difference, however, in that the boys had grown up knowing her as their only mother; so, in a sense, they had no choice but to love her.  Her husband, on the other hand, had had a choice, unless you hold that romantic love is inevitable and unavoidable.

Alpine Avalanche, February 15, 1996

Love Endures Even in this Cynical Age

©2011 By Bob Litton

Asians locate the emotions in the stomach.  Westerners claim they reside in the heart.  Or at least they did until a couple of centuries go.

For a long time now psychologists have been claiming the brain is the origin of our loves and hates.  No more than two years ago I read a news report that brain researchers had located the trigger of love in one tiny part of one’s gray matter…or perhaps it was a neutrino.

Such scientific nosiness will not deflect the romantic hard-core among us from persisting in pointing at Cupid’s golden- and silver-tipped arrows as the emotion stirrers.  We certainly don’t want to give up the magical challenges of glass mountains and reviving kisses — at least not as long as we are young enough to be revived.

I’m of an age where reminiscing and reflecting on love employs more time than pursuing it.

Why, just yesterday I was recalling my early grade school years when declarations of affection had to be committed to paper in an almost legalistic manner.  While the teacher was trying to demystify fractions for us, I and other boys would be inditing the most heartfelt of amorous missives to girls around us.  The little notes — with only the slightest variations — went something like this: “I like you. Do you like me? Answer yes or no.”  Right below these effusive sentences we would draw two little boxes with a “yes” written by one and a “no” written by the other.  We had absolutely no conception of the dilemma we were creating for the girls by our absolutist format.

Later, by the sixth grade, we had an even sillier fad going.  The girls would lend favorite boys small, merely decorative scarves to wear around our necks for a brief season.  Can’t remember if I was ever offered one or not: probably a case of selective amnesia.

Silly as that trend may seem, however, it is not too dissimilar to the way in which the emblem of love began.  An ancient Roman custom at the beginning of the feast of Lupercal was for young women to put slips of paper with their names on them in a big jar.  Young men would then draw their names and have to spend the entire feast period with the women whose names they had drawn.  This tradition continued after a fashion into the 14th century, when the young men started attaching the autographed slips of paper to their sleeves.  (Thus originated the modern comment, usually derogatory, about people “wearing their hearts on their sleeves”.)

As a child, I really did like Valentine’s Day.  Couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t a holiday, unless the grownups considered the handing around of Valentine cards and cake would have been too complicated if we weren’t in school.  (The Alpine City Administration probably wonders why it’s not a holiday, too.)

It’s changed a lot just in my lifetime.  The card-giving has slackened off some, and they don’t show that movie, “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”, on TV as frequently as they used to every year.

Why should it be February 14, though?  Well, that’s not the birth date of the saint it’s supposedly named after: it’s his death date.

Actually, there are three St. Valentines, but the only one who concerns us here was a priest at Rome during the late third century.  Those were the days of Emperor Claudius II, not a very nice guy, who was having a problem recruiting soldiers for his unpopular military ventures.  He deduced that it was because Roman men did not want to leave their wives and sweethearts.  So, he abolished marriage.

Valentine and his colleague Marius secretly married young couples.  Upon hearing of this treasonable behavior, Claudius condemned Valentine to death.  One of my sources says Valentine was clubbed to death and another says he was burned at the stake.  It doesn’t really matter which, since the Catholic encyclopedia, although it acknowledges the saint as an actual martyr, claims the Claudius-versus-marriage business is “unhistorical”.

Another “unhistorical” yet still affecting chapter to Valentine’s story is that while he was in prison awaiting execution he cured his guard’s daughter of some disease.  Valentine and the girl thereupon became fast friends; and, on February 14 — the day he was to die — he left her a note thanking her for her friendship and loyalty, signing it: “Love from your Valentine”.

Some fables you’ve just got to hang onto with all your heart!

The Alpine Observer, February 13, 2003

What of Whom Do We Love?

©2011 By Bob Litton

“….Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”
                                             — from “Birches” by Robert Frost

I know Valentine’s Day is still nearly two weeks away, but I want to talk about Love.  Besides, my ol’ flame’s birthday is February 9th, so I’m not getting all that much ahead of myself.

You might legitimately question, “What does a taciturn old bachelor know about Love?”


Just as much anyway as a person stranded in the desert can better describe the cause and effects of shade or the consistency and taste of water than someone for whom those elements are so common as to be contemptible.  The blind man, we all should know by now, both appreciates the advantages of vision more and develops other senses to a more heightened state than the man who sees.

I’ll never forget the simple talk on Love given at the 1980 Grandfalls-Royalty Chamber banquet by some preacher from Abilene, I believe.  Don’t misunderstand: It wasn’t a sermon, nor was it one of those joke-a-thon talks common to chamber of commerce banquets.  It was just a simple little essay on how the modern world militates against Love—and thereby against lovers.  Oh, there was some humor, of course, but it was no more and no less than the humor natural to life itself.  It was part of the substance, not the form.

He pointed out that homes no longer have parlors, those little rooms across the hall from the livingroom proper, rooms too small for anything but tête-à-têtes.  Many car designers, likewise, have sabotaged Love by substituting bucket seats for the old full-length seats.  And then there’s modern popular music—music too loud for softly murmured words and too spasmodic for close dancing.  It’s enough to make Cupid dump his quiver.

That Chamber talk was the only one the sense of which I’ve retained.

You know, I’m all the time noting these silver and golden wedding anniversaries in the daily papers.  Every once in a while, there will be a special write-up about a couple who are unusual in some way.  A few months ago, for instance, I saw a photo in the paper of an elderly black couple.  They looked elderly, all right, but they didn’t look 92 and 95, which is what the article said they were.  They said they had been married 70 odd years and never had a quarrel.  I wondered if they had ever spoken to each other.

My ol’ flame and I never quarreled either; we just called it quits.  Several times.  But we were only 18, 19 and then 20 years old, too.  As I grew older and reflected on the experience, I thought many a time that maybe we would have made it if we had been mature enough for what I call creative quarreling.  The first step is to recognize that one or both of you are emotionally upset about something the other has or has not done.  The second step is to declare from the start that neither of you is going to walk away in a pout and not speak to the other.  Anger okay, pouting no.  And the third step, probably the hardest, is to talk it out, realizing that you might come out of the discussion looking selfish or childish, but not nearly so selfish or childish as you will if you just pout.

Ol’ flame and I couldn’t do that.

I think the most important nutrient of Love is the desire to see one’s loved one fulfill their potential to the utmost, to be all they can be and want to be in their better self.  That seems easy on the surface, but often—if not in fact most of the time—our loved ones don’t know themselves what their better selves are or what they want to do.  Conversely, we sometimes impose our own expectations of what a person should aspire to upon them.  And worse yet, many a person is willing to sacrifice their own self-image to be whatever their loved one desires them to be.  As Elvis Presley’s old song put it, “Any way you want me, that’s how I will be.”  The number of stories and plays based upon the theme of the transmuting of the loved one into something not necessarily bad but against their nature is legion.  G.B. Shaw’s “Pygmalion”, rendered musically as “My Fair Lady”, is a good example.

It does in fact take a lot of patience to wait for a person to find themselves, to be constantly encouraging them to find themselves on their own.  “I’ll encourage you to be the best artist you can be, the best CPA you can be, the best athlete you can be, but I’m not going to tell you which to be!  Only you can decide that.”  (A career, by the way, is only one form of self-fulfillment; there are others, the most difficult perhaps simply being the best person one can be.)

That was another problem for ol’ flame and me.  It was one, however, for which we did not blame each other.  She put it most succinctly: “We met too soon.”

The Monahans News
    February 3, 1983


A Valentine for Quasimodo

©2011 By Bob Litton

Dear Readers: I am in a rut again, what with ordinary daily chores and involvement in community affairs. That is my excuse for this blog post, which is not fresh but rather a rerun of a column I wrote back in February 1982 and published in The Monahans News. I am reprinting it here partly as a stop-gap measure, to give me time to finish work on a very complicated post, and partly because, despite its original date, it is still timely. It is about Love — or the various emotions we call “love” — as depicted and contrasted in Victor Hugo’s classic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Since Valentine’s Day will soon be upon us, this essay is, I think, timely and always will be timely. I might publish yet another old Valentine’s Day column soon, for we still have nearly a month left before that fateful day. I have nothing fresh to say about “love”; I have already written all that I have known, thought or felt about the subject. I hope you will find the reading of the essay below beneficial in some way.
— BL

If there is anything people talk more about while they know less about it than Love, I don’t know what it would be.  A topic of such universal and timeless interest is certain to serve as matter for authors who want to fill up books.  And sure enough, Love has been the subject of many a volume as varying in seriousness and quality as the Bible and gothic romances.

One aspect of the subject that makes it never-ending is that most people cannot come to any definite agreement on what Love is.  The New Testament distinguishes between three types of Love: Agape (spiritual Love), Philia (brotherly Love), and Eros (erotic Love).*

Most romances, I believe, never really involve any of these, except maybe a few dashes of the last.  What they exploit is a vestigial adolescent Love—that period of our late childhood when we had few responsibilities, a lot of confused emotions, and a notion that anything involving ourselves is urgent.  Moreover, since during that time we are trying to establish an identity for ourselves, we sometimes grow so desperate in the search that we express a willingness to “be” whatever the object of our affection wants us to be if he or she will just love us.  Under the influence of fairy tales and romance novels, we get the idea that there is only one person on the planet for whom we are “meant”.  That’s the kind of Love we generally associate with St. Valentine’s Day.

Despite the absurdity of most romantic novels, however, one of the best analyses of Love, I believe, is to be found in Victor Hugo’s gothic tale of Love in all its forms—pure and perverted—The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  A new filming of Hugo’s classic especially for television was shown last week, and in at least two senses it was timely: Hunchback is an essay on Love in its most variable aspects, and one of its main characters is Quasimodo the hunchback, which is appropriate in this, the International Year of the Disabled.

Abandoned in infancy on the doorstep of  Notre Dame cathedral because of his deformity, Quasimodo is adopted by a young priest who, in his youth at least, idealistically follows Christ’s precept: “Even as you do unto the least of these, you have done unto me.”  The priest keeps Quasimodo fed and clothed and housed in the cathedral, and when the hunchback is old enough the priest gives him the task of ringing the cathedral bells.  Quasimodo grows to “love” the bells even though they eventually destroy his hearing.

The heroine of the tale is a gypsy girl, Esmeralda.  She becomes the “object of love” not only for Quasimodo and the priest but for a poet of the streets and a captain of the royal guard as well.  The priest is filled with uncontrollable lust for her, the captain rather off-handedly attempts to seduce her, and the hunchback—pet-like—adores her after she alone gives him a drink of water during an episode in which he is flogged before an unfeeling crowd.

The poet comes closest to treating her with moderation as simply a fellow human being.  Even he, however, when they first meet, assumes he is entitled to conjugal rights just because they are married.  (She married him in a pagan ceremony only to save him from being executed by the King of Thieves.)  She subdues her “husband’s” ardor by threatening him with a dagger, and from then on their relationship is of the brother-and-sister type.

Esmeralda, too, is afflicted with a false vision of Love, her idea in the beginning being something like the adolescent Love I mentioned earlier. She “falls in love” with the captain of the guard after he and his men save her from Quasimodo.  (The hunchback had been sent by the priest—by this time archdeacon of the cathedral—to abduct the girl.)  Esmeralda loves the captain because he is handsome, dashing, rides a white horse, and saves her.  (He is also an egocentric cad, but she doesn’t see that in him until it is too late.)

As for the priest, I think he probably would have been all right if he hadn’t become a churchman before he became a man.  In those days, though, the only choices for later sons of the gentry were to join the army or the church.  Anyway, he apparently took his studies quite seriously and became more a scholar than a human.  We might say his agape is misinformed, his philia is cut short in life, and his eros never had a chance.  By the time Esmeralda comes on the scene the archdeacon is so naïve about sexual Love that for him it can be nothing but lust.  He grows to hate the gypsy girl and to be jealous of her fancied lover, the captain.

It is Quasimodo who has the last say in Love, however.  Contrary to the film version, it is not Quasimodo who is thrown off the roof of the cathedral, but the archdeacon.  The hunchback pushes the priest while the latter is absorbed in watching the public hanging of Esmeralda.  As Quasimodo looks down on the mangled body of the archdeacon and the limp body of the hanged gypsy, he heaves a deep sigh and mutters, “There is all I ever loved!”

Nobody ever sees Quasimodo again, but a few centuries later two skeletons, one of a woman in the shreds of a white dress and the other of a deformed man, are found entwined together in a burial vault reserved for malefactors.  The man had evidently not been hanged but had come there to die.

If you haven’t read The Hunchback of Notre Dame, try it.  And if you do so, please note the ways in which violent acts done by any one character are caused by a confusion of the idea of Love.  Also, of course, you will see acts of kindness and courage as expressions of ideal Love.

                                                     – – The Monahans News, February 11, 1982

*AUTHOR’S NOTE:  In the second paragraph of this column I wrote that the New Testament, using the Greek terms, distinguishes between three kinds of Love: agape (spiritual love), philia (brotherly love) and eros (sexual love).  I don’t know where I obtained that information, but it’s wrong — at least to a large degree.  (That was in the days before the Internet and Wikipedia).  In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s famous chapter on Love, the only term used is agape.  In John 21:15-17, where Jesus asks Simon Peter if he loves him, Jesus twice uses the verb form of agape, and Simon uses the verb form of philia to affirmatively answer him.  The third time Jesus asks the question he uses the philia form.  This is a very interesting distinction that I doubt many ministers are even aware of, much less present to their congregations.
   The British novelist and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, in 1960, published a book titled The Four Loves in where he expatiates in great detail on agape, which he defines as “charity”; phileo, “friendship”; eros “romance”; and storge, “affection”.
An anonymous Internet fancier with the “handle” of  “Lone Dissenter” with more time on his/her hands than I have, reported on Yahoo! Answers that agape is used in the Bible 250 times, philia appears 83 times, storge is used 3 times…and eros never appears!
— BL


In Somewhat Romantic Moods

Humanity’s Eye

©Bob Litton 2013

It pleases me that other men
see no being through my eyes;
for that gives hope to you and me —
a truer love will find us hereabouts.
You know how the magazines
always present les hautes femmes
all uniform, of eyes severe
and globular lips, as though they
were what a lover of modern taste
most wants to awaken to come morn —
heedless of what he lured to bed.

Other men have less prejudiced eyes —
(of course, so do other women, too) —
which marvels me to scan such field
and find the lard with the rind
together enveloped in a hug;
glimpse the pimple-cheeked lass
who’s kissed by the flat-nosed lad;
the girl whose beauty is unsurpassed
except for her strong, peasant’s hands —
broad-fingered, like a crab’s strong claws;
the thin young man with hardly any chin,
stuttering out his heart’s proposal
to a miss with hair dyed purple,
a rhinestone pin puncturing her lip.

Ah, benign Humanity’s Eye,
how graciously blind you are!


Aesthetic of spurning

©Bob Litton 1964

My darling loved Bach fugues
as much as the leitmotivs of Wagner
or burgundy that sparkled
among cubes of ice
in musical glasses.
Yet did the dearest one spurn me —
I, who could have loved beyond Love’s horizon —
and all the arts of the world
existed for but our sharing.
What proves I am civilized is I’ve loved only once;
but it did not become eternal.
There were established boundaries.
The ecstasy of foreign climes could not be admitted,
so Love is a dry leaf now;
and all the despondent waters
have returned
            to their sanctum
                        of a purple ocean.


Hope of love eternal

©Bob Litton 1962

I take your hand.
See how the fingers spread and cling,
longing for the intertwining,
then relaxing in my palm.
Remember when they were cold in November,
before Love warmed them.
“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “All is vanity!”
And our time to love came as it did for all others.
Will the sun, then, also rise again;
or shall this setting mark something new?
And, if at that moment we are bound together,
there will have been a beginning.



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