The following series of essays have been written while teaching ESL classes to adult students from all corners of the world (this writing exercise began last month, and continues to be a part of my classes). Each morning, the first class – that began this project – was required to answer one of two questions. At first, I was the one to ask the questions, but I quickly turned it over to the students. Their questions ranged from simple, everyday life things, like, “Why are you studying English?,” to complex, philosophical questions, such as, “What are the limits to freedom?” The class would write for an hour, and I would join them. We would listen to the Gypsy Kings, U2, Coldplay, Tango, and much more. Once we were through, we would read our responses aloud, and then have a conversation about each person’s analysis. It was humbling to hear from people from Saudi Arabia, Korea, Thailand, Turkey, and elsewhere. All our answers were motivated by a desire to convey an honest, open response, and everyone had an earnest desire to share with the others.
As mentioned already, I continue to carry out this exercise with my new classes. It is a thrilling experience, and when I am away from the classroom during the weekend, all I can think about is this: “I can’t wait to be back at work on Monday, so that I can write with all of my students, and then share!”
Here is the second installment. The first can be read here.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only can light do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
What is love? This question has been asked throughout the ages by essentially every civilization. Indeed, philosophers have spent decades dissecting the idea.
Now, even scientists concern themselves with the question: what is love? Not only do scientists trouble themselves – doctors and engineers, teachers and students, peasants and farmers – ask the same question: what is love? All of them are anxious to know.
When it comes to the scientists, they remain puzzled. Despite our advancements in technology and science, as well as our hyper-modernism, the question remains hidden, a riddle that only jesters and those filled with laughter understand. This very fact, that it can’t seem to be understood, except by the jesters and jokers (not the most brilliant minds), makes it all the more powerful. Of course, most of us can understand romantic love, and I presume many of you in the classroom have experienced the sensation of falling in love. Perhaps some of you have even fallen in love at first sight. And, yes, this is possible, because our beloved scientists have been able to explain the chemical reasons behind falling in love at first sight. Based upon their findings, instant love is like a cocaine addict getting a fix. But instead of a foreign substance, a harmful one at that, love is caused by the immediate release of oxytocin, vasopressin, and dopamine into the brain. These chemicals are associated with centers of pleasure in our mind. While our dear scientists have done a superb job in providing the causal evidence behind falling in love, they still fail to truly pinpoint the profound mystery that causes one individual to fall madly in love with another.
Just as our beloved scientists have difficulty unpacking the mystery, they also fail to tell us how and why people fall out of love. People, over time – as we know – fall out of love. It collapses just like that. This can be particularly painful if one person remains in love, but the person has, for whatever reason, turned off his heart. It can be a sad occurrence, and I hope that none of you ever go through that sort of heartbreak. It can be so severe, that you might find yourself convinced that you will die. But even if you have or will – and my sincerest condolences if this happens – experience heartbreak, love is so powerful that human beings can overcome the loss, move on, and fine new love.
Love is so much bigger, however, then this category of romance. True love is so tender that it is all encompassing, meaning that when you discover how to truly love, you love all things and all people, even those who harm, or have harmed you, and all the other ones, the ones who give you love back. Love does not judge. Love, when truly experienced, has absolutely no limits. This type of love allows you to access total freedom. And, yes, that can be applied to romantic love. However, romantic love is just one tiny piece to the mystery of love itself. In this way, when you truly love, there are no limits to love. This concept of freedom, when understood outside the disciplines of political science, philosophy, and history, is boundless when tied to love.
Love – true love for all – not only allows us to imagine liberation, but provides us with direct passage to a new way of living. Love heads us to a path of freedom where there are infinite possibilities.
Unfortunately, many of us can’t see true love, even though it can be seen – if you are ready – with the naked eye. However, we cast veils over love, and in so doing we also cast shadows over the infinite possibilities of freedom. As a result, freedom becomes contained. Academics, policymakers, politicians, and world leaders, only define and speak about freedom that has been delineated.
This suffocates true love. When freedom is defined by a narrow set of parameters, love – or so it seems – becomes dormant. It slumbers at our own peril. Thankfully, true love never dies. So, while it might slumber for centuries – even longer (epochs) – it can be awakened quite easily. That means freedom is in front of our faces – it is front of all faces.
Religiously speaking, many people believe the Kingdom of Heaven is not of this world. However, I challenged that idea. For if you discover the gift of true love – a love that gives, with no expectations or desired results, you can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Even better, the passage is quite wide. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a narrow passage. When you discover true love, you immediately join others at a table in the Kingdom of Heaven. And this is also where you and all the others, who are there with you in the Kingdom of Heaven and at God’s table, have found true freedom.