I just finished reading Love in the Time of Cholera. And, despite having a love/hate relationship with it (and the fact that I maxed out my number of renewals at the library – which seriously motivated me to finish it…), I think in the end it touched me; it reminded me of my own story, and made me think and reflect a lot on the concept of love.
When I finished the novel (and I’ll try not to spoil it here), I was left wondering what the moral of the story was. Was it simply an epic love tale? Was its purpose to demonstrate the development of love through writing, and that writing is nothing without physical consummation, on some level? Can love exist in the trials and tribulations that everyday life throws at a marriage? Or better yet, do we marry for stability in the face of happiness? Or is it – simply put – to live life, wholly and fully, without regret?
I know we all have at least one epic love tale. You know, the one you will always wonder about…the one that got away…all that clichéd jazz. So, on that level, I will agree that Love was a tale of epic proportions.
As for the concept of love through writing…let me explore that one further. I have two stories of my own that I was reminded of as I read the story. The first is related to my own epic love tale which spanned (at least) a solid decade of my life. Many of it was spent tragically writing letters…as a move from Calgary to Edmonton in the prime of my teenaged years was the general cause for the end of that tormented relationship. But on and on we scribbled away…writing all of our lusts and desires on paper…proclaiming our love for each other. But, to some degree like Fermina and Florentino, when we would be reunited in person, everything was awkward. The freedom with which we exposed the very inches of our deepest thoughts on paper was blocked – floundering and suppressed behind thoughts of “will we kiss” or “will he hold my hand.” I still have all those letters – preciously tied with a red ribbon in my night stand table. So, to the story of Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza – I can relate. This happened to me too. But was it all “just an illusion?” I like to think that in my case, no…and for theirs, I hope not.
My second story of love through writing is a funny one. In math class in grade 11, we all had assigned seating, determined by alphabetical order. I really despised math in high school, and at one point, absent-mindedly wrote “kenna” on my desk with my pencil, not even thinking. The next day, I returned to the message “does THE kenna sit here?” Since I was blessed with a (fairly) unique name, I replied, in pencil, “yes.” The next day, I returned to the desk with a note that said, “look in the mike and ike box in the desk” – so I did – and there was a note hidden for me. That marked the beginning of a very long penpal exchange between a secret admirer and myself. He refused to reveal his identify for many weeks (months, even?), while pouring out the most intimate depths of his heart to me. When he finally did reveal himself, I was disappointed that it was a very uncomfortable and somewhat “nerdy” boy who had been writing this whole time; and although I tried to be nice, my 16-year-old ego-centric self couldn’t hide my disappointment. In that case, the connection truly was just an illusion.
But back to the question at hand – both points make me wonder – why are we so keen to risk everything in writing on a simple piece of paper, but cannot have the same honest and true conversations face-to-face? Is this why email/facebook/texting have become the preferred methods of contact? What if Fermina and Florentino had fallen in love in modern times by tweeting their feelings for each other? Would they have ended up together?
What about the thought of love ceasing to exist in the trials and tribulations of every day marriage. This is probably a whole entire post (or novel, or dissertation), but don’t we sort of sign ourselves up for a life lacking in passion if it is to be shared 100% with another person? Isn’t it challenging to feel red-hot burning desire for someone with whom you brush your teeth, share a toilet and see at their not-so-finest? In that vein, isn’t it easy to always wonder if you would be happier with someone else when you haven’t seen all the same sides as your spouse? Or do we end up choosing the person with whom we don’t have the greatest passion, but who offers us stability and comfort. Was Dr. Juvenal Urbino right? Is the important thing in marriage not happiness but stability?
But really, when it comes down to it, I really do think the simplest (Occam’s razor, right?) message to take away from the novel is that of living life without regrets. I’ve seen the shadow of regret on people’s faces all too often. “Oh,” an uncle will exclaim to me, “you have grown up to be so beautiful and so smart,” with the distinct sentiment in his eyes that he is sad he wasn’t around for its progression. Or the longing at a place or space or picture – thinking how amazing it was, or what could have been – if only. I think at the end of the day, for me at least, that’s the takeaway message: never wonder how things could have been – live them as they are. Love without fear. Travel often. Do what moves you.
The rest will work out…and you will be exactly where (and with whom) you are supposed to be.