I once told my husband not to worry about Valentine’s Day, back in the early years of our marriage. He had been sick, I think, and maybe in a demanding period at work. Ladies, do you think I meant for him to skip it altogether? I didn’t mean for him to skip it altogether. I meant he didn’t have to worry about it too much – like, drugstore chocolates and a card would be just right. He misunderstood – quite – and I suspect that a new husband has rarely suffered so much on a holiday celebrating love.
He’s learned a lot in our 21 years together! (Perhaps I’ve learned a thing or two as well.)
Speaking of love: yesterday I introduced Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, by David Eagleman, and here’s a chapter on love from this marvelous and provocative little book:
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We are the product of large beings that camp out on asteroids and call themselves Collectors. The Collectors run billions of experiments on the time scales of universes, subtly tuning the galaxy parameters this way and that, making bangs bigger and lesser, dialing fundamental physical constants a hair’s breadth at a time. They are continually sharpening pencils and squinting into telescopes. When the Collectors have solved a problem that was formerly mysterious to them, they destroy that universe and recycle the materials into their next experiment.
Our life on Earth represents an experiment in which they are trying to figure out what makes people stick together. Why do some relationships work well while others fail? This is completely mysterious to them. When their theoreticians could not see a pattern, they proposed this problem as an interesting question to explore. And so our universe was born.
The Collectors construct lives of parametric experiments: men and women who adhere well but are shot past one another too briefly – brushing by in a library, passing on the step of a city bus, wondering just for a moment.
And the Collectors need to understand what men and women do about the momentum of their individual life plans, when in the rush and glare of the masses they are put together as they move in opposite directions. Can they turn the momentum of choices and plans? The Collectors sharpen their pencils against their asteroids and make careful study.
They research men and women who are not naturally adherent but are held together by circumstance. Those pressed together by obligation. Those who learn to be happy by forcing adhesion. Those who cannot live without adhesion and those who fight it; those who don’t need it and those who sabotage it; those who find adhesion when they least expect it.
When you die, you are brought before a panel of Collectors. They debrief you and struggle to understand your motivations. Why did you decide to break off this relationship? What did you appreciate about that relationship? What was wrong with so-and-so, who seemed to have everything you wanted? After trying and failing to understand you, they send you back to see if another round of experimentation makes it any clearer to them.
It is for this reason only that our universe still exists. The Collectors are past deadline and over budget, but they are having a hard time bringing this study to a conclusion. They are mesmerized; the brightest among them cannot quantify it.
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