Passion: Love and a Bit of a Rant

Monday Morning Musings

“Just another love story, that’s what they would claim.
Another simple love story – aren’t all of them the same?”

“Loving you is not a choice, it’s who I am.”

–Stephen Sondheim, Passion

On Saturday, we saw Passion, a musical by Stephen Sondheim that explores what it means to love and be loved. What is romantic love? What is passion? What is obsession? How and why do dreams and desires change? These are questions that Sondheim explores in the story of the nineteenth-century Italian army officer Giorgio who is having an affair with a married woman, Clara. The show opens with the lovers in bed singing of their happiness, but then Giorgio reveals that he has received a transfer to a remote military outpost. Shortly after his arrival there, Giorgio learns of Fosca, his commanding officer’s sister whose place is set at the table, but who seldom appears there. Before long, Fosca, declares her love to Giorgio, a man she barely knows. In fact Fosca, who suffers from a vague and debilitating illness, is obsessed with Giorgio. This production at the Arden Theater in Philadelphia had a cast with wonderful voices, but it also featured a great set and lighting design: Clara was lovely and beguiling in pink-hued gowns, and bathed in golden sunshine whenever the shutters in their Milan hotel room were opened. (The lovers could only meet in the afternoon because of her husband.) Clara loves Giorgio, but perhaps her love is a diversion from her humdrum life. Fosca appears in drab gowns with the gray and dreary view of the outpost in the background. Fosca suffers from a disease of the mind and spirit, as well as her physical ailments. Or perhaps they are all one and the same. They consume her, and her obsession consumes Giorgio.

The show is based on the novel Fosca, by Ignio Ugo Tarchetti. Tarchetti was dying of tuberculosis–also called consumption–as he wrote the book, which was inspired by events in his own life. The book was turned into a movie, Passione d’Amore (1983).

What does passion mean? Passion is an intense feeling. Long ago it was associated with pain and suffering, as in the passion of Christ, or the suffering endured by martyrs who were tortured for their beliefs. Passion is often seen as an emotion that is barely controllable because of its intensity. People are often depicted as crazed with passion. Passionate love then can be both good and bad. One can have a passion for a cause that is admirable, or that becomes obsessive.

I’ve been thinking about all this because of events in the news. There is a couple in Australia, Nick and Sarah Jensen, who have vowed to divorce if a gay marriage law is passed there. (See this article.) They are entitled to their beliefs, but I don’t understand how the marriages of same sex couples affect their own union at all. And just as a matter of logic, I don’t understand why if they reject the state’s definition of marriage—if the law passes—they then believe the state has the power to grant them a divorce. I guess it’s passion, and not logic that is in play here.

In the US, evangelist Franklin Graham, called for a boycott of Wells Fargo Bank after the bank began airing a TV advertisement that featured a lesbian couple adopting a child. (The commercial is incredibly sweet.) Well, economic boycotts have a long tradition in the US. My inclinations would be not to support a business that discriminates against a group rather than one that is supporting diversity. Again, Graham has the right to his own beliefs, and he does say businesses should be “gay friendly.” However, he also apparently believes that an organization should not support a position that he feels is contrary to his views–which are based on his interpretation of the bible. Do no harm to others–just don’t allow them all the same rights, I guess. Fortunately, we do not live in a theocracy. (See this.)

Neither Graham nor the Jensens advocate violence. But there are true haters, people passionate in their hatred of others. I saw this article yesterday about a young man who has been beaten and tortured—ostensibly because he is gay. His family and their business have also suffered.

You know what? Sondheim was right that every love story is the same–and every love story is different. But I believe in love. Love is love. I believe love is good. I believe love is good for families and nations. When two people who are in love—consenting adults–want to get married, it does not harm society, even if they are gay, and even if they want to have a family. “Gay marriage” is no different from straight marriage in terms of love and commitment. Couples love and share passion. This is not immoral.

You know what is immoral?

People living in extreme poverty.

People starving.

Women—and children—kidnapped and raped as tools of war.

Slavery.

Sex trafficking.

Depriving people of medical care and education.

It seems to me that if people are truly concerned with the wellbeing of their societies, those are just a few things they might focus on—not who people love. But hey, that’s just me.

As far as those filled with hate for others, I don’t know. I don’t think a hate-filled mind can love, although it can be filled with passion.

Love and Marriage–Part 1

Weddings are on my mind. Last month, my husband and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary. Like most couples, we’ve had our share of good and bad times, but fortunately more good than bad! Weddings, of course, are merely the start of a marriage. They’re like the first stage-setting paragraph of what one hopes will be a long, enthralling novel—the type that has you turning pages as fast as you can, even while you savor each word and hope it never ends. The wedding is the preface to the book, the overture to the opera.

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During our very own opera semiseria, we’ve raised two wonderful, talented, kind daughters, one of whom is getting married (wearing my gown!) next month—hence my focus on weddings. She is marrying a wonderful woman, and they are deeply in love. Over the weekend, I attended a shower for the two brides, organized by our younger daughter for her adored older sister. Both brides were indeed showered in love and affection.
Throughout much of history, and among many people of many different cultures, marriage was based not on love or even companionship, but instead on economics and politics.
“Your daughter should marry my son so we can join our two clans—or nations.” “What dowry does she bring?”
Or as the song, “Matchmaker” from Fiddler on the Roof explains:
Hodel, oh Hodel,
Have I made a match for you!
He’s handsome, he’s young!
Alright, he’s 62.
But he’s a nice man, a good catch, true?
True. . . . . .

Did you think you’d get a prince?
Well I do the best I can.
With no dowry, no money, no family background
Be glad you got a man!

For those who don’t know the show or movie, Fiddle on the Roof is based on Sholem Aleichem’s tales of Tevye the dairyman in the small shtetl of Anatevka. The three oldest of Teyve and his wife Golde’s five daughters marry for love—unheard of! This prompts a song between the Teyve and Golde who wonder if they love each other? “It’s a new world,” Tevye says.
Around the mid-eighteenth-century, Anglo-Americans began to place more emphasis on “companionate” marriages—and to expect more love and companionship from their partners. This is not to say that loving marriages did not exist before this time.

For example, Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) wrote the following poem to her husband, Simon:
“To My Dear and Loving Husband”
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov’d by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that Rivers cAnneot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompetence.
Thy love is such I can no way repay.
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let’s so persever
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

The rise of a companionate ideal does not mean that all marriages were based on these ideals. Many marriages took place for economic practicality—farms benefit from having men to do heavy agricultural work and women to do the preserving of food, the cooking, laundry, and childbearing. Even urban households needed someone to raise and care for children.

 
Regardless of love or economic necessity, enslaved people were not permitted to marry legally. Slaves were not citizens and had no rights. Some masters permitted their slaves to “marry,” but it was not legal, and all slave relationships were transient because families could be broken up at any time. Race remained a factor in marriage after the Thirteenth Amendment officially prohibited slavery in 1865 because interracial unions were not permitted in many states. Finally, well into the twentieth century, in Loving v. Virginia (1967), the Supreme Court ruled that states could not prohibit interracial marriages. Mildred Jeter, who was black, and Richard Loving, who was white, married in Washington, D.C. in 1958, but they were arrested after they returned to and lived in Virginia, where they were arrested. The court gave the couple a suspended sentence under the condition that they leave Virginia. “Under our Constitution,” wrote Chief Justice Earl Warren, “the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.”

 
My younger sister is getting married in October to her long-time partner. They love each other, but now that Pennsylvania has permitted same-sex weddings, they also want the legal protection that goes with marriage. Love and the practicalities of life.
So I will be attending two “gay weddings” within a few months. In my mind, however, they are simply weddings—a celebration of and for two people who are deeply in love choosing to publicly declare their love for each other—and wanting to have the same legal safeguards that other wedded couples have. Two couples who are choosing to begin a new chapter in the book of their lives. I am fortunate to be able to share their joy.

Follow Your Star

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“Be brave, young lovers, and follow your star,
Be brave and faithful and true,
Cling very close to each other tonight.
I’ve been in love like you. “

–Oscar Hammerstein II, “Hello Young Lovers,” from The King and I (1951)

Last month my husband and I celebrated our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. As I looked at our wedding photos (and cringe and laugh a little at the men in the 1970s era powder blue tuxedos. Oh those 70s fashions!), I thought of all the people who were there at our wedding, but who are no longer alive: my father, my husband’s father, my grandfathers, all of his grandparents, and some aunts, uncles, and friends. As I gazed at the photos, I also had an admittedly odd thought–it seemed strange to me that our daughters were not there to celebrate such an important event in our lives.

It was the first big wedding in either of our families, and it was such a day of laughter, tears, and merriment.

We still laugh at the memory of my reserved, non-dancing father-in-law being pulled and spun into the hora circle by an exuberant, dancing friend of my parents.

Our first daughter would not make her entrance for almost a decade after our wedding, and our second daughter three years after that. By that time, I had finished graduate school and published my first book.

I was a different person thirty-five years ago when we married, young and naïve. I had no idea then that my husband and I would have two such incredibly wonderful, talented daughters– young women who are truly good and kind, and who want to make the world a better place.

Parenting is not easy. Like marriage, there are ups and downs. But with my daughters, I can honestly say there have always been many, many more ups than downs.

Thirty-five years ago, I never imagined I would have one daughter about to enter graduate school and another about to begin her first “grown-up job,” even as she juggles what are sometimes competing interests in teaching and acting. I never imagined I would have daughters who were balancing love, careers, and all the issues of young adulthood.

I also never imagined thirty-five years ago at my own wedding that someday my older daughter would be planning her wedding to another woman. Nor how excited I would be about it, and how thrilled I am that she might be wearing my wedding gown. Love is love, and I am so happy that she and her fiancée have found each other.

Thirty-five years ago, “gay marriage” was not something I ever heard mentioned. But times change. My younger daughter recently had a discussion with her young cousins who enthusiastically supported it. (OK, the five-year-old could not quite wrap his mind around the concept, but the older two thought it was wonderful that their cousin was going to marry the woman she loves.)

My daughter’s “gay marriage” will not be legal throughout the United States. But laws change. When my husband and I got married thirty-five years ago in Pennsylvania, we were required to get blood tests proving that we did not have syphilis or other diseases before we could get a marriage license. That law no longer exists. In 1967, the Supreme Court overturned state bans on interracial marriages in Loving v. Virginia. Slowly, too slowly, laws are being written and bans are being overturned. I hope that some day there will not be a distinction between “gay” and “straight” marriage. I hope and believe that someday in the United States there will simply be marriage, marriage without a modifier in front of it, marriage for any two people who love each other. I hope that someday both my daughters and all lovers, young and old, will be able to follow their stars. I’ve been in love like you.

“Love doesn’t make the world go round, love is what makes the ride worthwhile.” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning