An Affection Abounding Everything

Love. L-O-V-E, said once, slowly, such as the salty ocean slithers up to the sand.
Who to love? Is it pets, diamonds, people? Beings who purposefully push forward their own personal and problematic personalities?
For me, this question comes easily: I love people.

Sylvia Plath, the creative goddess, wrote in her journals,
“I love people. Everybody. I love them, I think, as a stamp collector loves his collection... I would like to be everyone, a cripple, a dying man, a whore, and then come back to write about my thoughts, my emotions, as that person. But I am not omniscient. I have to live my life, and it is the only one I'll ever have.”

Have you ever curiously watched a stranger hurry across the street, managing to clutch her designer handbag superciliously despite the rain? Or, regarded an old man with a wide grin that showcases a dark, tooth shaped gorge and its greyed neighbour, wondering how even in the big city he can keep himself content? Through all of these realities, I’m sure many are sparked with a curiosity that abounds the typical ‘fake deep’ philosophy that we, so easily, could stray into. This feeling creates restlessness and unease.

Put in more concrete language, it’s easy to engross ourselves in our own personal matters: school, college, friends, finances, free time, the future. But if you slow everything down for just a moment, and open yourself up to the fact someone living down the street carries out a life as vivid and multiplex as yours, you pick up this really incredible perspective.

A bit of backstory? When I was fourteen, I went on a cruise ship. It was the biggest in the world, and for seven days, I shared an enclosed space with over 7,000 different human beings. One night, I remember, a group of my friends and family found ourselves in the karaoke room, and in a trio, my sister, cousin, and I, performed (and may I add, with grace.) But it was an act following us that shook me. An elderly, Mediterranean man was performing the song Molly Malone. He sung of cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh. And it wasn’t the beauty of his singing that overtook me, nor the unison swaying of the small audience, but his character. The pride in his stance, his kind smile, a light accent. And with a pang, I realized that never again in my life, I would encounter him. That he was just as, if not more complex as me. Seasoned with age, wise in ways perhaps I was not, and I would never so much as exchange words with him. I would never, I could never exchange minds with him. Live in his shoes for a day, meet his children. Be him and occupy the distinct and unique space that was solely his own. It can bring tears to your eyes.

“We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.”
- Elie Wiesel, from The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code.

And I suppose that yes, these realisations and thoughts can be perceived as pointless, privileged problems that anyone sufficiently encumbered by the job that is life is in no position to answer. After all, when would someone working three jobs and just scraping by have the time to see the question of life’s meaning as something distressing?

True, sometimes philosophy can be something of a luxury, but that doesn’t mean we all aren’t affected by it one way or another.

The love I’ve just described, even simply the intrigue of other people’s existences, is something that manifests in many different forms. Who hasn’t felt it? Wondered, wished, to slip on someone else’s shoes for a moment. No matter how busy, humans still make time for empathy.

We can never be another soul. Not in this life, anyways. Maybe like the chained men in Plato’s cave, we can only see in one direction, through one lens, through birth to death. Yet, we can be aware. Through conversing with the kind old lady at the train stop, doing charity work for kids in the local community, even small talk with the kids in class that both intrigue and intimidate you, your eyes open a little bit wider. Your problems don’t shrink in relation, but one can start to sketch out the lines of perception.

To know the struggles of others is to relativise your own. It is to empathise, to work to level the playing fields. Looking through someone’s goggles is to close your eyes and open your ears. And to love people is to love yourself.

This affection abounds everything. I promise.

Photograph by Yana Kemna
By Simisola Fagbemi

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