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I can think of only one word for the experience of being so swept away by something outside yourself that your inner chatter ceases, time stops, you forget who you are, where you are, or even that you are. The word is love. Whatever person or thing, sunset or cathedral, symphony or ski-slope, fills you with that kind of ecstatic self-unconsciousness is something you love. You will go to astounding lengths to defend the possibility of having that experience again — and of others having it.

And you will run up against people who wield a gun or bulldozer or government budget or some other power over that which you love. Have you ever tried to tell why you love baseball, or opera, or a sea turtle, or an old-growth forest, or your neighborhood, or your kids, to someone who is hostile to the subject? It can’t be done. It is not a matter of words. You know there is something lovable there, for anyone who will pay close attention, open to the wonder. But you can’t force that attention. You can’t cause that opening.

You may be able to touch an experience of love in another person, as the student’s turtle story touched the whale and the eagle in me. But if the person in power has no such experience, or no willingness to access it, you will be called a sentimental fool, a tree-hugger, an environmental wacko. Then power, uninformed by love, will crush beauty and mystery in the name of efficiency, economic growth, national security, racial purity, or some other loveless abstraction. It happens every day.

What to do about power uninformed by love? I wish I knew. One answer is to seek power yourself. Another answer is to respect other people’s loves, knowing that a love you don’t share is a wonder to which you have yet to learn to open. The most effective answer is to be sure that power is never entrusted to those who cannot love — though they are attracted to power like moths to a flame, because it is all they have.


from this column.

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