Love–and Wisdom–in the Time of Cholera



  1. (ire)
  2. anger

Cuando veo algo tan injusto, me lleno de cólera y frustración.When I witness such injustices, I get filled with anger and frustration.

  1. rage

El acusado asegura que estaba cegado por la cólera y los celos cuando le disparó a su esposa.The defendant claims he was blinded by rage and jealousy when he shot his wife.


  1. (illness)
  2. cholera

Es recomendable abstenerse de comer mariscos crudos para evitar contraer el cólera.It is a good idea to abstain from eating raw seafood to avoid getting sick with cholera.

I just finished reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book Love in the Time of Cholera. Set against the backdrop of a hypothetical Latin-American country in the late 19th and early 20th century, the story follows the two loves of one woman’s life. Fermina Daza is a woman born to wealth in a country ravaged both by epidemic and by violence: cólera in both senses of the Spanish word. She sits in a place of privilege, untouched both by the civil wars around her and the deadly disease. At one point Fermina Daza and her husband, Dr. Juvenal Urbino, fly in a hot air balloon over a village in the countryside: “Someone said that cholera was ravaging the villages of the Great Swamp. Dr. Urbino, as he spoke, continued to look through the spyglass. ‘Well, it must be a very special form of cholera,’ he said, ‘because every single corpse has received the coup de grace through the back of the neck.’”

I listened to NPR a lot during the last election, and I kept hearing the same phrase over and over again: “People are angry.” A Time Magazine article published in June of last year asserted “America’s Anger Is Out of Control,” citing the oft-used word “outrage” as a prefix in headlines; violence during political rallies, and an overwhelming majority of Americans who described themselves as “angry” at the government in polls. Rural, blue collar voters seemed to be rebelling en masse, galvanized by a sense that they had no control over their political and economic destinies in a country populated by new demographics with unrecognizable values. All this is reflected in the rhetoric used (by both political parties) that vilified the other side, trivialized the accomplishments of legitimate public servants, and otherwise coarsened the public conversation. And while we wallow in our own deep disagreements, we use the word “angry” to diminish other people when they express their opinions, as in “angry black man,” or “angry feminist.”

The problem with the word “love” is that it is trivialized and associated with romance and sentimentality. I am uncomfortable with the word, because I’m afraid this post will dissolve into schmaltz and that my readers might start scrolling, looking for a tl;dr. However, in the reading that I have done since the election about character, ethics, activism and service, this word keeps popping up as the driving force behind good citizenship. We live in a time of cólera.  But I believe that we can also make this a time of love, and that more importantly, we should be striving toward that.

In Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Krista Tippett explains that:

Love is the superstar virtue of virtues, and the most watered down word in the English language. I love this weather. I love your dress. And what we’ve done with the word, we’ve done with this thing—this possibility, this essential bond, this act. We’ve made it private, contained it in family, when its audacity is in its potential to cross tribal lines.

Love also isn’t a very descriptive word, and its meaning is highly dependent on context. Tippett contrasts filia, or the love of friends; agape, love as “embodied compassion,” and metta, or “lovingkindness.” She also introduces the idea of the struggle for civil rights as a struggle of love: “the political, economic aspirations of this monumental work of social change in living memory grew from an aspiration to create the ‘beloved community.’”

Tippett isn’t suggesting that we hold hands and sing kumbayah (and I’m not suggesting that either). She is talking about the work of love, the deliberateness and intentionality of loving. In a her interview with the poet Elizabeth Alexander, the two women muse about Alexander’s poem “Praise Song for the Day,” which was written for President Obama’s inauguration.

So ‘what if the mightiest word is love?’ is a question that asks in these times, as an incredibly heterogeneous collective as an incredibly diverse country, is there such a thing as a love that can supersede or guide or take us through disagreement…love with no need to preempt grievance, love that is not about marital love, not just about familial love…love that can even do more than tolerate dissent in difference. That can sit with it, can take it in, can listen to it, can let it stand whole and not necessarily feel the need to engage it argumentatively.

Alexander  argues that love “calls up deep, deep responsibilities.” She read “Praise Song for the Day” in front of a national audience, on the doorstep of a presidency that was created by hopeful voters. This poem challenged us, as citizens, to love one another, to enter into communion with our neighbors, to be vulnerable with each other, and to listen to one another. Alexander held the concept of love up in a political space, where it should not be a foreigner.

So what does this mean for us as citizens? The crux of the challenge for myself is how to turn these good intentions into something concrete. I would like to cultivate in myself deliberate love for other people, by listening and trying to find shared interests. Sometimes I hear people expressing political opinions that are absolutely repulsive to me, and I feel angry tension spread into my forehead and shoulder muscles. In those moments I will endeavor to be present with our dissent, to listen, and to respond with kindness.





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