We aren’t waiting any more, at least, not for what we thought we were waiting. The vet stopped by last week to steer our bull calves and we had him examine our Jersey cow, Precious. The news stopped us in our tracks.
“No,” he announced, after reaching his plastic-gloved arm into her body up to his elbow, “she isn’t pregnant.” We all stood there, silent.
Of course Precious was pregnant! We had seen the signs! We had waited and hoped and planned and prepared—for nine months! We had believed! But no, the expert evidence was in: she wasn’t pregnant.
Jessica was visibly distressed. She wanted that calf. We all did. She wanted to name it, love it, and milk its mom.
The swelling presence, moments before, of what would be was now a gnawing absence of what might have been. We all felt the pain of thwarted desire.
April is the cruelest month.
I just returned from a conference at Syracuse University on the Politics of Love. Philosophers and theologians, a political theorist, an historian, and a psychoanalyst, from Europe and America, were gathered to ponder common questions. What is love? What is politics? Might we develop a politics that is guided by love? That expresses love? Or that at least encourages love among concerned parties? Are love and politics even compatible?
As the papers unfolded, participants discussed concepts of love (as union or separation, public or private, eros or agape, miracle or gift), practices of love (as reconciliation and forgiveness), and various critiques of love (as masking, justifying, and even requiring violence). The discussions were animated and provoking, even passionate. It was clear: these people love their work.
Still, it seemed to me that something was missing—something that I moved to the farm to find. What?
I moved to the farm to learn about love by living a life that would enable me to do so. Yet the conference discussion seemed to assume that love simply is—that we can know it when we see it, choose it when we want it, and apply it whenever to wherever we think it is needed.
Is it so easy to get into love, or get love into us? How does it happen? Do we fall in love, grow into love, erupt with love, or will ourselves to it? Is loving simply a matter of deciding and committing? Or rather, could it be a matter of learning to discern the wisdom in our desire?
Our ability to live in love, as I have come to believe, is a matter of cultivating a sensory awareness of the movements that are always already making us. It is what our bodies know.
The day after the vet visited, Precious was showing signs of heat for the first time in months. Perhaps it was his muscled arm that stimulated her sensory space of want. Regardless, it was obvious: she was wanting. She was popping up on Daisy and Dandelion, heedless of their common sex; and when Jordan did the heat-testing trick of jumping up on her back, she stood uncharacteristically still.
The sperm doctor we called arrived hours later in his semen-bearing white truck. This time around we chose a bull named Echo. “She has an extra curl in there,” he confirmed while administering the dose, slowly and steadily. “She might need a bull.” He told us of a prize-winning Jersey not far from here. “A few weeks with him,” he said, “should be enough to get things going.”
For Precious, getting life started is a job best left to mother nature. And a bull.
How do we get love started?
Love is a primal force. Yes, it can sometimes be irrational and destructive, but the fact is, we could not and would not exist without it. Love is essential for human life—not necessarily to start life, but at the very least, to keep it going. We are beneficiaries of love long before we can debate its merits, given the gift of being carried in the womb long before we can think what a gift might be.
For without a loving touch we cannot grow. Our brain cells will not fire. Sensations of openness and pleasure will not unfold to guide us along our way. Without attention from our caregivers, we cannot learn to create the relationships we need to support us in becoming who we are.
It is not that we receive all that we desire from our caregivers. We rarely do. But if we survive, we have received enough— enough to know we want more. Our sense of it is stimulated. We want more of that pleasure we feel when becoming who we are. More of that love.
Back on the farm, I remember. This is why we are here: to create the conditions in which love can thrive as the most important thing, horizon and guide of every moment. So too, this process is a bodily one. Love is sensory. We can think it and analyze it, but “love” is not what it is unless we also feel it, move with it, and allow it to move us.
We learn to love when we open the sensory spaces that allow us to respond to each moment in ways that create the mutually enabling relationships with ourselves, each other, and the world we need to thrive. Family planting.
Echo’s sperm weren’t able to surf the curl. It looks like we are going to need that bull.