Koehler and Eisenstein say that in the trajectory of human evolution, we have been locked in the selfish adolescent phase for a long, long time, just seeking to take what we need from our Earth mother, without thought of giving much in return, or of the reality of finite limits.
When we fall in love, Eisenstein says, “perfect selfishness falls apart as the self expands to include the beloved within its bounds.”
I remember falling in love like that as an adolescent, and as a young adult too.
It’s true that when you’re in love, the boundaries between the self and other dissolve, and you exist in a harmonious utopia of mutual beneficence.
But at least for most of us fallen humans, that kind of all-encompassing love doesn’t last forever.
It can’t. It’s too intense. Eventually the first ecstatic glow fades and the angelic beloved assumes normal, human proportions, with all the associated warts and odors and quirks of behavior and thought that our human bodies and minds possess.
What happens to love then?
If we are compatible for the longterm, the initial heady crush transforms into a much more solid platform of respect, shared interests, and deep concern for each other. We care about each other, we enjoy being together no matter what we’re doing, and we respect each other’s views, goals, and talents.
We become partners in the truest sense of the word.
Is it necessary to go through the romantic, boundary-dissolving “falling in love” stage to get to the mature relationship of partnership?
In our culture, we believe it to be. Our young people, tutored by every aspect of media and pop culture, assume that being swept away with love is a pre-requisite to successful marriage.
And yet how many of their parents, who followed that same script, ended up in bitter divorce fights?
Although I understand the intent behind Koehler’s and Eisenstein’s valorization of “falling in love” as a model for the depth of passion needed to fuel successful environmental action on behalf of the Earth, I am not convinced that this is the right message to be sending.
Young people today may still harbor romantic dreams, but they live day-to-day in a casual hook-up culture that prides itself on separating sexual enjoyment from commitment.
Fifty percent of their parents have made the journey from early romance to disillusioned divorce.
Another 25% or so of adults are either unhappily married, or unhappily single.
The “falling in love” model thus hits home with too few Americans to be effective as a rallying call for environmental action, and it is too limited a metaphor for the depth and breadth of passion that we must summon now to be effective Earth stewards and activists.
Instead we must love with the unconditional devotion of a mother for her child, with the sincere, selfless wish to see that new life grow and prosper and move forward beyond us.
We must love the Earth with the intensity of devotion that recognizes that for her to thrive, it may be necessary for us to part.
Earth has loved us with this kind of pure altruism all these many years of human emergence. Now, as in the terrifying story of The Giving Tree, she has given so much that she has practically sacrificed herself entirely.
Nothing we can do to the Earth will wreck her forever. Forever is a long, long time, in geologic terms.
But there is still time to shift from heedless destruction to the kind of loving tending that the Earth herself has modeled for us all these years.
There is still time to develop the kind of deeply caring reciprocal partnership that will last a lifetime, and beyond.