My phone bleeped shortly after breakfast. A strange message lit up the screen. You’re invited to get together tonight at 7:00 to talk about love. The text was from my neighbor who often hosts impromptu drinks at sunset, or gatherings to hear live music in her garden. Just about any excuse is good enough for a party and since our houses share a property line, I’m usually included. But a get-together to talk about love wasn’t her usual modus.
I’d LOVE to come! I responded.
I LOVE your answer! She messaged back.
I’m an early bird and 7 p.m. is late for me to set out to party. So after a stroll to the local grocery for crackers and black pepper cheese dip to contribute to the evening, I took a two-hour nap. I wanted to be sharp for a discussion on such a profound topic as love.
The group was a combination of familiar folks and some new faces. My neighbor collects friends as easily as corners collect dust. Her outgoing persona is a magnet for visitors passing though our touristy Bali town. That night I was introduced to a fiery Indonesian woman from Jakarta, a dainty, elfin creature from Singapore, and a leggy, sultry, model-quality blonde from Estonia. Well established regulars, one from England and one from Italy, rounded out the European presence and there were two of us from the U.S. We were an eclectic group, the best kind, and I anticipated hearing a variety of contradicting viewpoints.
As we sipped wine, nibbling cucumber sticks and tropical fruit kabobs in a preliminary ritual for the business to come, I imagined a scene in Paris in the 1940’s, an intimate setting in the home of Gertrude Stein. Gathered around her would be the brilliant writers of the day, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis. Even legendary painter, Pablo Picasso put in an appearance at her salons to dissect subjects of interest in what I presume were scintillating conversations that became more animated and potentially heated as the wine flowed and the evening waned.
My wistful journey to the past was reined in when our hostess cleared her throat. She began with a reading from Plato and was followed by the Italian who had studied with Osho. She shared a sampling of his liberated teachings on love. We were in illustrious company as the wisdom of these venerable philosophers washed over us. I mean, really? What can you say after the greats have weighed in?
It so happened we had plenty to say. Opinions, like Cupid’s arrows, flew from one side of the room to the other. The Jakartan woman was raised Muslim under traditional expectations that with or without love, she would marry. She’s thirty, not married, and her family has stopped nagging, but she feels their disapproval. Love of music was discussed, how for some it’s a meditation that transcends all thought and leads to ecstasy. Familial love vs. love of friends, love for children, grandchildren, the freedom of loving without the cage of marriage, we touched on all of it.
After an hour or so, the theme worn out and threadbare, we strayed. “What do you think the world will look like in thirty years?” our hostess asked. It took only a moment to shift gears and we plunged headlong into seething controversy. Some believed technology would escalate exponentially and our problems would be solved. But the leggy blonde was the most vehement of all. With a tentative command of English, her second language, she explained why a blindingly rapid ascent was impossible. I half-listened with mild amusement wondering why this animated model-type was expounding with such confidence. My mind was busy collecting thoughts for my next argument when she dropped the bomb.“I used to build robots,” she said. The room went dead silent and our mouths dropped open with a collective gasp. She continued unaware that her credibility had just undergone a seismic shift.
The discussion dwindled after that and one-by-one we took our leave. Before my thoughts turned off and curled into sleep I recalled the Muslim daughter, criticized for her choice not to marry without love. I envisioned the Estonian beauty, how she’d had very little to say until the conversation veered into her scientific comfort zone. I’d questioned her intelligence, even though as a young woman I’d battled the dumb blonde stereotype and felt wrongly judged. Looking back I’m embarrassed and ashamed at how sexist and dismissive I was based solely on her looks.
We came together to talk about love and I was guilty of one of the least loving acts of all: judgment.