Symbols of Love

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          It was in early January of 1970 that I first became aware of the existence and importance of what I think of as “symbols of love.” It happened on the American naval base at Guantánamo. Three nights earlier, three friends, my brother Carlos, and I had escaped from the Castro dictatorship by swimming over to the base from the Cuban side of Guantánamo Bay. When the navy authorities told us that we would be flown to Miami that morning, we all started gathering up our few belongings, consisting of two or three articles of clothing that we had been given when we arrived and two or three identification papers in nylon bags that we had sewn into the T-shirts we had worn on that unforgettable night. As I gathered my things, I realized that I didn’t see the little picture of the Virgin Mary that my mother, after giving us a kiss, had pressed into my hand. It had been right there with my papers—it would guide us to freedom, my mother had told my brother and me. I looked for it everywhere, but I couldn’t find it. I was upset, confused at having lost it, but then something happened inside me; it was like a spark that somehow granted me understanding: That little picture had done its work, completed its mission of love—we had arrived safe and sound. . . It was no longer with me because I needed to conceptualize for myself, internalize, the meaning of what that picture of the Virgin Mary had been. . . a symbol of love that our mother had given us to accompany us spiritually on that hard journey. That realization and that understanding freed me from the frustration of not finding it. . .

          Over the years I have discovered that the best way to understand what love is, in all its essence, is through the emotional, spiritual, and material results that are created by our cultivation of, and surrender to, that supreme emotion. . . . Love is powerful, much more powerful than we are able to imagine. That is a reality that manifests itself every day, and if we remain alert we will be able to recognize and internalize it for our own benefit. . . .

          This knowledge opened my mind to an understanding of the true power of both what we call “good-luck charms” and the bad, or harmful, side of them, evil “spells” or curses—both of which are mere objects whose power depends as much on the perceptions of those to whom they are sent as on the intentions with which they are created and given. And like words, which also can be used to benefit others or to do them harm, they have no power if they are not validated by human perception. . . . unlike those objects which, when given with love, achieve their goal of their own power and validity, the validity conferred on them by the mysterious but omnipresent force that is love. . . . Spells and enchantments are the product of our baseness and our weakness, and it is the recipient’s fear and ignorance that gives them their validity and makes possible any of the negative results for which they were engendered.

          And it is when we are vulnerable—due to our childhood, the immaturity of our youth, or a period of emotional crisis—that the words or actions of people we emotionally depend on have their greatest effect. I know a woman whose older brother, when they were children, told her that she was ugly. This thoughtless word marked my friend for many years; it held her back, it affected her self-esteem, and in consequence it made her socially uncomfortable—until at last she could overcome it, when she reached full adulthood. Unfortunately, we have all, in one way or another, felt the anguish and pain that three or four simple words are capable of inflicting—not just because of their literal meaning but also because of the symbolism intended and perceived. . . . . Just as we all know people who are intimidated by others who use ill-intentioned words to do us harm—sometimes through what we call spells, or curses.

          If we internalize this truth we will be freed from the potential harm that certain persons’ words or actions are capable of inflicting on us. Our greatest firmness lies in truth, and we attain truth through reason and the fervent desire to attain it and it is through study and reflection that we will be able to come closer each day to that truth, and to achieve the firmness needed to liberate ourselves forever from that vulnerability that can sometimes do us such harm.

          Love is the source of energy that enables us to deal with all the adverse things that stand in our way. Internalizing that truth opens our consciousness to the knowledge that adversity is simply an opportunity that life gives us to grow and become stronger and it is that truth that will finally free us from all insecurity and all fear.

          Meet adversity head-on, and with firmness, and thank Life for those opportunities that it gives you to recognize in yourselves the most marvelous power in the world—the real power of love. . .


Thank you,

Juan San Emeterio

April, 2004