Reading astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” this morning, and a few lines about quarks jumped out (quarks, I just learned, are the internal constituents of of neutrons and protons, which is to say, the teeeeny-tiny building blocks that make up the tiny building blocks that make up everything else, including you and me).
“You’ll never catch a quark all by itself; it will always be clutching other quarks nearby. In fact, the force that keeps two (or more) of them together actually grows stronger the more you separate them—as if they were attached by some sort of subnuclear rubber band. Separate the quarks enough, the rubber band snaps and the stored energy summons E=mc^2 to create a new quark at each end, leaving you back where you started.”
Makes me think about love and the function of separation in love. Love is a force that binds us together, a kind of subnuclear rubber band. Conventionally, separation tends not to be understood as an integral aspect of love, but the quarks teach us a new way of seeing it: the more they are separated, the stronger the force that keeps them together grows. That’s beautiful, to me. It frames separation not as some sinister, potentially annihilating enemy of love, but rather a way of strengthening love, or whatever you want to call that which keeps us together.
This, now, reminds me of some etymology. “Separate” comes from the Latin “separare” (“se” apart + “parare” make ready, prepare) and related to “parere” produce, bring forth, give birth to. Separation is not annihilation. Rather, it is preparation. Something is prepared within us when we find ourselves apart from one another. Something is made ready, produced, brought forth, birthed. Reminds me of the quarks, how the force that binds them together actually grows stronger the farther they get from one another.
This goes against what most of us are told about love. Love, in the more conventional sense, means you are together all the time, ever holding hands, conjoined twins. But if there is no separation in love, and if separation is a unique kind of preparation that can only occur apart, then what does the eradication and stigmatization of separation in a love relationship mean for the love you are able to experience with your partner, your fellow quark?
Can you invite separation into the way that you love? Can you trust it? When separation comes unbidden, unwanted, can you remember that something is being prepared in you, a capacity, perhaps, to love even stronger, freer, truer than if you remained together like conjoined twins? Can you let go, and let the separation plumb the depths of your heart’s ability to love?
If this doesn’t make sense, consider one more piece of etymology. “Relationship” comes from the Latin “relationem” meaning “a bringing back, a restoring.” This meaning implies that something has been lost or broken that is in need of restoring. You cannot “bring back” if you have never left, and if relationship is “a bringing back” this suggests that you cannot be in relationship if you are not willing to leave…and then yes, return, bringing back what you experienced when you were away.
Relationship, in other words, is not a constant togetherness, but the process of leaving, and then returning, again and again, bringing back what gathered while you were away, whatever it was that was getting prepared and made ready during that separation. Implied in the very essence of “relationship” is the notion of leaving, absence, separation. And perhaps what the quarks can affirm for us, at the subatomic level (which is to say, at our most essential level), is that the distance between us has the potential to strengthen the force that binds us together—love. Separation, even the separation of death, is not antithetical to love. It is a way of strengthening love, and the grief we feel during separation (if we can only manage not to avoid feeling it in its unadulterated, uninterpreted essence, rather than telling stories about it that then transmute our experience of it into bitterness, resentment, and despair) is, at its core, the signal, indication, and sensation of the magnitude of our love. Our grief is the presence of love, not the absence of it. The longing we feel when we are separate from our beloved IS love, and does not need to somehow come to fruition or culmination by a reunion that might take the form of seeing one another again, or touching each other again, or some kind of embodied reunion. The longing itself is fruition and culmination. Love strengthened, the subnuclear rubber band tightened.
And when the separation is too great and the “subnuclear rubber band” snaps, what happens?
“The stored energy summons E=mc^2 to create a new quark at each end, leaving you back where you started.”
I don’t quite know how to connect the dots on this one, as I have no idea what E=mc^2 actually means, but I am struck by the fact that the breaking of the bond simultaneously creates two new quarks. The breaking, the death, is the very event that brings into creation these two new “beings” that, in their lifetime, cannot help but be moved and shaped by the very same force that, when broken, brought them into the world. Love continues.