“Love in its essence is spiritual fire.”
– Seneca –
As I-24 meanders east through the Mid-South in the U.S., it pokes its elbow a few miles out of Tennessee, nudges the northwest corner of Georgia, and then crooks back into Tennessee and heads toward the Appalachian Mountains. East of that elbow is Lookout Mountain, Georgia. The mountain’s claim to fame is Rock City, which is located on its peak. Along the highways of southeast, it’s common to see barns with “See Rock City” painted in huge letters on the roof or across the side.
So I’ve come to see Rock City. A short walk takes me through woodland and along a stone path between boulders, including a tight squeeze though the Needle’s Eye. I end up on a wide ledge above a waterfall, shading my eyes and scanning the mountains on the horizon. On a clear day, you can see seven states from here. Arrows on a helpful sign point to each one: Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. The Smokies are hazy in the distance. So is Mt. Pinnacle, the location point for Kentucky and Virginia. But this is about as clear as it gets, and I pick out all seven states. I think.
I happen to be standing on Lover’s Leap. There’s enough of a rail along the ledge to keep sightseers from accidentally stepping off while they’re taking selfies, although not enough to keep a spurned lover from making the big leap. According to a Cherokee Romeo-Juliet type legend, Nacoochee, a young maiden from one tribe, fell in love with Sautee, a young man from another tribe. The two tribes were feuding at the time. Sautee was captured and thrown to his death from this lookout over the waterfall. When Nacoochee heard what had happened, she jumped to her death at the same spot, so the promontory was named Lover’s Leap.
Lover’s Leaps exist in at least half the states in the U.S. as well as in other countries around the world, and they’re all based on similar stories. Sometimes both lovers leap in order to be together in death, and sometimes the maiden leaps to avoid marrying someone she doesn’t love. I like the legend from Blowing Rock, North Carolina, that says the young man hurtling off the cliff was blown by the wind back into his lover’s arms.
Fortunately, most of us will not end our life’s journey by hurling ourselves off a Lover’s Leap. But at some point, most of us will make the leap into love, forever changing the path ahead of us. Of course, Lover’s Leap tales are about romantic love, while the love we experience in real life may or may not include the romantic.
Love is a slippery concept. Since ancient times writers have tried to describe it:
“Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.” – St. Thomas Aquinas
“Love can climb higher than reason can reach.” – Edmund Spenser
“Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone.” – Leo Tolstoy
“Such ever was love’s way; to rise, it stoops.” – Robert Browning
“Love is a great beautifier.” – Louisa May Alcott
“Love betters what is best.” – William Wordsworth
“If you love someone, you do not ask them to destroy the best in themselves.” – Anne Perry
“Love is what carries you, for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark, but shining out at times like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery.” – Wendell Berry
“Love always creates, it never destroys.” – Leo Buscaglia
“Where there is great love there are always miracles.” – Willa Cather
“The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.” – G.K. Chesterton
“Love does not just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.” – Ursula LeGuin
“Real love is a permanently self-enlarging experience.” – M. Scott Peck
Next week’s post: The Tricky Truth about Love. Meanwhile, feel free to share your favorite quote about love.
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Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.
Rock City photos, Creative Commons, Billy Hathorn
All other photos © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.