Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love: Simple and complex


Douglas Winslow Cooper 

I told my wife, Tina Su Cooper, that love is both simple and complex. It seemed a contradiction, but her deep understanding of music—she had been a highly accomplished pianist before her diagnosis with MS—made this idea clear to her once I used a musical metaphor.

Consider a musical note: middle C, for example. Its fundamental frequency is 262 cycles per second. That pure tone can be produced electronically, but musical instruments produce something different. They add to this fundamental frequency higher-frequency harmonics, over-tones.

A stringed instrument will add different proportions of these higher-frequency tones to the fundamental tone than will be added by a horn or a reed (an oboe or clarinet) or a xylophone, and most people can distinguish one type of instrument from another based on these contributions to their timbres, even though each instrument is playing predominantly the note middle C.

A violin produces music through the partnership of the bow and the strings. True musical aficionados can distinguish between a high-quality violin, an Amati or Stradivarius, and a run-of-the-mill instrument. All pianos produce notes as hammers strike strings, but Steinway or Kawai pianos produce more pleasing notes than lower-quality pianos. The great and the not-great instruments can both produce middle C notes, but the best add highlights that the lesser will lack.

Together, in love, two humans can produce amorous music. The special characteristics of each partner contribute to the over-tones that make a unique love more or less beautiful. The changes that life produces in each partner add complexity. The music evolves.

Just as aging deepens the sound from a classic instrument, so the challenges that life presents us can deepen us and enrich the music we make together, loving and caring for each other.

You see, love is both simple and complex.

Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., a retired environmental physicist, lives in southern New York State with his beloved wife, Tina Su Cooper, a former editor at the Encyclopedia Britannica and mother of two. Tina was first diagnosed with MS in 1981 at the age of 37, and she has been quadriplegic and ventilator-dependent at home for almost eight years. Tina is the central figure in Dr. Cooper’s book, Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion, available from Amazon. Barnes and Noble, or their website, tingandi.com. 

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