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Love and Typhoons

I wrote this speech for my friend’s wedding, published on LiveJournal, 9.15.06

In the western Pacific, at the periphery of the far Micronesian Yap empire, there’s a small group of atolls known as the Carolines. There a small piece of coral peeks out of the great blue, and its name is Ifaluk. Once in a decade or two a typhoon comes and erases it. The tilled fields, the fruit trees, the houses — all disappear into the sky. And the Ifaluk return in boats, come out of the caves, and rebuild. It’s OK to fear the typhoon in Ifaluk, it’s even moral and good. The elders, the decision makers in the island, tremble publicly when the clouds darken, and serve as an example. That fear, however, is not for the loss of the fields and the houses. Those are rebuilt, with inspiring efficiency. The highest value, the basis for continuity, the reason for life is not the houses or the rebuilding, but the human attachments. The friendships and loves, not the foundations of buildings, are what must hold in the midst of the strongest winds in the world.

The Ifaluk word closest to love is fago . But they don’t use the word the way we use “love” here in Israel. Fago is what one feels for the needy, implying that the person is somehow lower than us. For example, it’s moral and good that a father would feel fago for his daughter. And if you see a father playing with his daughter in Ifaluk, laughing like the sun, you’ll immediately be able to recognize it as love. But for the equal, for the complementary, one does not feel fago . Thus, the strongest complementary relation in Ifaluk, which happens to be between two sisters, does not translate, in our terms, as “love.” A sister does not “love” her sister, because that would imply that the other needs her, depends on her. What they have is stronger than that. The entire island wouldn’t let a typhoon or a cruel foreign invasion separate them. Against this the quiet fishermen would rise as fierce warriors.

I’m sure I’m boring you, so let’s switch channels, from the National Geographic to the news, and see how our tiny island, Israel, also suffers from a kind of typhoon, once in a decade or two. To keep from disappearing into the sky, some people hold on to the foundations of their homes, while others hold on to the ancient stones. At least, this is what they declare. I believe that people are similar all over the world. We, too, like the Ifaluk, hold each other. For us, however, unlike the Ifaluk, the coupled relationship is primary, at least after we leave the nest. (It’s not that we don’t love mom anymore — it’s just we usually stop living with her.) And, unlike the Ifaluk, we do call this “love.” But does it really matter what we call it? The most important thing is that we have our priorities straight. The most important thing is that we know that the reason for living is nothing more and nothing less than us: our partner, our family member, our friend, and even (it’s a bit unpopular to say so these days) the stranger.

Insert some gushy stuff about my friend and his wife.

I wish you, and all of us, that we always remember what is most important. In this case, it’s this couple. Your joy, if I may speak for all of us, is ours, too. You are already happy, but I won’t be stingy, and I’ll wish you even more happiness. Why not? There’s enough for everybody. And to make sure, I’ll wish you luck. Luck, it seems, is not as abundant a resource. Mazal tov.