Love in the ruins—and to be honest, we don’t get better than that.

Meg and I saw the film “Her” this weekend, and it’s not one that I could say, “You should see it too.” Maybe you should, maybe you shouldn’t. It is about love, and the longing for love—never more, never less than a love in the ruins.

The best storytellers always tell this story, don’t they? From Adam and Eve’s stumbling on through the Song of Songs’ passions, from Augustine’s “Confessions” to Shakespeare’s lovers, from Jane Austen’s complicated romances to Walker Percy’s punch-you-in-the-gut-because-they’re-so-true novels, time and again the stories we know best, and the storytellers who tell the best stories, are always one more tale of the longing to love and to be loved.

This is true of film. The ones we remember, and see again and again– full of frailty and yearning as they are –show us men and women who more than anything else want someone somewhere to know them and to love them. Every Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn movie that was made is its own story of love in the ruins, hope and heartache together. Woody Allen has made this his career, every film one more story of love lost and found.

And “Her” is no exception. In a futuristic Los Angeles, a man who makes his living writing love letters for those who for a thousand reasons are unable to do so themselves, cannot get over the pain of his failed marriage. Like all of us, he longs to love and to be loved; it is at the heart of his humanity, as it is for all of us. So… he decides to “buy” a computer operating system that holds the technological promise of knowing him– and loving him. Stranger than fiction, and yet, yes. He chooses a female version whose name is Samantha, and she devotes herself to him. Morning by morning, late night by late night, through the hours of each day, she is there– listening, responding, encouraging, and analyzing. She is privy to everything in his life. Everything.

Yes, Samantha is surprisingly intimate, attending to his every hope (which is why some may not want to see the film). But even as technological as she is, she longs for incarnation, yearning to be embodied—and at one point Samantha arranges for a surrogate woman to come for a visit, strangely, weirdly wanting to touch and be touched, operating system that she is. But computer-generated kisses don’t really satisfy, for anyone anywhere, and it is only one more moment of sadness.

The film does make us laugh, sometimes loudly– even as we cry. Walking out of the theater, Meg said, “It’s so sad.” Yes, as a story, but even more so as a look into our future. (Have you ever been completely discombobulated by seeing someone walking along the sidewalk, talking out loud, to no one?! And then you see an earphone with a cord hanging down? It is just about the worst face of the modern world. But I digress.) We are so connected, 24/7 as we say, able to know so many and so much– and yet we are so lonely, so very lonely.

The photo is from our bedroom. We moved into our home 20 years ago, and in the move only one item was damaged: a mounted poster from the National Gallery of Art of the painting, “Love Amidst the Ruins.” I sighed when I saw the break, but held onto the poster, without fixing or replacing it as I initially thought I would. The longer I pondered the painting, the more sure I was that we should keep it as is, beautiful and broken– in its silence it speaks.

Of a love in the ruins– like our love, like our lives. There is wonder and wound twined together in the happiest of homes, truth be told, as it must be. We don’t get better than that, even as we long for something more.

Steven Garber is the Senior Fellow for Vocation and the Common Good for the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. A teacher of many people in many places, he continues to serve as a consultant to colleges and corporations, facilitating both individual and institutional vocation. A husband, a father and a grandfather, a he has long lived in Washington DC, living a life among family, friends, and flowers.

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