By: Ellen Nimmo
Back in 2003 I read an article about a “singles market” in Morocco. It was a syndicated piece from the Wall Street Journal which was nestled in the familiar pages of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The article outlined a three day dating ritual which takes place in Imilchil, Morocco. Local legend says it begun when a pair of young lovers from rival tribes wanted to marry, but their parents staunchly refused. Shakespeare anyone? The star-crossed couple cried enough tears to form two lakes, which they both drown in. JT anyone?
The rival tribes were so heartbroken by the tragedy they decided that from that day forward they would let their offspring choose their own spouses. Though, the article noted, most Berbers (that’s the ethnicity of several nations in Northern Africa including Morocco) still arranged many of their marriages with the help of parents or family.
The legend turned ritual/festival had survived centuries; it had also become a local bazaar and tourist attraction. Describing a scene where motorcades, huge inflatable Coke bottles and bus tours pack in to take part in the ever increasingly commercialized market, the article quoted one man as saying “There’s change everywhere in the world, so why not here?” Can you hear the echoes of our own countrymen and women in that quote? Thoughts on modernity and morality all wrapped up together. According to the article, somewhere close to 5,000 people showed up from neighboring mountains and tribes to set up camp and take part in market life for a few days. Some came purely to trade goods, others arrive wide-eyed and hopeful, seeking love.
Like all cultures, the Berbers must lean on word pictures and concepts to make their feelings about love known. It’s just too complex a concept to be understood by itself. Go ahead, try and describe love. I’ll wait.
Soul Pancake, a content creating company, actually took this task on when they asked one hundred people to try and explain what love meant to them:
Some valiant attempts.
The Berber culture came to a description that was pretty gutsy. Yes, they decided love resides in the liver. Apparently, it is not uncommon to hear phrases like these whispered or wailed around the market during those three days: “You have captured my liver” or “Come back, you’ve burned my liver!”
How curious. Love in the liver?
Livers, as you likely know, are critical organs with a variety of functions. Livers make chemicals, break down toxins, insulin and other hormones, processes glucose, store vitamins the body needs as building blocks, helps with blood clotting and digestion. The liver does a lot. Its function is essential to good health and the Berbers seem to have drawn out a metaphor to help communicate their thoughts on love using the liver. Love is in the liver they say. Love is essential to good health.
Of course there were a lot of things that stood out to me about the very different picture of dating I read about in the Gazette that fall, the plainest being, it really didn’t seem that different to me. So, being the anthropology-minded student I was, I ended up writing a really bad, really short play entitled “Pickled Livers” for a theatre class I was taking at the time. Loosely based on this article about the Moroccan singles market, the play explored a darker side of love in the liver. No doubt this was due to my own disillusionment with love and dating during those college years where I spent many a night scoffing at my peers in skin-tight miniskirts and absurdly unbuttoned button down shirts – their sweaty and drunk selves looking for love at the local club. Worse than that, there I was, sweaty and drunk, judging their every dance move and pick up line.
The characters in my little “Pickled Livers” drama were snarky, cold and impatient. They were pouty. Clamoring for attention. They were selfish and pitifully lost. They were, well…they were me.
This week a friend of mine interviewed a couple that has been married for over fifty years. He asked them about relationship. Their relationship. He asked them how they met, what they love about one another, he asked them how they have maintained their marriage throughout difficult seasons and times. You can watch it for yourself here, but spoiler alert, they didn’t mention livers. Not even once! They did mention, implicitly or directly: communication, affection, time, faith, respect, continued growth, humility and the servanthood of love. Those essential functions which have made their marriage, their love, last.
As I listened to them talk I found myself thinking about that Moroccan market and of course livers. I thought about my relationships past and present. Then I asked myself a question.
Aside from simply lasting, what makes a relationship “good”?
I am certain, much like defining or describing love, answering that question would be very difficult indeed. Varied and hard to explain. But, let’s say you asked one hundred people or heck let’s make it a thousand, with each bold attempt I bet you’d find elements, iterations and reflections of those essential functions our long-married couple mentioned. Those edifying behaviors that help us break down toxins, store up building blocks, process and digest our lives in a way that leads to more joy.
The me from 17 years ago still shows up here and there. I still struggle with judgement, impatience and selfishness. But, whether they are seeking love or just there to set up their proverbial inflatable Coke bottle, loving others is something I believe I’m called to do. The more I consider and practice what it means to love well, the more I listen, the more I’m convinced love can’t be pickled. It is too critical and functioning to be tossed in brine, preserved on a shelf. Love, like the liver, has a purpose, a role to play, a job to do. So, maybe the Berbers have it right, in part at least. Maybe we ought to think of love as a way to stay healthy and, hopefully, grow us into people who enjoy that oft unspoken delight – judgement free dance parties.
Dance on y’all.