The Amateur

Calling someone an amateur is a common insult in the USA. But did you know that amateur comes from the French word for lover?

An amateur is someone motivated to devote himself to something for the pure love if it. There’s a long-standing tradition of “the talented amateur” in Anglo-Saxon culture. In the eighteenth century in particular, amateurs made great contributions to the sciences and arts.

In “Darwin, Ahead of His Time, Is Still Influential” (NYT, 20 Feb 2009), by Nicholas Wade, a few lines struck me. They reminded me what a real amateur is:

“[Darwin] thought deeply about every detail of his theory for more than 20 years before publishing “On the Origin of Species” in 1859, and for 12 years more before its sequel, “The Descent of Man,” which explored how his theory applied to people.

“He brought several intellectual virtues to the task at hand. Instead of brushing off objections to his theory, he thought about them obsessively until he had found a solution…

“Darwin also had the intellectual toughness to stick with the deeply discomfiting consequences of his theory…”

Charles Darwin‘s character traits of perseverance, honesty, intellectual toughness, depth, and lack of bias, are typical of an amateur’s approach to life. Was Darwin really an amateur? Yes, he was. Even though he was educated, he had no focus for a while. His real love, natural history, was something he didn’t study.

While reading about Darwin, I felt strengthened as a lover, as an amateur — the part of us that acts from the heart, with faith and perseverance, out of love, not for money.

It’s very fitting that Darwin’s birthday is two days before Saint Valentine’s Day. Our celebration of romantic love on Saint Valentine’s Day is a way of dramatizing to ourselves that our lives are lived in a quiet sea of non-romantic love. We can find this kind of love in the small things we do for each other, in our patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, and care.

It’s this kind of love, expressed by most of us every single day, that prevents our species from damaging each other, and the earth, to the point of no return. And we’re going to need all the love in our hearts for a very long time, to have the stamina and insight to overcome the damage the earth and its living beings, including us, have sustained in recent decades, due to the actions of a few unprincipled people.

In a few hours it will be Saint Valentine’s Day in the USA, Canada, Mexico and the rest of the western hemisphere. It’s already Saint Valentine’s Day in India and the UK and Holland. Happy Saint Valentine’s Day to us all — and a late (pun intended) happy birthday to Darwin, one of the world’s great amateurs, a man who would give his whole heart to helping solve our present ecological and social dilemmas, if he were still with us.

love, h

This post is dedicated to the man I love, who’s taught me more about love than than all the seconds of my life before I met him did.

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