Marcus enjoyed hosting dinner guests. He and his wife, Theodora, took great care to lovingly set the table with their finest dishes. Invitations were handcrafted with Theodora’s sweeping and circular calligraphy. And the meal was made of the freshest, finest food prepared with great care and love.
Following dinner, after some guests had departed, there were habitually six who remained, retiring to the courtyard to lounge below the twinkling stars, looking to them for inspiration as the companions discussed matters of importance. As a tradition, they each would have turns posing a question to answer, with only five of the six interested in taking part.
At this time, it was the turn of the gracious host, Marcus, a proud man who wore the most expensive robes, not because he could but because it was expected of him.
“How long has it been since our last dinner together?” Thomas asked, his wife, Uma, resting her head upon his lap to close her eyes for a nap.
Ronus, an older friend of the family asked, “A month?”
“I believe it has been,” Theodora said, resting comfortably in her large, pillow-filled chair.
Marcus lit up with a joyous smile as he stood, the only one who had yet to seat himself. “Then I have spent the past month thinking of a subject to discuss as well as the correct answer to it.”
Belly laughs all around, David, the younger cousin of Marcus, gestured to his favorite relative. “Well then, cousin, let us hear your question and your answer so that I may prove you wrong.”
Awash in amusement, Marcus held up a hand. “Prepare for disappointment, my cousin, for this is a topic of which you know nothing: love.”
Theodora beamed a smile at her husband as snickering friends caused David to swallow his jagged pride, allowing Marcus to continue.
Hushing everyone as if he had a great announcement, Marcus said, “Here is the question: What is the greatest obstacle to love?”
“A wonderful question,” Thomas said, scratching his dark beard. “I think you should also take this chance to bestow us all with your equally wonderful answer.”
With a bow of his head, Marcus said, “Lack of understanding.” Sitting on the cushioned arm of his wife’s chair, he said, “When one fails to understand his mate, her needs, her wants, the wishes of her heart…” He admired the sparkle in his wife’s deep blue eyes. “…Then he creates an obstacle to love, not only between himself and his mate, but also himself and himself.”
David eyed his more experienced cousin. “Explain that last part.”
“As you will discover one day when you court and marry a fine, young woman,” Marcus said to his close relative, “any obstacle between your mate and her happiness may at any time become her excuse to force you into spending a night or more sleeping on the couch.”
Laughter burst out as Thomas added, “And as the married of us know, the only love to be found while lying on the couch comes from oneself.”
The supporting chuckles and moonlit smiles continued as Ronus held up a mirror to himself, lightly brushing his gray hair over his ears.
But as the joyous sounds dulled, Marcus became curious of who could offer a superior answer. “Thomas, would you care to be next?”
“Well,” Thomas said, clearing his throat, “following a whole couple of minutes of thought on this particular subject…”
“As compared to a whole month,” David jested to Marcus as Marcus plucked a strawberry from one of the many silver trays of fruit set about, feeding the strawberry to his beloved wife as she lightly giggled.
“…I will have to say that jealousy is the greatest obstacle to love. I have witnessed, at a time or two, a mate growing unhappy and drained from the grip of an excessively jealous man, a man who will not allow his love to speak with who she wished, female or male; a man who will not allow his love to meet with who she wished, female or male; a man who can be her only friend, her only family, her only confidant. A jealous man is one who denies his love the freedom of blossoming and flourishing as a beautiful flower.”
Marcus nodded his head, almost impressed, but not quite. Still, he offered his friend the credit he deserved. “A wise answer, indeed.”
Thomas leaned back in his chair, casually folding his arms. “I know.” He led the laughs that followed his wit.
“David,” Marcus said as he noticed Ronus continuing to admire himself, “I have been waiting with bated breath to hear from you.”
With the charming smile of which he’s well known, David said, “The correct answer is indifference. For what greater obstacle to love could there be than not loving at all?”
“I believe you are on the right track,” Thomas said. He looked around as this time the chuckling began as he finished saying, “I am indifferent toward your answer.”
Marcus turned to his gorgeous wife, as fond of her as he was proud. “And last but certainly far from least,” Marcus said as he cradled his wife’s hand, “my exquisite wife, what do you believe is the greatest obstacle to love?”
“Other than your husband,” David said, bringing a circle of belly laughs to the surface once again.
Calming to a mere chuckle, Theodora sipped from her wine glass then said, “The greatest obstacle to love? Why, it is love itself.”
A smile of considerable satisfaction adorned Marcus’ face.
“You see, my husband, when a man falls obsessively for a woman, he can smother her with affectionate gifts to win her approval, not understanding that trinkets can never manufacture whatever feelings she does not have for him. A man who falls obsessively for a woman may become jealous and possessive; tread in fear with thoughts of another man possibly stealing her from his side. A man who falls obsessively for a woman may set himself on a path of indifference toward what she truly desires, if such desires are counter to what he desires for her as a man in love.”
Stroking his wife’s hand, Marcus said, “Well, I’m glad we were able to avoid such drama.”
A devilish grin forming across her lips, Theodora asked, “Avoid such drama? From where do you think I obtained my answer?”
Marcus laughed along with everyone else, placing a gentle kiss on his wife’s hand in good spirit. “Since I am no longer such a man, my darling, I will have to assume you trained me well.”
Theodora held her grin. “That’s why I married you, my dear. I felt you would take well to training.”
Turning his attention to Ronus, Marcus was about to prod an answer from him when David asked, “Ronus, why do you continue to gaze at yourself in that mirror?”
“Yes,” Thomas added. “What is this newfound fascination you have with yourself?”
With a raised eyebrow, Marcus said, “I think he’s turned narcissist on us.”
“It was bound to happen sometime,” Theodora said to continued laughter.
Ronus lowered the mirror, focusing his attention on Marcus. “You asked what is the greatest obstacle to love. This entire time, I have been looking at it.”
Puzzled faces engulfed the witnesses to this response.
“You are not wrong,” Ronus continued, “none of you. You are all correct in that lack of understanding, jealousy, indifference and even love itself can be obstacles to love.”
Ronus passed the mirror to Marcus. “But if you hold this in front of you and view what it is reflecting, then you should see that the greatest obstacle to love is the person who gives in to the conduct that hinders love, regardless of what that conduct is. And it is the same person who can choose to cease such conduct, remove that which hinders love, and love as one should.”
Leaning back in his chair, fingers clasped over his belly, Ronus smiled. “It is we who are both love’s greatest adversary and love’s finest nurturer.”
Confusion washed away as mouths hung agape. Marcus had no proud response. Theodora found no playful angle. David could not question what was meant. Thomas was denied an opportunity to insert doubt.
Picking a grape from a sliver tray, Ronus cleverly fed it to himself as he said, “Well at least the crickets are chirping in approval of my answer.”