Think you know what love is…? 

The New College Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language – circa 1978 (resting on my lap as I write this) – defines ‘love,’ first and foremost, as “an intense, affectionate concern for another person.”  By no means does that encompass all facets and forms of ‘love,’ though it does give us a framework for focusing on human love of one another.

If only it were that easy…
When I was a boy, ‘love’ was a very conditional thing in my family of origin.  It shaped, and often warped, my own sense of what it meant to be loved and give love.  Mine was not a family inclined to show affection.  In fact, it was often quite devoid of love…even in the face of strong emotions…anger, fear, guilt, jealousy, rejection. There was always plenty of that to go around. 

To unconditionally love another person is, indeed, to be vulnerable beyond our darkest fears…of rejection, of being ridiculed, of being ostracized for loving the wrong person, the wrong gender, the wrong race, the “wrong side of the tracks.”  We all learn this dysfunctional behavior in our tenderest years of formation, and it leaves scars that can haunt us ‘til the grave. 

Humbly, I submit to you that ours is a very unwell society.  Case in point:  our politicians try, in one form or another, to legislate morality.  Our religious institutions are effective collectors of money; yet, in many cases, only a fraction of such resources is used to directly benefit our poor and needy. Atheism is on the rise, and ‘fake news’ now fills us with rage and confusion.

From across the millennia, Saint Paul counsels us that (1 Corinthians, 13:4-7) “Love is patient, love is kind.” Yet more than fifty percent of all American’s who marry ultimately divorce.  Marriage – as an institution – does not epitomize love.  In fact, divorce rates among second and third marriages is bleaker still:  60% of second and 73% of third marriages end in divorce.  Clearly, we don’t learn from our “mistakes” when it comes to marriage.

In our society, nearly twenty percent of all children, ages 3 – 17, experience severe clinical depression, and many of those are prescribed behavioral and/or anti-psychotic medications.  The pharmaceutical industry is doing a bang-up job…of beefing up their bottom lines.  But many of tomorrow’s adults will enter adulthood drug-addled…and will marry.  It’s what they know…what we have taught them.  Is this love?

Against this backdrop of cynicism and absence of empathy, we each begin our quest for “love” by leaving home, searching for “the one.”  Once having found a mate we consider suitable, we next face the question of bearing and raising children…who will become our moral mirrors, reflecting the hazards of such pursuits. 

Where is ‘love’…?
With all these thoughts in mind, I recently pondered the contours and true nature of ‘love’…

If God is love (again, as Saint Paul instructs), would He not answer our prayers more succinctly, by imbuing us with all His loving attributes, simply giving us what we say we want?  Or, let’s say, the atheists have it right:  God does not exist.  From whence comes our innate sense of love…?  How would we ever be able to model love toward one another?  Yet, many of us do just that.

Long story short, my reflections coalesced into a poem – though not exactly as I had thought they might.  Weeks later, after first penning this bardic dilemma, I’ve begun to realize my own failings…as a husband, father, son, and man.  My notions of ‘love’ have become – for better or worse – shaped by my observation of all the “little things” we do for one another…not based on words, but on actions.

Perhaps being able to come up with a better definition of ‘love’ isn’t the point at all…because love is truly more.
Photograph and digital magic, HJMcEnroe
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