Saturday, 28 July 2012
Like many words in our vocabulary, "Love" is abstract. Its meaning is shape-shifting, fluid, elusive. Many people carelessly throw the word around like it's confetti. Other people can barely muster the resolve to say the words, "I love you" out loud, even when they feel it overwhelmingly -- even when they're confident that their love is requited. Either way, "love" is a loaded, four-letter monosyllable; it can mean VERY different things to different people.
When I looked up the word, "Love" in Webster's Dictionary, I found several definitions. The following stood out to me most:
1. "Strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties <maternal love for a child> : attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests <love for his old schoolmates : an assurance of affection love>"
2. "Warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion <love of the sea>"
3. "Unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as : the fatherly concern of God for humankind : brotherly concern for others"
4. "A score of zero (as in tennis) — at love : holding one's opponent scoreless in tennis"
#4's unintentional poetic implications distinguish it as my favorite of the batch. Love has a habit of rendering you naked, bare, defenseless. It strips you of your ego. At times, it humiliates you. Much like a score of zero, it exposes your total vulnerability -- a terrifying, beautiful, and fundamentally human quality.
When I asked my mother (a woman who has *ALWAYS* loved me with the raw, ferocious heart of a lioness) how she defines love, she said, "Caring about somebody as deeply as you care about yourself; putting that person's needs before your own."
But what's the difference between love and self-sacrifice? Love and affection? Love and intense physical chemistry? Love and attachment? Love for another and our need to feel loved by another?
Sometimes, it's difficult to make the distinction.
The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart
How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.
Often, our feelings are beyond words.
I like that the word, tenderness appears in Webster's first definition of love. Tender evokes a physical sensation -- a softening, a delicateness, a sensitivity. Something palpable.
For me, love expresses itself somatically (in my physical body). I'm not referring to sexual desire. Although that accompanies romantic love, the two are hardly synonymous. I'm talking about Pure Love. This could be love for anyone or anything: a friend, a parent, a sibling, a child... music, art, nature, a cause near and dear to your heart... or, of course, a lover/sexual partner.
I remember watching my dog, Oli sleep when I was 13 or 14-years-old -- watching his ribcage expand with each sip of air, the even rise and fall of his tiny chest. Just then, at that moment, I felt a dense warmth spread through my own chest; my heart felt as if it were literally swelling, expanding, blooming open. I was dizzy with what I would, from then on, come to identify as the markings of love: a fierce, tangible need to protect this creature, no matter what the cost. An opening in my heart, designed to make space for the abundant well of feeling flowing into it.
My love for Oli had nothing to do with me or my need to feel special, beautiful, important, or even secure. To the contrary, my love for Oli had everything to do with him; I didn't expect to receive anything in exchange for it.
This is the kind of depth I hunger for -- the kind of depth I live for. This is how I define love. Call me a fool, but as I get older, I realize more and more that this is the kind of love I'm after.
As far as I'm concerned, Real Love does not fulfill a function related to our need to feel loved -- much less our need to feel less alone. Real Love does not exist to serve us in some way. Real Love is certainly not about taking, or seeing ourselves reflected as the star of someone's show.
Real Love has many impostors. But Real Real Love is the simplest, most unadulterated thing on Earth. It exists for no reason at all.
It exists because it always has. Because it was always meant to. Because we were built for it. Because there is no other way.
How do you define love? What does love mean to you?