I’ve hesitated a while before doing a posting on the word Love. Many people are either uncomfortable using this word or frustrated because it doesn’t do justice to their feelings. Love is impossible to explain yet easy to know: Like trying to describe a colour. Metaphors and similes bring you close to an understanding but the uniqueness of love resists analogies. It can come in spectrums, shades and categories. Love as a theme can be overused and also under appreciated. It’s likely the most talked about word in the English language but we find it hard to say the phrase, “I love you.” The language of love may have its very own unlettered alphabet. Love is felt but not seen. We know it though; just as the movement of a leaf can tell us that air exists. Perhaps love is undefinable, yet it is as real as in this heartfelt song by John Denver. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKhBPps7_Fc
In an effort to define love, we often try to qualify it. We talk of unconditional love, puppy love, unrequited love or romantic love in a desire to place the love-ness into a category. I recall a conversation with a friend when I had told him I thought I had fallen in love. To confirm my news he asked, “So do you Really love her?” Without that qualification he just couldn’t accept my announcement. Funny, how we feel a need to know the kind of love being discussed before we can buy into the reality.
I don’t believe any art form can be created without love. In this way I believe Love equals Art. A life’s creative work cannot be summed up in any other way but without referencing love. Poems of love tell of yearning, exultation, catastrophe and pain. Painters have described love as the light by which they work. Plays and novels have used countless words in exhilarating ways to give meaning to this single word; Love. Art tends to avoid any kind of labelling or judgement, when it comes to love. A song about love is open to the listener’s interpretation. We can judge, if we want, who or what the singer is referring to. Or we can just bask in the splendour of loving words, such as those found in this masterpiece by Rolf Løvland, sung by Josh Groban. https://www.youtube.com/watch/aJxrX42WcjQ
Growing up, we soon learn that love can hurt, be used against us, bring us hope or lift us to heights unimagined. Love can tangle us in knots of indecision or leave the way clear of doubt. As I get older I’ve lost the need to categorize love. People can have loving feelings towards all manner of things; human or not, living or not. Love is energy, moving out from us and returning. Love supports us, enabling us to be the best that we can be. My advice to the lovelorn is to be watchful. Love is everywhere. It is there when someone says, “I’ve got your back.”
We have the Creator in all of us. My interpretation of those pointy church spires has a creative inspiration. Perhaps they were designed to be the highest point in a village so that the citizens would forever be reminded of their own creation and by extension their inherent creativity. Think of these spires as antennae, reaching out and drawing in all manner of information. If inspiration comes from some mystical place, who is to say that those who are inspired are not just tuned into the correct frequency to receive the message. Imagine a writer working on a play, walking through cobble streets when suddenly catching sight of a pigeon lifting into the air. As the bird is followed, our artist spies the steeple and inhales as if struck by an inspired idea. Perhaps a church spire, with a God’s help or not, can be a conductor of what is sometimes called the collective consciousness. Ideas are out there, nothing is really new, thoughts hang in the air like fruit waiting to be picked.
While some inspirations may come from tall manmade structures, artists and scientists are forever having inspiring thoughts in all sorts of locations. One wonders where that inspirational signal comes from to create that seed of an idea. We’ve all experienced, to a greater or lesser degree, that magic moment when you feel as though all your previous ideas and thoughts congeal into a coherent whole. It’s the ‘Aha!’ Or ‘Eureka’ moment that drives the engine of change. It can be an expression of joy for a new way of doing things.
First we are curious: “How is this done?” We look through the cutouts at a construction site and stand transfixed at what is being created. We marvel at the birth of an animal in a farm setting. Lots of experiences inspire us to reach for our own goals. Once creativity starts, it rarely stops. The members of the band RUSH, like other artists, seem to be constantly inspired to do art in different ways. Here they are being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Watch for the inspired way that member Alex Lifeson (who is the last to speak) accepts his award. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M7AEi68a20
We can watch moments such as this and be inspired. At other times we may stare blankly out the window or at a proverbial blank canvas and wonder how to find a way to express what we are feeling or thinking. I’ve been stuck like this many times in my life. Sometimes the best thing is just to wallow and wait. Find a place of safety until something colourful flits across your field of vision. Rekindle the ember that was, and still is, the child within. A child is rarely without inspiration. Is that called innocence?
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Roman God Cupid is a wee babe with a skill to inspire love in those it pricks with its arrows. Once inspired, all negative thoughts subside, our eyes are opened to a fresh day, and a new way.
I told someone the other day that I was a one woman man. They recalled that phrase as the title of a song by country music legend George Jones.
Being a person that has spent time getting to know himself has made all the difference to my selection of a mate. I’m guided by what I see in another and what I see tends to be a reflection of me. By that I mean I am drawn to people who hold similar values, have similar interests, in short, get life in the same way I do. I’m not looking for a clone of me, but there has to be enough similarities so that we can relate, as mates. I have to feel a friendship, a kinship, before I can settle into a long term relationship. I need to recognize this person. From that comes the security of familiarity and then love, a very hard word to define. I’m a birds of a feather kind of guy. I don’t relate to the opposites attract theory. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xweiQukBM_k
In the wild kingdom we often describe an animal mating for purely instinctual, procreational reasons. Some animals are known to mate for life, but it is rare outside the human species. I belong to the tribe that values exclusivity in mating, even while I was dating I could only manage one woman at a time. While my relationships have been one on one, I can admit I might fantasize but, oh my, polyamory?
I saw in my first mate a mutual desire to build a loving family. She caught my attention as a true friend, growing into a confidant, then a loving partner. A strong bond was formed. We had so many mutual ideas about how we saw life unfolding. We planned continually. We eyed the future as a promise. When cancer took her away from me it was hard to recalibrate my thoughts on life, what to do next, or who I might wish to spend time with. The very idea of a life mate had changed in me. Surprisingly I found someone quickly, she appealed because she was more a colleague. We both worked in education, loved reading and were writers in our spare time. It seemed like a match. However, our differences soon overcame our initial connection. Thankfully, she changed her mind and left. However, I was alone again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_P-v1BVQn8
Finding myself in the world of digital dating, I considered my options, gingerly. Could a computerized approach to finding a mate bring me the woman I dreamt of? Quickly intimidated by online choice, I decided a party was in order. Lucky me! My fantasy woman magically appeared. She had the image I desired and the substance I admired. She shared my passionate adventuring view of life and was brave enough to take risks with me. We both continue to believe in the importance of the singular moment. Check. Mate. On with life. Together. Eyes forward. Hands clasped. We are mated still. Love is beautiful.
Many English words are so close in meaning that they often require explanation after use. For example, I have an issue with the word loyalty yet I have no problem saying I am devoted to someone or something. Faith, Loyalty and Devotion are often linked as closely as siblings in the Etymological family. The latter suggests to me an action of giving one’s self over, sometimes completely and with willful intent. I am devoted to my wife, I am faithful as a result of that intention, yet my loyalty has limits. That can seem strange yet in context it’s consistent.
The conundrum of these three value words is well expressed in the love song, ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’ made famous by Olivia Newton John in the film Grease. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i52mlmJtyJQ . In my defining way the word Devoted in this song is more like Loyalty. From my past experience, when the head is separated from the heart, decisions are fraught with danger. In my lexicon Loyalty, certainly the blind type, is foolish. I have faith that when both my emotion and my thinking are involved I can permit clear sighted devotion.
Having a career requires a certain level of devotion. Those training to be Olympic athletes would need the highest level of devotion to their goal. Equally, someone who wishes to master a musical instrument might say they are devoted to their art. I have worked with some teachers who exhibited this extreme level of devotion. It’s inspiring to see that high level of passion or devotion. There are many examples in history of religious figures who followed a calling and thus devoted their lives to a cause. That level of devotion moves too close to zealotry for my liking. A devout person I am not, for that means a willingness to forsake all else in an adherence to a defined path.
Whether in religious practise or other areas of a full life, I avoid thinking of myself as a devotee. Likewise I resist calling myself a fan of something or someone. Both terms suggest a slavery to a cause, or an overwhelming commitment to an idea. When we get ourselves so wrapped up in something that we lose sight of our original intention, we can move across the border from carefully considered thought into hopeless obsession.
During my church years I met many who espoused the practice of daily devotions. Some on the zealot end of the spectrum would rise at the same time each morning to follow their routine. Others saw value in spending a few minutes each day with an activity that centred their busy minds. These activities don’t need to be of a religious or scriptural nature. I have found reward in a singular moment gazing intently at a bee as it wiggles through a cluster of sweet flowers. Or, devoting time to listen to what my wife has to say when she returns home from an adventure makes me feel closer to her and brings me the peace I desire.
At this stage of my existence I refer to myself as a witness. I enjoy being that fly on the wall. It’s a safe vantage point, less messy than open engagement on the field of life. I show my enthusiasm for this role by sharing my opinions in a cheerleading fashion. There is a lot of the Rah, Rah in me still.
My enthusiastic side comes out at surprising moments. I once started exclaiming excitedly over a colourful bird while attending a lesson for a summer job. The instructor of the youth assembled gave me a disdainful look, saying dismissively that there were lots of that species in the area. Another time as a young father I rallied my son to hurry and see ‘the coolest car’ that had just parked near a store my wife was taking us to. My poor little guy got troubled when his mother didn’t share my interest and proceeded with her shopping, leaving our son not knowing where his loyalties should lie.
It’s a treat to see others go public with their enthusiasm. I once happened upon a colleague, new to our city, scampering about unashamedly in a small park within a busy intersection. She was fascinated to find cherry blossoms in the tree above her head and crocus bulbs bursting through green grass. This, on a February day while the rest of the country was still gripped in an icy grasp. I felt her joy.
Hope springing eternal will make me enthuse over what I’m seeing. First moments, signs of promise, a young person earnestly playing a musical instrument or actors skillfully inhabiting their characters may bring tears of rapture. My eagerness sometimes comes in a rush of emotion that can be startling. A few bars of music may stimulate me to remember a time gone by and I’ll want to share the memory with someone, anyone, and right now!
Based on these occasional inspired outbursts I might think of myself as an Enthusiast. What an exulted title! It would be fun to be introduced as such with appropriate fanfare at the entrance to a black tie event. Enthusiast implies you might be an expert in your chosen field or have exceptional talent, neither of which would be true for me. I know a few people who might be deemed bird enthusiasts, jogging enthusiasts or film enthusiasts. When I was a boy I maintained a stamp collection that earned me a scouting badge but like the character in the film Adaptation, I lost interest. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y410SQD2mz8
Thing is, my rhapsodies come in spurts. My passions never last long enough to acquire sporting trophies, fitness goals, artistic excellence or any sort of public acclaim. I just love feeling enthused, however long it lasts.
That’s the heart of the word for me: Enthusiasm is an expression of my love.
My mother set conditions for me. She left me chores to be completed before she got home from work. The moment I got home from school it was a race to avoid a confrontation. If the tasks weren’t done she would deliver a cold shoulder that felt like a biblical shunning.
Consequently, as an adult, I think of conditions as a way to avoid consequences. When I set a condition for myself then I feel I’ve prepared the way for fewer avoidable consequences. For example when I ride my motor scooter I have a sensible condition that I can’t ride unless I wear my helmet. I’d love to not wear my helmet for the feeling of the wind in my hair. However the consequence of me not wearing my helmet is painfully obvious. Similarly, I see what the weather conditions are like before I plan what to wear. The activity I choose to do in my day is conditional on my state of health or mood. Determining what condition your condition is in might be a good start to everyday. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gfa6umSlR8A
When I became a parent of young children the rules (conditions) I set for them were all about avoiding the probability of consequences. Those rules were not always about safety. For example, when they were old enough to have an allowance, this payment was conditional on an amount set aside for giving to others and saving for a rainy day. When they grew older there was an expectation that they would contribute to the family well being by helping out around the house. At one point when they were all teens, I wrote a ‘family manifesto’ and taped it to their bedroom doors. It outlined the conditions of residence (open to further discussion) that could be considered ground rules to avoid conflict.
I guess it’s clear I don’t believe unconditional love exists for me. Certainly I would never set conditions for loving a baby and I know most societies hold unconditional love as inviolate. But really? Don’t we set conditions for our romantic partners, our elders in nursing care, our preschoolers, our spouses, our pet, our bank advisor? My love is too valuable not to set conditions, for myself or for others.
Conditions are a part of love. I may be disappointed in others, as they may be with me. It doesn’t stop me from setting conditions, at least in my head. I value contribution as well as love. They are both part of the condition of our existence. Everyone is unique and we all have a responsibility to share our talents.
If unconditional love does exist it was practised humbly and consistently by Fred Rogers. On television and real life his message was simple: He told children he loved them just the way they were.
Some suggested this credo takes away the need for individual effort. Nonsense! Love is a powerful thing and is conditional for the building of responsible human beings.