Our world shies away from the spiritual and ethereal. We live within measures. I love on a street whose length is 1/4 miles with 33 structures comprised of various square footage. The people in those structures are of varying ages, computed in day, weeks, and years and have seniority numerics in school, work, wedding and time on earth. Tomorrow isn't just Wednesday, it is the 17th day of August (8th month) of 2011. When I go to the surgeon tomorrow he will ask me to number my pain level from 1 to 10. the weather tomorrow is forecast to be a high of 91 and low of 69 with 10% chance of rain and a 7mph wind. We live in a world of numbers that quantify and measure. When I die I'll still have a number - my blood pressure will read 0/0. Why is there no number on love?
Nothing wrong with that in particular since the numbers only provide description and crude valuation. Keeping a mileage log of a journey does not describe the journey's purpose, knowledge gained and knowledge reflected upon. The important stuff. I'm stumped - and when I'm stumped, I go see my consigliare, Lucas Holder, my next door neighbor, age 3.
Grumpy: Luke, can you give me a working definition of "love"?
Lucas: Mr. Grumpy, pay attention, I don't have a lot of time and I don't like to repeat myself. See the triangle I've made with my hands?
Grumpy: Got it.
Lucas: In the art world we call this the theory of negative space. the triangle doesn't exist per se, but is defined by the positive space that surrounds it. In other words, the space, in this case, the love, has an essence that is mysterious and cannot be known by degree. We can only glimpse at its true nature from what surrounds it; i.e., agape love, common courtesy, charity, familial love, kindness, friendship, and maybe even romantic love. What the "it" is , well that's the mystery.
Grumpy: You're saying that the nature of love is unknowable?
Grumpy: So even if we don't know what love is, can we find out where it comes from? That may give us a clue.
Lucas: Mr. Grumpy, I don't know everything. I'm only 3 years old.
Grumpy: Thank you Luke. You've helped me and I am going to give your mother and father a check to help pay for your first year at Duke University.
Lucas: Forget the money - just help me fill up my water pistol.
Grumpy: Cool. And could you explain Occam's razor to me again?
Lucas: I'm busy through the end of the week. See me on Monday.
So I think Lucas has something. I began asking people what they love (women mostly, guys don't ask each other questions like that) and was surprised by the uniformity of answers. They revolved around family - past and present, but most answers came from the younger years. I guess when we are older we appreciate - we view things with perspective and from an analytical viewpoint and when we look at things with ten or twelve year old eyes, we realize and live in the world of the new. Life's new car smell is still present. We experience simply, innocently, and completely and think that life comes with safety bumpers and those bumpers will protect us so there is no questioning or limiting our acceptance of love. I expected that when asked what their first love was; girls would mention their first boyfriend; guys, their first car. Some did and those answers may reflect more commonality than you think.
If asked about what I loved most in my youth, I would mention Cape Cod. Sand and beach? Really? Yes, really. Our family used to spend two weeks' vacation at my Grandparents' modest summer cottage in Harwichport. I remember long days at the beach with my sister and parents - waking up early and running down to the beach on a road filled with pine cones and sand that tickled my feet as I ran; then foregoing the wooden steps leading from the top of the sand dune to the beach and doing a buck and roll off the top dune down a steep vertical slope, legs straight, hands fitted against my hips, eyes straight ahead as if perusing my pirate kingdom, but also wondering if the sand will bury me as I rapidly descend to the beach. I remember hoping that a pirate still maintains a center fielder's arm so that I could find and throw a flat stone that would skip all the way across the far horizon. I remember watching the still ocean water ending up on the beach as if surprised by its own forward motion; taking its last breath with a gentle whoosh, a watery whisper. I still remember to this day that sound and smell of salt. I remember suffering my mother's application of a 1950's sunscreen that had the viscosity of 30 weight engine oil with more secure bonding to the skin than construction bolts to a skyscraper's steel girder - re-applied every hour. I remember nights filled with board and card games, reading, and Drive In movies with a stop at the ice cream stand. I remember the cottage fireplace full of driftwood on a cool evening that presented magical and multicolored flames as the salt burnt off the wood given up by the ocean. Four people in harmony. Four people having fun. Four people living in love as a family. So when I say "Cape Cod", I mean much more than that.
So is love something that just comes and goes into our lives depending on experiences and the people we meet? Isn't life more than that, more than a kerfuffle of small, happenstance moments? Does love emanate from within ourselves or from without? Most would study the greatest minds of philosophy, theology, etc., but not me. I keep thinking of a Broadway song from a late 1960s musical, Oliver, inspired by Dicken's Oliver Twist:
Where Is Love?, words and music by Lionel Bart
"Where is Love?"
Does it fall from skies above"
Is it underneath the willow tree?
That I've been dreaming of?...
The song presents two choices:
A. "Does it fall from skies above?"
I'm going with this one. What a relief! If as Lucas says, love cannot be defined, then in all likelihood, it doesn't emanate from us. Sure we love and pick and choose who and what we love, but the concept can go against our instinct. If we think about Lucas's fingers and try to describe aspects of love, we can see we have an impulse to be connected to someone else, putting that person before our welfare, sharing ourselves and spreading, yes, our affection. When someone does the minor act of holding a doors open for a stranger and allowing them to proceed first, we are valuing and acknowledging that person's worth; putting them first. That's not necessarily natural. If the park has a Do Not Walk on the Grass sign, the best outcome is for everyone to obey it except me. I would then get the beneficial results of peoples' obedience and the convenience of my disobedience: that would be the natural way. I once was in a bible study on the book of John. the study lasted a year and "love" is mentioned many times, but at the end of the study someone mentioned that it is never defined. Another pulled out the Bible and read "God is Love" (1John 4: 8,16) so we can't define love because we can't define God - so I'm going with God on this (and Lucas). Love (or if you prefer, "good") comes from God and is the outward impulse in all of us to give ourselves to others. We fulfill ourselves by going outside ourselves. What? You thought you had kids so that in 15 years you'll get free lawn care? For my money you had kids because you love.
B. "Is it underneath the willow tree that I've been dreaming Of?"
You don't like A? You think the feeling originates from us alone? From this world? Really? I would love to own a 1962 Chevy corvette, roman red, 327 cubic inches of fuel injected 250 horse power work of art. Nothing I would like better, but I wouldn't die for it. I wouldn't put the car's welfare above my own. Doesn't something stronger compel us to meet someone, make vows of sickness, health, rich and poor...forever? Then create a child who in the early years will keep you up all night with an ear infection and make you suffer twixt 12 and 20 during those lovely teenage years? why do that? We commit unselfish acts and extend ourselves to others based on feelings created by us? I'm not in the business of knowing or judging, but if you think that, doesn't that fall under ego and not love?
Did you ever see the first season of the TV show, The Deadliest Catch? It chronicled Alaskan crab fishing boats north of Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians. Working on those boats is supposed to be the most dangerous job in this hemisphere in weather and water that is extreme. The boats fight for purchase between marine troughs and wave apexes whose vertical height is measured in stories. It's as if nature rockets 100 mile an hour fastballs that turn into wild pitches every hour of every day. Pure Rage. In one episode a boat made headway into the edge of an ice patch. As the boat navigated ahead, the ice hardened and extended further across the flat expanse, slowing progress. It became trapped: a dark, immovable structure in a growing sea of white. That's the image I think of when I think of B. There is really no reaching out, no consideration of others: I decide, I commit, I set the conditions of love...I will give it a number. That self-generated love is isolating, sniffling, and stops our forward motion. If you believe in this option, have at it.
So what's the point to all this?
Just this. One of the greats joys in life for me is reading Peggy Noonan's op-editorial columns every Saturday in The Wall Street Journal . She possesses the rare combination of superb writing skills and masterful thinking. I don't always agree with her, but she forces me to look at things more deeply and I carry her words around with me well past the weekend. Give her a try at WSJ online. Last Saturday she wrote about the London riots (August 13th, London Riots: Coming Soon to the USA?).She doesn’t make accommodation for the bad in our world, but her thoughts may be able to put us on the right road if we (I) listen. A world without love can be a scary thing. She writes:
“Where does this leave us? In a hard place, knowing in our guts that a lot of troubled kids are coming up, and not knowing what to do about it. The problem, at bottom, is love, something we never talk about in public policy discussions because it’s too soft and can’t be quantified or legislated. But little children without love and guidance are afraid. They’re terrified - they have nothing solid in the world, which is a pretty scary place.”
So maybe I (we) need to work on this and promote love to others in whatever ways I'm(we're) guided.