Posted in Writing Life

*What Is Love?

In Monday’s post I wrote about my values, and then re-wrote my post as I though more about it. This exercise I’ve begun has turned out to be more interesting and more exercising then I’d anticipated. After I posted I realized that I hadn’t talked about what I mean by love though that is the word I used to identify the first principle that guides my life. So what is it? That’s what I’ve been thinking about.

Many years ago, when I was young, I read a short story about a Jewish man imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition. There is a chilling scene where a monk, one of his torturers, suffocatingly embraces him and speaks of his love for the prisoner and how the torture and the man’s death will lead to his salvation.

I don’t remember the title or the author but that scene has always stayed with me as an example of how the word love can be misused by someone who believes that cruelty and domination equals love.

The word love is thrown around a lot. I love ice cream, I love French fries, I love a great read, I love my kids, my husband, my friends, my mother-in-law. Yet I mean something different by each of those statements. And even the love I feel for my kids while they are bickering is not the same emotion I feel when they are peacefully asleep and I am thinking over the day.

If I were to choose other words for those statements in order to add precision to them, I would say that eating ice cream is delightful and drives my cares away; a great read is inspiring and the best way to spend a rainy afternoon; my kids sometimes drive me crazy but underneath is always a bedrock of knowing that they are the greatest kids in the cosmos; that I thought my husband was cute when I first set eyes on him and since then I’ve discovered that he not only turns my crank, he is fun, smart and sweet and I want to grow old with him; that my friends are my sisters; that every time I hug my aging mother-in-law I wish she would visit more often.

It takes a lot more words to say all that. In doing so, I see that the word love encompasses predilection, appreciation, affection, loyalty, passion, compassion. Yet love is more than any of those because love stays steady while other less elevated feelings pass over it: irritation, fatigue, resentment, anxiety, annoyance.

It’s easy to love ice cream because it demands little. When I relate to ice cream it is a simple and pure relationship of appreciation. Relating to kids is more complicated. Scott Peck, in The Road Less Travelled, said that love is not a feeling, it is an action. I would like to assert that love as I used it in Monday’s post is not an action either but a position.

When I’m looking at everything I have to do, when I’m worried about my achievements or about money or my kids’ grades, when I’m irritated by the sound of bickering, when I’m tired and just want to be left alone, I am turned away from the beloved. But when I turn back, what do I see?

The shared heart of my life. And it is that view that restores me. It’s an easy place to find when the house is quiet and my kids asleep. It’s harder in the hurly burly of daily life. But that’s why I meditate, to at least start the day, after “eat breakfast”, “get your teeth brushed,” “it’s cold today wear snow pants,” with the reminder of who I am, who they are, and where we are together. That’s the place of love.

How about the people I can’t abide? Or the people who are nice enough at a distance? Or the people who are good people just not ones I’d like to spend much time with because we just aren’t like minded?

To regard them from a place of love is to know that they, too, are human beings deserving of love. That isn’t always easy, either. And now I have brought myself to another point of needing to stop and think. So I will go out into the cold sunshine and walk while I do so (and pick up furnace filters while I’m at it). See you later.



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

4 thoughts on “*What Is Love?

  1. This has been such a good exercise, hasn’t it? So thought provoking. I like two definitions of love: one is Rilke’s, and he suggests love is a direction, by which he means a sort of beam of light that we point ahead, that doesn’t have to be reciprocated, that may flow through and beyond the other person, not trapping them or restricting them in any way. And the other one I like is: love is presence, an open attentiveness full of humanity. I think the part of your post I like best (although I like all of it) is the idea that love stays constant under the usual rush of irritation, frustration, etc. That seems perfect to me.

  2. Litlove, that is a wonderful image of the beam of light. That is such an apt description for how I feel about it, too. I also like love as an attitude of open humane attentiveness–yes, I can see that too. And both of those combine, as well as being consistent with the Buddhist description of awareness as light that is shone on the present moment. I think all of these descriptions and words are trying to get at the same thing.

  3. A lovely post, Lilian, and I also like Litlove’s images. It all resonates with me so much – and agree with you that all these descriptions are striving to capture the same quality of existence. I think you make choices about love, and at a certain point, I made mine – love is all.

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