Of late, I think about love. The nature and meaning of love, the kinds of love.
References to love abound in our culture. Mostly those references concern romantic love. If you play American music, you will hear all manner of songs about romance, its thrills and heartaches. Other shades of love, like agape love, are mostly ignored.
Certainly, the dizzying rush of falling for someone is a kind of love. Taking a lover to bed and opening…opening…opening to the passion of merging is a kind of love. The great poet Rumi uses that merging to lift readers into an exaltation of love, the profound love of the omnipresent Beloved.
But there are other kinds of love and it is those less heralded varieties that are rolling around my thoughts. For example, love is forgiveness. In this world where we are all imperfect beings doing the best we can, forgiveness is essential. We are all going to hurt each other. Your family members will badmouth you or fail to support you or steal your inheritance, your friends will lie to you, your spouse will threaten to divorce you or, devastatingly, will stray.
Forgiveness is love in action. It’s love that says, “I may never again put myself in the position to be hurt this way by you, but I release myself from re-experiencing this pain over and over again, and I release you to your own karma, which is between you and God.”
Forgiveness permits—encourages—the one who made the mistake to recover their dignity and self esteem. Forgiveness is understanding that we are all prone to err. As painful as it can be, forgiveness is a blessing for both the forgiver and the forgiven.
Another kind of love is allowing someone to project their shadow onto you. Parents and therapists know this kind of love all too well. Sometimes, in the process of integrating themselves, a child or client is scorched by his or her own dark side. That person needs to disown it and project it outward onto someone else. It’s a pure and great form of love to hold that until the person can own it for herself and heal.
Life is a great journey. A friend of mine told me that the basis of love is respect and kindness. At the time, I agreed, though I thought to myself that it was a tepid basis for something so vast and protean. Now I realize, respect and kindness are the basis for friendship, and friendship is an integral component of every love relationship. But those aren’t necessarily love.
Rather, love is giving everything when called. It’s saying, “Yes, I’ll be there for you as you need me, no matter what the cost is to me. So if you need me to sell my house and take up residence across the street from you to catch you when you fall, I’ll be there.” Following through on that promise: that’s love.
Love is that you’d lie down in a street and let a truck run over you if that saves your kid. And you feel grateful for the opportunity. That’s love.
Love doesn’t wait to be given to first; it doesn’t negotiate; it doesn’t play tit-for-tat. Sure, yes, relationships between flawed human beings require constant negotiating. But love isn’t negotiable the way people aren’t fungible.
Love’s accounting is about giving and offering and surrendering. It’s about giving everything, everything, with hope but without expectation, and allowing the chips to fall where they may—because we humans can’t control everything. All we can do is love and allow.