What Do You Think Love Is?

The other day I got a call from someone I know slightly, the parent of a former classmate of the Little Princess. He’s now the editor of the religion page of our local paper, which publishes periodic columns by local clergy, all retired white males. He wondered if I would like to write something for them once a month or so? Here’s the sample I think I’ll send him. I would appreciate feedback. It’s a re-write of part of this morning’s sermon, and I need to know if it’s too preachy. (For instance, are the repeated questions repeated too much?) (And I probably won’t refer to him as #2 Son in the paper!)

Here goes:

Last week, my eighth-grader, #2 Son, brought home a piece of paper with questions on both sides. One set was for him to answer about a parent, the other set for a parent to answer about him. It was an assignment for his Family Living class, intended to help us measure just how in touch with each other we are.

I discovered that he had gone to a movie recently with his dad that I hadn’t heard about, and he discovered that for my birthday I would really like to have the kitchen painted, finally! On the other hand, he was easily able to name my best friends and correctly assumed that on a trip to a foreign city, I would head straight to an historic site or a museum, rather than the shopping district. I was right in thinking that his idea of a good day would be playing his clarinet, especially with his friends, and I know that his favorite band is the World Inferno Friendship Society. Really, we both did pretty well on the questions, and that was not a great surprise.

One of the questions he had to answer about me was “What do you think love is?” He wasn’t sure how to answer. I laughed and said, “Love means always having to say you’re sorry.” I saw him dutifully writing it down and stopped him, to tell him a story about my mother.

In the early 1970’s, Erich Segal’s words from Love Story became part of our common cultural knowledge. In an argument with Oliver, the character Jenny insists that “Love means *never* having to say you’re sorry.” My mother took great offense at that notion. Love, she insisted, means always having to say you’re sorry. I was probably Peter’s age when I was listening to her talk about it, and I have to admit I was a little less invested in understanding her at that point in my life. But I think she meant that love meant caring enough about the other person to admit it when you are wrong.

What does Jesus say love is? If you love me, he said, keep my commandments. Love one another as I have loved you. Love one another as I have loved you, he said, and that means: wholeheartedly, forgivingly, bringing-alongishly, opening up-ishly, talking-it-throughishly, and most of all, neverendingly.

We show our love for God when we show love for one another.

Love means giving when you’re not sure you have anything left to give. Love means taking a risk if it can save someone else, and even if it can’t. Love means sticking with it even when things are hard and inconvenient and scary. Love means holding on until the end, and then, when the time comes, letting go gracefully. Love means believing that living or dead we are all connected in the great relationship that is God, all three of Him, all one of Her, what my daughter, once called a “Big Ball of Love.” That’s a comforting idea when you feel most alone. And when the person next to you at breakfast or in church or on the school bus or at the office seems unbearable, know that the fund of love you can access is high enough and deep enough and wide enough that you can make the withdrawal you need to get through the day and to replenish your own heart. The fund of love is great enough to help you love them all.

Love means caring enough to know what’s going on with each other, to value each other as much as we value ourselves. It means connecting to the Big Love that is outside and beyond us, yet also woven into us, so that our own ego or hurt feelings will not stand in the way. Maybe my mother wasn’t so far off the mark! Make a note of that, #2 Son, and remember it when you are my age.