Yesterday was a dear friend’s birthday. At least she used to be a dear friend. I used to love her with all my heart, and I went through the proverbial tortures of the damned when she didn’t love me back. I would like to think that we’re still friends, some 27 years after we first met. But I don’t love her anymore. Did I ever really? What IS love? At times I wonder. Is it just a feeling that one recognizes when one feels it and that can come and go like the wind? I used to say that I feel what I feel and won’t try to label it, since labels are static, artificial, and simplistic constructs into which we try to shoehorn dynamic and infinitely complex and vast processes that can’t be so contained and for which we suffer when we try to do it anyway. I was very much influenced by sages like Alan Watts when I took this stand.
But when I felt certain things for certain people, I wanted to honor that special feeling by giving it a special name called “love.” I want to honor the feeling I have for my wife now by calling it love. When she asks me if I love her, I don’t want to reply by saying: “Well, my dear, all I can truly say is that I feel what I feel for you, and I won’t presume to give it a label that can’t possibly do justice to the impossibly vast and complex reality of it.” No, I tell her I love her, and I do.
But what is this mysterious thing called love? And if I once felt it so profoundly for my friend for so many years but feel it no longer for her, will I always feel it for my wife no matter how many years pass and how many difficulties may beset us? Yes, I believe that I will, because I believe that the kind of love I’m talking about is not merely a feeling that one falls into and can fall out of but is also a CHOICE of feeling and conduct. I haven’t stopped loving my old friend because I fell out of love with her so much as because I CHOSE not to continue loving her, and I can go on loving my wife because I CHOOSE to do so with my heart and actions. I don’t have to be able to formally define love with words to do this. I can let my life serve as an ostensive definition of not only the kind of love I feel for my wife, but of all the higher forms of love of which I’m capable.
As Mother Teresa said in my favorite of all quotes: “In this life, we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”
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