LOVE tugs on your heart with a gravitational force that takes your breath and makes your eyes swell, but what is this strange enigmatic emotion and what does it mean in real life. Love can drive us to take action toward outcomes we never could have otherwise imagined. It can cause us to soar to heady heights and, with equal fervor, break us down and deliver us into an abysmal pit of grief.
Is love a single emotion or does it travel exclusively in the company of its cousins namely guilt, obligation, and expectation. Do we go willingly into love or are we ambushed by it and its posse of bandits; fear, dread and remorse, who come clad in thorns and strung on the veritable scented flower. Should we weigh the bad against the good or just go for it with hope, optimism, and joy! Invariably, for me, it has always been the latter and I have been stung by the thorns, but changed forever by the giddy perfume of the flower.
When I first studied nursing, and entered the humbling halls of learning, I journeyed through every aspect of care of the human body in the functional dimensions of daily care and beyond where I found a little snippet – a gem of and an ode to – love. In Human Anatomy and Physiology Lab, we were told that cardiac cells beat away at different rates in Petri dishes in the lab, but, when they are put together in the same Petri dish, they beat in unison. This little nugget caused me to wonder what if my family, and people I love, were in my Petri dish with me, figuratively speaking, and our hearts all beat at the same time! That thought gave me great comfort at a time when I was an ocean away and couldn’t be with them.
The Oxford English dictionary defines love as, “A strong feeling of affection.”
Merriam-Webster tells us, “Love is a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person.” So what happens if it is not constant. Does that mean it wasn’t love!!
What about when you feel love for someone else, but it isn’t reciprocated and what if you find yourself in the opposite situation where someone professes their undying love for you, but you don’t feel anything at all – awkward!
Perhaps we choose to believe we were conceived in a moment of pure love. Probably we were born into a loving home and grew up in an affectionate loving environment. Maybe not everyone, but most. Is that where our expectations of love are formulated. What if our love role-models are a bit remiss in their ability to express love and nurture us, or the outward environment we are born into is predominantly governed by the more negative traits of obligation and judgment. Is it likely then that our expectations of love become somewhat skewed or would that experience, overall, provide us with an extra ability to overlook shortcomings in our future.
Love has been the catalyst of countless great written works of poetry and story telling throughout the ages. Many, compelled to express love in their own inimitable way, gave us everlasting jewels like Wm Shakespeare, the world renowned Bard of Avon, in his first published poem Venus and Adonis, when he wrote, “Love comefortheth like sunshine after rain.”
With over fifty honorary doctorate degrees, Maya Angelou defined love this way, “In the flush of love we dare be brave. And suddenly we see that love costs all we are. Yet it is only love which sets us free.”
Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwright Novelist and Poet wrote, “It takes a great deal of courage to see the world in all its glory and still to love it.”
The great Ernest Hemingway told us “We’re stronger in the places that we’ve been broken.”
Best known for her radical critique of 18th century British gentry, Jayne Austen wrote, “You have pierced my soul, I am half agony, half hope…I have loved none but you.”
Edgar Allan Poe, known throughout the world for his poetry and short stories said, “The most natural, and, consequently, the truest and most intense of human affections are those which arise in the heart as if by electric sympathy.”
Roald Dahl, the Welsh born short story writer, poet, and screenwriter, simply stated in his children’s book The Witches, “Love is more meaningful than anything else.” This single statement speaks to the value of love in any life.
James Joyce, the legendary Dublin born novelist and poet, expressed love beautifully in his story, Araby, “...and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood.” This has to be my most treasured expression of romantic love ever.
When you’ve lived in this world for any length of time, you come to see that love can potentially survive in most every situation, even where there is hate, fear, and dread. Often it’s a two sided coin. No-one can have it all and live in a Pollyanna type of situation except – maybe for a short period of euphoria in the early stages of a new romance. However, eventually the other stuff starts to show up and we have to decide at what point we accept, or, limit it.
Balance is not only the natural order of our human existence, as in homeostasis where the body is constantly enforcing a system of checks and balances, but it is also the natural order of the universe. A shiny dime will ultimately have a tarnished side too. If you want the whole dime then you have to take both sides. Life is a trade off, not always good, happy, and loving; not always ugly, hurtful, and uncomfortable, but perhaps the challenges we encounter in life are what make us stronger.
Love is a gift, a gain, in every form it takes whether between parents and a child or among siblings, extended family members, or between friends. Love between two people can last a lifetime in a platonic or in a romantic relationship. Love can be a currency to be both received and given. It can be shared with those we hold most dear, but be aware that not everybody will reciprocate and share their love with you!
Love can also be a torment at a time of great loss when someone we love leaves us. At some point we all leave the ones we love. No-one can live forever and be around us, but we get to keep the love we have, or had, for and from them forever. Love transcends time and space.
The greatest form of love can be the one we foster for our own life – love for our self. This love is not dependent on anyone or anything external. It is our birthright, however some people might find this concept difficult to imagine and it may even take them an entire lifetime to reach understanding and realization of it.
In the environment where I choose to work most everyday, I get to witness love a whole lot. Not everyone who comes in to the intensive care unit gets to leave the way they, or their loved ones, might want. My colleagues and I devote our time to evaluating, assessing, and delivering care to those stricken with illness. We also spend considerable time with their loved ones encouraging, supporting, and directing them as best we can.
Sometimes we have to tell people it’s not that you lost your loved one, but that you had them. We all take love for granted, it’s a habit, we all do it. We seem to prefer to concentrate on what we don’t have or what we want. Sometimes it’s good to look around instead of forward or behind.
When your head hits the pillow at the end of your day, go deep inside your mind and find that place where the magic happens and your fountain of love lives. Allow it to flow out and wash you and the ones around you. Swim in it, bathe in it everyday.
Love begins inside you. It’s yours, give it away freely so more will grow in its place.