What is love? When we are young we are given advice on how to find it, how to keep it, and how we should expect it. This ‘love’ involves boy meets girl and it must hit certain levels of expectations to be ‘real.’ Right? To think that deep love only exists on a romantic level is juvenile. To think that love is this allusive thing that we have to search and search for is juvenile. To think that love means giving gifts wrapped up in pretty packages is juvenile.
My husband has showered me with lots of lovely gifts over the years, one of my fondest memories is perhaps one of the most simple. When we had just started dating everyone was asking what I thought he might get me for my birthday – perfume? jewelry? In that era of my life it was a guarantee that I would talk about my love for these subjects: Italy, Audrey Hepburn, and the movie Annie Hall. I said to my mom, “Wouldn’t it be really cool if he gave me a book about Italy because it would mean he was listening to the things I love to talk about.” On my birthday I opened a book about Italy – he had no idea that I had said that to my mom. This memory still makes me tear up, but I know that even a memory this sweet is not what love is about.
LOVE is Unconditional. My thoughts on love began to mature when 8 years ago, a beautiful little girl came into my life. I have never felt such immediate bliss looking at her tiny face after going through labor, it was pure euphoria. It is the sweetest love imaginable. Even now, though we have challenges almost every day that make me want to pull my hair out, my love for her is absolute and unconditional. The sound of her belly laughing, the whimsical way in which she plays, and the wonderment in her eyes for the world around her sends waves of pure bliss over me.
LOVE is Resilient. My thoughts on love continued to evolve when my husband and I went through trying times. I think one of the hardest challenges that young couples face is the realization that love is not a fairytale. Marriage is hard, let me say that again, “Marriage is really, really, really hard.” We are brought up to believe that romance, affection, and adoration are the key components to love. It is easy to have those in the beginning but when life starts happening (demanding jobs, mortgages, raising children) the fairytale romance that was ‘once upon a time’ doesn’t seem so ‘happy ending’ anymore. What I discovered is you must have a grateful heart through it all and you cannot take each other for granted. It is those challenges and how you react to them that will define your love more than the rainbows and butterflies. Humans are flawed, we can be selfish and hurtful, there is a component to real love that is far more important than romance, that is resilience.
LOVE is Devoted. Love does not start and end with romantic love. True love can be between a mother and daughter, two friends, a pet and its owner, two neighbors – love has no boundaries. When my grandmother passed away from ALS, my grandfather said to me, “Always remember you had one true love in this world.” My grandmother’s devotion made me feel uniquely and beautifully made. A visit to my grandmother’s house meant being woken up to the smell of homemade biscuits and being made a grilled cheese just for a snack. A visit meant being rocked to sleep while she tickled my back, she would tickle my back for hours it seemed until I was sound asleep, oh how her hand must have hurt. My grandparents did not have much more than a penny to their name, but as a child I never was aware of that – to me their house was the best place in the world because it was filled with such enormous love.
I like to go through boxes of letters that my grandmother wrote me throughout my life – there are letters she wrote me when I was a child, postcards she would send while she was traveling, letters she wrote me while I was in college, letters she wrote me while I lived in New York, letters she wrote me before I was married, letters she wrote me as a new mom, and letters up until she became unable to write. What I find so incredibly moving is how so many times she would date and begin a letter, write to me until she fell asleep, then wake up and re-date the letter where she finished the night before continuing the letter that next morning. These letters show an unparalleled love and devotion rarely found in today’s world of instant messages. To take the time to actually sit down and write a letter to someone you love almost everyday – that is devotion. On top of that to write pages at a time telling someone about your day, asking questions about their day, and telling them how special you think they are – that is true love.
LOVE is Service. We often hear the comment, “If you want love, you have to love yourself more.” This search for real love does not start with ‘loving yourself more.’ One way to find love is to in fact show love to others through service. Every morning my husband brings me coffee in bed, it is this simple act of service that shows love right when we wake up. But acts of service do not stop at romantic love, you can show an elderly neighbor love by bringing them a meal or offering to cut their lawn. I often think about how people show love through service by bringing meals to those who have lost loved ones – when words are so hard to find, an iron skillet filled with homemade food says ‘I love you.’ We can show love to strangers when we give without expecting something in return. Every year I buy Christmas gifts for children I do not know who might not otherwise have gifts to open under the tree. I not only enjoy doing this, but also I feel it is my duty as a member of my community to do this. We are all in this world together and must show love and kindness to others regardless of if we know them or not. Love is kind. The simplest way to feel love is to do something for someone else because it is the kind thing to do, without any expectation of getting something return. To feel love, to feel happiness, to feel peace in our hearts, we must show love to others through service.
LOVE is Being Thankful (For The Good And Bad.) To really love with all your heart, you have to have a thankful heart. That means ridding yourself of these ingrained notions that happiness equals everything always going your way. This is life, things will not always go your way. Sometimes good things will happen and sometimes bad things will happen. There is no rhyme or reason, there just ‘is.’ To quote one of my favorite songwriters Leonard Cohen, “There’s a crack in everything that’s how the light gets in.” Love is seeing the beauty through the cracks and being thankful for both the cracks and the beauty. When you open your heart to this kind of thankfulness, you will begin to see each day as a blessing.
LOVE is Acceptance. So many times we hear people talk about why they do not like someone or why the way someone else lives is not acceptable to them. This is not love. When we stop trying to change people or situations so that they fit ‘us’, when we stop judging what others do, when we stop going through each day ‘ready to be offended’, we begin to open our heart to a deeper kind of love and wisdom. When I was younger I never quite grasped this famous prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Now as an adult I understand the worry, hate, and stress that can resonate in us when we do not accept things we cannot change. Love cannot exist when that kind of worry, angst, and turmoil is stirring in our minds.
Love is In The Air. If you had told me when I was younger that a key to finding love is falling in love with the world around you, I would have looked at you very puzzled and probably replied, “What on earth do you mean fall in love with the trees?” Yes, that is exactly what I mean. Remember when you were a child and you marveled at the butterfly fluttering from flower to flower in your backyard? Remember gasping with amazement the first time you were out in the countryside on a dark, clear night and saw all the stars in the sky? Remember how cool it was the first time you planted a seed and saw it sprout? It is with this same childlike wonder that we should approach each day. God is all around us. He created us from the dirt, he created this whole world of wonderment from the dirt for us to love.
On a recent hike in North Carolina I found myself on top of a mountain at 5,000 feet without a soul around. I heard nothing except the whistling of the wind. I felt such peace and calm all over, I often wonder if this is what heaven is like. As I took in deep breath after deep breath I felt such love for this earth, I felt such admiration for the mountains in my gaze, I felt such bliss from being still surrounded by 360 degree views of beauty. I firmly believe that to experience great love in this life, we have to love this earth.
Think about how you feel when you take the time to be still and look at the world around you – isn’t it in these moments when we feel God with us? How often do we go through our daily motions and not even notice a flower in bloom, listen to the sound of a stream, or watch the sunset across the horizon. I use technology as much as the next person, but I know that is not where to find joy. Our connection to and love for this natural world is where we will find joy. To understand how we are connected to this earth and to God is how we experience the greatest love in this life.
LOVE is Bliss. Engage yourself in life’s moments and you will find bliss. Whether it is dancing without reservation at a wedding reception or digging in the dirt to plant seeds for a garden or cuddling up with your child to read a bedtime story, approach each moment with an unbounded zest.
As an adult I discovered a newfound curiosity for life. My husband encouraged me to try skiing when we were first dating, something I would have never attempted as a child, but my curiosity for trying something new won out and I love skiing. Now I get giddy every time we plan a ski trip. I love to cook, but I used to get so frustrated when meals would not turn out exactly like they should. Now I look at my kitchen as my lab, it is time to experiment and learn – cooking has become so much more joyful and with each meal I become more seasoned and more in love with cooking. We plant several gardens each year and every year my bliss for my garden grows. There are few things in life more rewarding than planting seeds in the ground and watching them grow into tomatoes, squash, carrots, beets, herbs, flowers, and more. Especially when those seeds become food you can feed your family and you see the fascination in your child’s eyes as they witness the circle of life from the garden they helped plant. Have an open heart that delights in discovery, an open heart that has a childlike capacity to learn, an open heart that experiences each moment and you will feel bliss each day. Never close your heart off to being in the moment, when we do this we close ourselves to the bliss we could be experiencing each day. This is the life we have been given, nobody gets out of here alive, so love life’s moments.
Every morning when we open our eyes we can choose to love – we can love unconditionally, we can love through acceptance, we can show love’s resilience, we can show love through devotion, we can love with a thankful heart, we can love the world of wonderment around us, and we can love every moment with bliss.