I’ve been reflecting on what I think love is, and to be honest, although I’m a little closer to understanding the nature of love, I still have a lot to learn. Forty years ago Erich Segal provided a well-known quote defining love in his novel, Love Story: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” While it is a simple sentiment, perhaps Segal was only defining love for the characters in the novel. Is love – genuine, authentic love – simply unconditional acceptance of the person whom we love? This can be true for parents of their children – no one loves us in the same way our parents do. Does love involve sacrifice? I think it does. It also involves compromise. Love is such a difficult concept because so many varieties exist. Parental love, familial love, sibling love, and partner love, to name a mere few. Yet, sometimes, the one we love doesn’t return the same feelings – at least, perhaps not at the same time as we do. Maybe love isn’t enough. Life finds a way, and perhaps love does too, eventually.
Life rarely seems to go the way we plan it – largely due to the simple fact that we aren’t in control of the choices of others. We all make choices, and sometimes those choices injure other people. It’s not the deliberate injuries I mention here – we see those on the news every day. It’s the injuries that we never mean to inflict on other people that can hurt them – the misspoken words, the unspoken words, the unspoken feelings, and the forgotten simple kindnesses: “please,” “thank you,” “I’m sorry,” and the simple “I’m thinking about you.”
At times, we hurt those we love simply because we aren’t paying attention to what they might be feeling, or we avoid telling them a truth that we fear might hurt them – or us. Other people’s choices touch not only the person who is directly affected, but can also influence the way that a person interacts with others. Looking back at the last few “loves” in my life, I realize that the timing just wasn’t right. Patience with myself and with those whom I can honestly say I’ve loved has been my saving grace. I discovered that love doesn’t place chains on someone, and letting go is often the best way to demonstrate that we truly do love someone.
I found that I don’t have all the answers; more often I have no answers – only more questions. The more I observe people and pay attention to how we interact with each other, the more I’m convinced that love is bigger than all of us. In observing people, I’ve noticed that it is the little things that matter – a simple smile, a kind word, a warm hug (it’s unfortunate that hugs are pretty rare these days). I’ve had the opportunity to meet new friends, to connect with old friends, and to rediscover the joy of simply caring about those whom I love – no matter what kind of love it is – not for what I can get out of it, but because kindness and consideration have been bestowed upon me and I believe those are the best kinds of gifts.