Love for Everybody
LOVE FOR EVERYBODY I
Are there many kinds of love or is there just one love? I would like to make the case for there being just one love. This love that I’m working on is the same love I feel for my wife and children, the same love Christians believe God felt for the world when he gave his only begotten son, the same love Jesus speaks of when he says love thy neighbor as thy self. One love.
I’m going to try to take us through an acting exercise. Actors are asked to show emotion, to make us believe they are feeling various emotions, on stage or in front of cameras. These are distracting situations, to say the least, and their emotions are not exactly real. They are made to show fear when they are in a perfectly safe situation, for example. How do they do it?
A technique many use is to put their mind in another place, in the case of fear in a fearful place. They may try to think of a time in their life when they were most afraid. By taking themselves through that experience again in their mind they can recall the emotion.
Do that for yourself now only not for fear, for love. Think of times when you felt love most intensely. I can recall my first love, a girl in my sixth grade class. I fell in love at the end of the school year and so carried that love with me all summer without seeing her. I thought about her frequently. It was sexless love. I guess I told her I loved her because at a class reunion 12 or more years later she told me that I had said I would love her all summer and when we came back together in the fall she was overwhelmed that I did still love her. I don’t think we ever kissed but we did hold hands. The feeling was intense, though. I felt it in my chest, my heart trying to burst. I felt it in my step, I was lighter.
We lived on a chicken farm and I was old enough then to lift a 100 pound bag of chicken feed. The feelings of my love for Virginia rush back to me now, many years later, when I hoist a bag of chicken feed and pour it into the chicken hopper. The smell of the mash brings back memories or that summer.
Can you recall meeting someone at the airport–a grandparent you haven’t seen in almost a year, a parent waiting to pick you up, a child returning from camp or college? How about a surprise birthday party where you look around the room at all the faces shining on you, showering you with their love?
We can feel love, that welling up inside, without it being returned. I’m sure most of us have fallen in love with someone who didn’t know we existed, literally, as in a movie star, or figuratively, as in someone in school who wouldn’t be caught dead with us. If you are a parent, you can recall the feeling when you held your baby in your arms and looked down on that sweet face? It will be several months before the baby sees the love you are radiating and returns it.
Imagine yourself as a baby looking up and seeing a face radiating love all of it directed at you. Look at that face for a moment. Then the love penetrates and you wriggle, kicking you legs, waving your little arms and then smiling, a whole body smile. Now put that baby inside of you. Feel it wriggling, kicking and arms waving and then you smile that baby’s smile.
Those are some director’s notes on getting an actor to feel the emotion of love. I hope you will work on bringing that emotion up in your body using your own experiences. It is a good feeling.
OK, so I’ve got that welling up feeling. What am I supposed to do with it? Use it. Take it out for a trial run. If you are in the supermarket checkout, turn it on the checkout person (I’m going to imagine a male checkout person). Just look at him, really see him. Look at him the way you would look at a baby in your arms. What color are his eyes? Is he smiling? Is the smile real or just something mechanical he is putting on because it is part of the job? Is he having a good day?
He is likely to say something like “How are you today?” but it is something he says to everyone. It is routine. Try to break the routine with your response.
“I’m having a great day! How are YOU?” Really mean it. Really want to know how he is today.
Hopefully he looks at you with a little more interest and sees that you are really seeing him as a person, a person worth knowing. He, then, will see you as more than just another stack of groceries to be rung up. How about showing a little more interest in this interesting person who is ringing up your groceries. “Do you have to work all weekend?” or “You must get tired standing. How long is your shift?”
You don’t have to strike up a conversation and if there are other people in line, you don’t want to ask questions that slow down getting the job done. I put forward the dialogue only as a possible aid to understanding how an exchange between two people in this situation might go. The routine words can be used but with feeling. If you can approach the checkout person feeling love for him, whatever follows will probably be good.
I’m not suggesting that we should feel a welling up inside all the time. If we did, it would probably be cause for some medical concern. We don’t feel that way about our spouses all the time, those we love with greatest intensity. We feel it most when the routine is broken, when there has been a separation or there is a special event. However, we can bring it up anytime we wish.
My wife and I hug and kiss every time one of us is leaving the house for the day as in going to work. You’d call that routine; however, it is usually a little more than that. We do take that moment to see each other, to feel each other, our bodies pressed together feeling the other’s heartbeat, hands pressed into backs-it is not that welling up thing but it is certainly not perfunctory either. Sometimes one of us will kick it up a notch for no particular reason, just a welling up thing.
Why feel or show love to a grocery clerk? If you have ever been successful in making another person feel good and it has not made you feel good in return, then I guess this is an exercise that will be of no value to you. I do it for the simple and selfish reason that it makes me feel good.
LOVE FOR EVERYBODY II
When Burt Bacharach wrote “What the World needs now is love, sweet love” was he thinking there ought to be more sex? There are too many divorces? We should love our parents, spouses, children and relatives more? There should be more love between neighbors, acquaintances? We should love everyone with whom we come in contact? Everybody should love everybody?
In my old American College Dictionary the first four definitions for love involve a relationship that includes sex. The fifth is “a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a friend.” Then it goes to love of things, God’s love and tennis scoring. Love for mere acquaintances or for everyone with whom we come in contact or everybody in the world does not appear in the definition. However, I think it was this kind of love Burt Bacharach was writing about. This is the same sentiment we find in the New Testament’s “Love thy neighbor as thyself”. That kind of love appears to be undefined.
If love for everybody has no history, no familial or genetic tie, no romance, sex or passion, what does it have? Does it have any of the qualities of self-love—esteem (a favorable opinion), respect (regard for the dignity of another), worth (a sense of value or excellence of character)?
If I hear a singer with a beautiful voice, I respect her talent, gift, ability and dedication, but do I love her? If I get to know her, my respect may manifest itself in a sexual attraction. Getting to know her could also result in a lessening of respect if I found her values to be counter to mine or her interests to be quite different. Does love go away in this process?
If love is respect, does it have to be all encompassing respect? Must I respect every part of this singer? Can’t I just respect her for her voice and all of her that makes that voice so pleasing? Seems so. What about the rest? Why not just accept the whole package as is without judgment?
I’m sure that all of us, at one time or another or perhaps most of the time, would like to change things in other people. Rarely can anyone get another person to change their belief, for example. The notion that Islam or any other religion will become the universal religion is doomed from the start. Most of us who are in romantic partnerships have tried unsuccessfully to get our partners to change. Oh, sure, we may be able to get them to roll up the toothpaste and there are times when we can get them to see our point of view, but there are fundamental things about them that we had better accept for our own happiness.
Love without acceptance is fatally flawed. I think unconditional acceptance must be in the definition of love I’m looking for.
Can there be love without respect? Thinking about this question I have not been able to find an instance where love without respect works for me. Can there be respect without love? Maybe, but I have yet to find an example I like. For now I am willing to play with the idea that they are interchangeable. Exchanging “respect” for “love” in the Biblical quote we have “Respect everyone as you respect yourself.” Respect is defined as “esteem or deferential regard felt or shown.”
OK, that may work, but if we take the temperature of the words “love” and “respect” we find love to be a warmer word. “What the World needs now is respect, sweet respect” just doesn’t quite do it. But still “respect” must be in the definition of love for everybody. What else?
I have always liked the phrase “unconditional love” but one day my questioning nature latched onto the phrase. Shouldn’t all love be unconditional? Is there such a thing as conditional love?
What might be a condition of love? I love you as long as you don’t kill someone. What kind of a friend would that be? If you kill someone, you will need my love more. Would we abandon a friend in the time of greatest need?
Even traditional wedding vows deny conditional love—“to have and to hold, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health … until death do us part.”
What about the women I loved and left when I was young and my thought now that I could have done that without hurting them if I had loved myself and them in this respectful way? Is there a condition involved? We are acquaintances. We talk. We get to know each other. We find each other physically attractive. We have sexual intercourse with the clear understanding that this is something we are doing for no other reason than we both want to do it. We maintain this relationship for awhile but I detect that the relationship may be becoming more for her and a friendship is heading toward romantic love. I break off the relationship before it gets too involved. Thus my love for them is conditional on their not loving me.
No, no. That concluding sentence is mixing up the core love that I’m looking for with one of the branches. Ideally both of us have a core love for each other. We accept each other and respect each other. She accepts me as someone who does not want to get married or have that kind of commitment. We both understand that any close relationship like this can develop into romantic love. If this happens on one side and not the other, that shouldn’t negate the core love. Throughout the relationship it is important for us to maintain our self-love. For example, neither of us should engage in a sexual relationship if it goes against our own moral code.
So, no, my core love for them is not conditional on their not loving me. Maintaining a sexual relationship may be conditional on her not loving me romantically. Hopefully we remain friends and accept and respect each other unconditionally. I have entered into an ideal world in which we each have developed a moral code for ourselves that is not in conflict. In the real world we are all tangled up in forced moralities that are frequently at odds with our own reality. We are torn between a taught moral code that is in conflict with our own, dare I say, god-given bodies?
The definition of love for everybody surely includes acceptance, respect and unconditionality. It is also warm and it is a feeling. If we are accepting, we must also be nonjudgmental. How about this for a draft definition:
Love (n) an unconditional acceptance and warm positive feeling of respect.
Here is another definition I found in the Merriam-Webster on line dictionary that may be closer to what I’m looking for than any in my old dictionary.
“4 a : unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as (1) : the fatherly concern of God for humankind (2) : brotherly concern for others.”
I have a problem with “unselfish” which I’ll get into later. I don’t see myself being “loyal” to people I barely know or don’t know at all. “Benevolent concern for the good of another” has a nice feel. It is warm. If we change “another” to “others” it takes away any implication of specific relationships thus putting the focus on the lover. However, that excludes love of one’s self and we are looking for the trunk of love upon which all kinds of love are branches. Perhaps “a benevolent concern for good” should be part of the definition.
HEAVEN ON EARTH
My daughter has taught me so much about love. It is not because of my love for her because I also love my son in the way most parents love their children. I love to see them both. I love to hear about their lives. When we have been parted it is such a rush to see them getting off a plane, for instance, the welling up inside that I feel knowing that I will hold them in my arms and feel their arms around me, that moment of intense feeling.
But my daughter has taught me that this kind of feeling doesn’t have to be confined to a few people or to special occasions. She exudes that kind of warmth toward most of the people with whom she comes in contact. Children get it instantly. They see in her eyes that she loves them. They know they are safe in her presence, that she will not hurt them and they respond in kind returning her smile, her love.
I have asked a number of people who believe in life after death to describe what they believe heaven will be. It amazes me that there are so many people who are dedicating quite a bit of this life to another life that they can only describe as being better than this one. “Better in what way?” I ask. “No pain or suffering,” is the most common response. Some think the weather will be better.
Perhaps it is because I live in the north that I appreciate the changing seasons. I also lived in a tropical climate for over a year which perhaps increased my appreciation of changing weather. How to appreciate heat without cold or even to know there is a difference? Can we fully appreciate being pain free without ever having experienced pain? I suppose the answer to that might be the reason for living is to experience pain so you will appreciate heaven.
I have given the notion of heaven some thought and I can envision a heaven. For me heaven is a place where everyone loves everyone. Everyone feels safe in the presence of all the others. Everyone loves his or her self, has self-respect, feels good, is filled with the glow of love for others, basks in the glow of love from others. Other than that, heaven is just like earth. There may be pain and suffering but there are always people around you to ease the pain and help you through suffering.
I guess what my daughter has given me is a glimpse into what would, for me, be a perfectly fine heaven. The beauty in this heaven is that I can do something about it. I can work toward creating heaven on earth.