What is Love, Really?
by Sanetra Tindal
One afternoon, after leaving work, I was making my mad-dash toward Friendship Heights metro station in Washington, DC. With the momentum of my hurry stunted by the just-missed walking signal, I now had to wait 40 seconds to cross the street. As my fellow mad-dashers, who made it across the street before the light turned green, approached the metro station, I noticed their bodies avoiding the "homeless" man standing at the entrance. This shifted my focus from impatience to sadness. This man, who I pass by daily, has always been friendly with me, asking for nothing in return. Knowing my own heart and mind, I would want someone to give me a little time! This man, aged and weathered by circumstance, was once a baby, a little boy with dreams that did not include living on the street. This man - this very real man, has a story. Would it hurt for me to look into his eyes? Would it strain a muscle to lift my hand to wave at him? Would I lose a tooth or two if I smiled at him and spoke to him? Would I bleed if I spared the time to remember that he is a human being? These things, that seem to be small acts of kindness, turn out to be some of the grandest exhibitions of Love.
So what is Love, really? What do we know of it? We all use the word. It has become a designer word, flowing from our mouths like coffee-shop poetry. A couple of rhymes and a few snaps and there it is - dressed, fancy, in conscious rhetoric! It's viewed more palatable, for some, when costumed in expensive gifts and grand gestures. Nothing is wrong with expressing Love in these ways. We are all creative and born with the right to express our creativity the way that we choose. But is that it? Our impressions of Love begin when we are children. Were we told, by our parents, caregivers, relatives, or friends that they love us? How did the people, who did tell us, treat us? Was love shown to us by those we chose to love? Was it reciprocated the way that we expected? The description of Love has become relative to interpretation. It has been stipulated and confined behind bars of limitations and expectations. Love has been gifted, by many of us, with conditions.
Many have told me, "Love is a feeling; it's the feeling you get when you care for someone." "Love is security and when someone makes you feel safe." I've heard everything from, "love is a commitment" to "love is having a spiritual connection with someone or something". But what's next? What if you haven't established a connection with someone? How do you love them? What if the person that "made" you feel secure ceases to do so? Do you still love them? What if the person, whom you've chosen to love, does not reciprocate? This person, whom you've invested time and money and trust and soft glares and smiles, and maybe even tender kisses and beyond, fails to show you a return.
What then? Commonly, a lot of us end up very disappointed - even irate! We adopt feelings of rejection and betrayal. We feel foolish when our love for someone else has been based off of the belief that that someone else loved us too. It's very easy to give in to those thoughts and emotions.
I have spent the past year recuperating from the termination of a relationship that I held near and dear to my heart. I loved this person with all of me. I loved him, in spite of the things that I did not like about him. First, I was angry with him for not loving me the way that I loved him, the way I wanted to be loved. Then, I was angry with myself for believing he loved me the same and for staying when I was sure that I needed to leave. I found myself wishing, "If only I could stop loving him!" There it was, front and center! I wanted to stop loving him. He not loving me would not hurt if I did not love him. I loved him unconditionally, but wished to downgrade it. I didn't want to wonder of his whereabouts or if he was well or not. I didn't want to care whether he was happy or not. I had this love thing all wrong. I had an epiphany! It's ok to love him. I can love him outside of romantic love. My love for him is a gift, I chose to love him. I realized that it was important to me that he was safe and happy and being treated well. I realized that I could have those thoughts and feelings without wanting to revisit the romantic bond.
Think about it. When we behave in ways that our parents or family members disapprove, do they stop loving us? When our children act up, do we stop loving them? When I give money to a homeless person, I don't go back to collect. I give because I love myself and would want someone to show me the same kindness if ever the roles were reversed. I love my child because she came from me. I know that what she does is a result of her getting to know herself better and testing the boundaries, it's not personal. And I appreciate her experience because I was once where she is now. I love strangers, and the animals, and the trees, and beyond because I love myself. I know that they have the right to live and be just like I do.
Love is what we all want. The lack of it is the reason for all the chaos that is within and around us. When we take the time to notice and observe, respect and honor, and accept and embrace ourselves and others, we are practicing love without conditions. This love nourishes and renews the Spirit. It is vast and all-encompassing. It's the love that the Divine has for us, the energy we are born from. It's what we do, how we do, and who we truly are.