Sometimes I think the answer to all the problems we have as a human race lies in one small word: love.
But that word is not small by any measure. It is so rich and grand that no matter how many meanings or interpretations I try to attach to it, I fail to capture its full essence.
Every time I think I know what love is, I realize I am off by a fair mileage, a distance that I could run until the day I die and still not cover. I feel as though it is a treasure box, a secret jackpot, an unopened chest; something that carries all the answers. Something that we mildly seem to acknowledge the existence of, but for some reason have not unleashed. Something whose grandeur we have not recognized. Something we sit back and lounge on a chair not realizing the majestic presence of. Something we spot in the distance but do not run beyond the fog to discover. Something we experience the pain and richness of every single day but dismiss as absently as a passing street sign.
In romantic relationships, we spend days enamored by the very possibility of it and months broken by its sudden, unannounced loss. When it leaves us, we feel vulnerable, exposed, helpless, betrayed, wrenched. Like it has failed us on its promise. Like it has taken away a piece of us and left. Like it has shattered our walls of defense and then left us in ruins.
We revel in self-pity and torture ourselves in its unsympathetically cold absence. Its exit makes us self-destructive. Its retreat makes us numb. Its loss makes us dysfunctional. It hits us like a harsh sting, a deep stab.
Almost every song is a musical or lyrical expression of our euphoria in the presence of love or our sorrow in its dreaded absence. It occurred to me that if we ALL had love, in its true essence, we would not have the problems we face today. Because love, the way it is described in the Bible, is defined to such a HIGH STANDARD that it leaves NO ROOM for even the slightest quarrel.
The way it is described, it would be virtually impossible to have an “argument” or “fight” in that context. If we exhibited love to that standard, an “argument” or “fight” would be equivalent to an downpour of loving words. Between individuals, between societies, between nations… It also occurred to me that we have come to realize the value of “love” in many ways. Only, we have not identified it as “love” or attributed it to “love.”
We have depicted love in many forms, such as “human rights,” “best practices,” “charitable organizations,” “peace treaties,” and the very rule of law. We empathize with pain. We feel guilty when we cause others hurt. We see the wrong in theft, murder, rape, child abuse, gender inequality, and a million other phenomenon we call “crimes” and “horrors” and “injustices.” We feel responsible to help those who have less. We see the need to mitigate conflict and establish peace. We understand the need to protect ourselves from the injustice we create, thus we have established the rule of law.
We understand the need to protect our environment to sustain future generations, which means we care about the well-being of those future generations. We have come to realize the importance of engaging stakeholders when we wish to propose a project that will affect them, which in essence means that we have decided to consider the very thoughts and emotions of those we influence. Yes, some of us conduct crimes, take actions in the name of faith that hurt multitudes, or act in the interests of our own financial gain… But as a majority we have recognized the importance of “good” as we have created measures that encourage and support it. We made doctors to heal our own kind, we made homeless shelters and drop-in centers to aid our own kind, and we made prisons to protect the majority of good from the minority of evil.
On one side, we are not perfect in the way we exhibit love. We created trade to share resources, yet we stand to defend the rights of our “country” at the expense of the good of the globe. On the other side, we have the capacity to love. Though we operate under the premise that we should not give to those who “do not deserve” and we should not provide for those who “have not earned,” we have taken these actions anyway, which proves us capable to empathize with our own kind… Which proves us capable of love… But we have not tapped into the entirety of it all.
Which leads me to want to break love down, because I could dwell all day on every single one of its attributes.
Love, in the bible, is described as such: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
Let me take it piece by piece…
Love suffers long and is kind.
I think it is no coincidence that these two attributes are placed together. I think the standard this statement holds, is that love is kind AS it suffers. Love is kind THROUGH the suffering. Love is kind IN SPITE OF the suffering. Love gets beaten and dragged and tormented, but acts with kindness nonetheless.
In the context of reality… Though an individual, society, or nation suffers, even at the hand of others, it does not take this as a justification to be unkind to others. It does not attack. It does not retaliate. It does not seek its own comfort. Rather, it continues to be kind, because it ranks the comfort of others over the remediation of its own pain.
Love does not envy.
Love does not see the success of others as a threat to its own content, as a thing to be stifled. Love sees the success of others as a magnificent addition to its own content, as a thing to be exuberated.
Love experiences the happiness, success, or gain of others as though it is its own.
Love sees the happiness of others as the highest honor it could possibly feel. Love does not wish to diminish others, nor to take from them, nor to hinder them; love wishes to ravish them.
Love does not wish to guilt or rebuke others for having more; love wishes to revel in the glory of it all with them.
Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up.
Love does not try to introduce itself as love or draw attention to its entrance to the party. Love does not need a name tag, a crown, or an introductory speech. Love needs only to BE.
Love can walk around wearing an invisibility cloak, and it would not mind. Love can go by unnoticed, and it would not mind. Love does not need to embellish or magnify or beautify, because love finds beauty within.
Love does not need to adorn itself or be adorned by others. Because love does not act in the interests of recognition, love acts only in the interests of offering itself to those around it. Love acts only in the interest of continuing to BE, in the midst of any circumstance, irrespective of any stimuli.
Love does not say, “Look how much I have done for you, and you do not appreciate.” Because love wishes only to BE, without even the need to be seen. Love does not wish to guilt or lure or force others into seeing. Love only wishes to love.
Love does not behave rudely.
Love does not feel the need to intimidate or to mock. Love does not react according to how it is treated. Love does not seek to pierce others with sharp words like swords; love does not seek to cause pain or hurt. Love does not seek to elicit a reaction from others; love does not push or trigger or induce or aggravate or insinuate. Love does not imply double meanings or plant hidden insults or offer backhanded compliments. Love is not cynical or sarcastic in its words. Love does not incite or enflame. Love calms and appeases. Love soothes and accommodates. Love heals and mends.
When treated harshly, love seeks to mend the very lack of love in the other person that caused them to exhibit harsh treatment, because love knows the harsh treatment came only from an absence of love.
Love seeks to fill the void with love, not shatter the void with weaponry.
Love does not know how to act with weaponry, because love never possessed those tools. Love stifles rudeness; love carries it to an end.
Love does not seek its own.
Love looks for the place where it can mend, the void where it can fill. Love looks for the broken smile, the saddened spirit. Love has no interest in serving itself. Love has only the capacity to serve.
Love has only the desire to attend to the places where its absence is deeply felt. Love does not relish from its own gain; love has no gain other than to give its entire self. Love is utterly selfless. Love suffers from pain and searches for it and runs to eradicate it, because love sees pain as an absence of love.
Love is not provoked.
Love is poked, prodded, and sometimes blown to flames… But it remains there unarmed. Love responds to provocation by sustaining its presence. Love is slow to anger. Love responds with love. Love is not capable of responding any other way; it is not capable of exhibiting any lesser emotion. Love does not lay a hand on the instigator of its suffering.
Love thinks no evil.
Love is so pure that the very THOUGHT of evil unto others does not enter its landscape. Love does not wish the slightest evil on others. Love does not envision harm on others for a moment. To not execute an action is one battle, but to not even think it is a far more difficult one. Love does not even THINK it. Love does not even consider it. Love does not even entertain the thought of it.
Love does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.
Love does not find joy where there is evil, where there is bitterness. Love sees evil and feels saddened, pained. Love finds joy where there is truth, where there is good. Love sees truth and feels magnetized, ecstatic.
Love bears all things.
Love carries all burdens. Love lifts the heaviest of parcels. Love traverses through the most elaborate of obstacles. Love takes every hit and every shove. Love absorbs the impact of the blow, taking it up into itself, bearing it. Love bears pain. Love bears suffering. Love bears unfairness. Love bears demeaning words and hurtful actions. Love bears the criticism of the judge. Love bears the hostility of the opposition. Love bears the arrogance of the commander. Love bears the hatred of the bully. Love bears the guilt of the wrongdoer. Love bears the foolishness of the blind. Love bears the burden of the weak. Love bears anything you can imagine.
Love believes all things.
Love is not a skeptic. Love takes as is. Love gives the benefit of the doubt. Love does not doubt or fear or suspect hidden agendas. Love assumes the purest of all intentions, because love cannot fathom ulterior motives; love has never had them. Even the grandest lie, love does not seek to expose, because love trusts the source, has faith in the source, loves the source. Love does not look for fallacies in others. Love sees others as authentic and good-natured and good-willed. Love believes in the essence of truth in others. Love believes in the integrity of others. Love believes in the intention behind the action, the heart behind the exterior, the truth behind the display. Love believes all things are possible.
Love hopes all things.
Love hopes and dreams and imagines. Love dreams nothing but to love more. Love is optimistic. Love is idealistic. Love looks for the small speckle of light in every despair. Love hopes to touch the entire the world. Love hopes the very best even in the most hopeless of circumstances. Love never gives up, never backs down, never resigns from its promise. Love never loses faith in others; love hopes and hopes and hopes until its last breath, though it never has one.
Love endures all things.
Though it hopes, and though that hope may never materialize into reality, love endures. Love endures its unfulfilled hopes and dreams. Love endures the time spent in absence of the beautiful reality it envisions. Love endures the harshness and turbulence of difficult times and difficult circumstances. Love not only bears, it endures; it survives. Love maintains its resiliency in a hurricane. Love is not swayed or wavered or hindered or diminished or lessened by turmoil. Love stands like a rock in harsh waters. Love holds still. Love stands its ground. Love holds its truth in the midst of uncertainty. Love does not rescind its foundation.
Love never fails.
Love cannot fail; failure is contrary to the nature of love, because failure means ceasing to love, and love can never stop loving. Love never expires. Love never shrinks from its promise. Love never withdraws from its mission. Love never retracts. Failure is an antonym to love. Failure is an impossibility in the presence of love. Love cannot fail so long as it exists. If it fails, it is not love. If it fails, it is short of love. Love withstands. Love perseveres. Love persists. Love chases until it loses breath, except it never loses breath. Love chases the shadow until it is eradicated by the light. Love stops at no less than its capacity, and its capacity is unlimited, unconditional, unhindered… Unfailing.
Now imagine a world where each and every one of us had the characteristics of love… Imagine a couple who bore these traits… Is it even possible to fight? How? How can they fight if they love each other with the vigour that is inherent in the definition of love itself? How would it go? “I feel upset when you do this.” If there is love, how can one respond with anything other than “I am sorry. I did this to you. Please, tell me how I can make it better.” If there is love, how can one respond with “Well, you did this to me, don’t you remember that time when you hurt me even worse”? Love does not cast blame. If there is love, how can one respond with “You are very sensitive, you should know better, you are being overdramatic over nothing”? Love does not belittle. If there is love, how can one respond with “I do not have time for this, get over it.” Love does not dismiss pain.
With love, why would individuals seek their own security and autonomy – what loss do they fear? Why would societies seek to preserve their own culture and identity – by whom are they threatened? Why would countries seek their own prosperity and economic growth – to what end does it serve other than the pride of their nation?
What if we lived in a world where no one sought to serve themselves, and we all aspired to meet each other’s needs, until all our needs were met? What if our “needs” evaporated when we became satiated with love because we realized that was our truest need? Why is it that our most gaping void is the very one we fail to see? We have devised millions of fixes and administered these fixes in millions of forms, but somehow, we never thought to fix it all with love… “Sustainability,” “equality,” “justice” – all these could be realized.
Not realizing the power of love is as sad and as real as turning a blind eye to the cure for cancer.
What profit does a life absent of love provide? What good are the luxuries of work, money, vacation, knowledge, and “good times” in the absence of love?
The need for love is seen from the moment a child is born; it is carved into our hearts and it is the core of God’s message. God created us with the magnificent capacity to love, with the need to love and be loved; he could not desire anything more for us than to live up to this potential, to feel toward each other what he does for us. We know him more than we realize, but we never make the connection: “… everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7).
To what else do we attribute our natural affinity for this strange emotion that we cannot seem to evade? Perhaps, we do not question its source. And the unlimited capacity for love we once had as children, ever so pure, dissipates with adulthood and the ensuing complexity of our minds; ironically, the more we mature, the more ignorant we become to our true nature. If only we understood what we were missing…
What if, in a fight, we were treated with love. Then, this let down our defenses and made us into fools, so that next time we found ourselves wanting to respond with love. So we did. Then we continued this cycle and loved one another in the true essence of the word.
Can you imagine a world like this? Maybe, just maybe, this very simple yet utterly profound change in perspective would put an end to the pursuit of happiness… The moment we realize that our gaping void need only to be filled with love.