My deep philosophizations of late have been about love.
The familiar passage from I Corinthians on love, popular at weddings (including my own), tells us,
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
But human love is never perfect. Who among us who loves can say his or her love has always reflected these principles flawlessly? I certainly can’t. Fortunately, the passage from Corinthians is not a litmus test. Our failure to exemplify perfect love for our children, friends, family members, spouses, or lovers doesn’t mean we don’t love them. Of course we do. Love, no matter how young or small or immature, is a spark or a glow we all can recognize, and we should allow ourselves to recognize it. But fierce or tenuous, our love is always imperfect. Because we are imperfect.
But loving–feeling love, tasting love, embracing love–means growing in love. The more you love, the better you get at it, and the closer you get to becoming capable of loving perfectly.
It can take work. It can require effort. Sometimes I easily lose my patience with Poppy and Ace–just toss it right out the window. “How many times do I have to ask you to put on your shoes?” Sometimes I must make an effort–a Herculean one–to remain patient with them. And other times, patience comes naturally. If I reflect on my patience during those (sometimes rare) natural moments, I realize it flows, simply, from love.
Comparatively speaking, though, loving my own children is easy. I am programmed by nature and evolution to “endure all things” for their sake. Loving other people–those who were not knit together in my womb, pushed out of my vagina, and nourished at my breast–doesn’t always come so easily.
Poppy has been asking some tough questions, and the one that seems to recur the most is why I don’t love Lou anymore. And this is hard to reconcile in my own, 33-year-old mind; harder still to explain to a six-year-old. But Poppy has a big heart and knows and feels great love. And because Poppy understands love, she knows intuitively–without having studied Corinthians–that love never ends. Her soul can feel the dissonance of her parents’ division, of their love having broken down. It doesn’t make sense in her innocent, complete experience of love that love could change or even die.
“Love never ends.” This part seems like a lie. It seems like a lie when you remember loving someone enough to make the crazy “forever” promises people make to each other in front of God and everyone, and then you find yourself unable or unwilling to keep those promises well before you expect you would be parted by death. Breaking them because the love that seamed your soul to his has unraveled somehow, leaving you two parts and no longer a whole.
It seems like a lie when you loved someone, or maybe you still do–someone who you believed loved you in return–and that person is just out there, walking around in the world. Living life without you. Maybe not loving you back.
Or maybe the lie is that love ever existed to begin with. Maybe that’s easier to swallow. Maybe it’s easier to imagine that your beloved was a liar, or at the very least mistaken. Or maybe it is easier to say, “I thought I loved him, but…” How can we imagine loving, and then not? Being loved… and then not? Better to believe the love was a lie than to believe love could cease.
But what I have been chewing on lately, and what I think is true, is that “love never ends” is not a lie. And neither is love. If you think you love someone, you do. Your heart recognizes love; your soul recognizes its creator. We give love and encounter love imperfectly, but we know it when it’s there.
And it doesn’t end.
Yes, Poppy, I loved Lou. I loved him in cold and in rain. I loved him in the summer, on the boat, at the Shack. I loved him in New Orleans. I loved him in music and dancing, adventures and laughter, projects and parties.
I loved him imperfectly. With impatience, arrogance, and resentment.
And now? Now I love him still, Poppy, but now I love him in your smile, your goofiness, your inquisitiveness. Now I love him in your mind, which works out puzzles and gets frustrated when the solution is just beyond your reach. I love him in your face. Your chin, which I saw once in a picture of his mother as a child. Your hair, as platinum as in his baby pictures. I love him in your brother and his fascination with cars and airplanes. Your brother’s impish grin, his sensitive skin, his sweet tooth.
I love him in my past, in the days that shaped my adulthood, in the years I don’t regret.
I love him in your future.
And it doesn’t end. No matter how angry we get, or how far apart we live, or what the official papers say. Love evolves, shifts, shrinks, stretches, curls up, moves beyond. It may shake, and it may crack, and it may come to resemble something far different than we planned. Or wanted. Or want. But love never ends.