A version of this essay first appeared at Segullah.org
“But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure, then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor, into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.”
From The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.
I picked up a box of “Hello Kitty” valentines in the grocery store because I was drawn to the images. The figures on the cards were simple line drawings. Simple.
In second grade we covered shoeboxes with doilies and red construction paper, cutting a slit in the top just big enough for a valentine envelope (and maybe a candy heart) to fit through. Back then our biggest concern in life was which valentine card to give to which classmate. Simple.
Then I thought about a man I had loved several years ago. He loved me too and we talked of marriage. We were friends who played and worked together and supported each other. But, in the end I could not marry him. The reasons aren’t important anymore, but they weren’t simple.
This interlude in the Valentine’s Day aisle got me thinking about what love is. And what it is not.
Love is simple.
Love is not simple.
On the surface love has a seemingly simple appearance, and at times, it feels like the simplest answer to everything. Yet the elements comprising love make it complex. One cannot separate these elements from each other and still call it Love. Like blood or water—one cannot separate serum from cells or hydrogen from oxygen and expect blood and water to continue to be what they are. Indeed, when chemical elements are separated from one another their product ceases to exist. That’s how I have come to view love.
Love offers us moments of ease, joy and contentment, moments of ecstasy and delight. And we offer ourselves in the process—not just a part of the self, but the whole self if we are to know the whole of love. In this offering we sometimes find the unexpected: confusion, sadness, loneliness, loss. But this is part of love, part of the puzzling beauty. These sorrows cannot be separated from the essence of love without destroying its nature. Love must be taken as a whole. Like blood. Like water.
Perhaps this complexity is part of why love is so malleable; why it can shape itself, define and redefine itself within the context of each new relationship—mother and child, grandmother and granddaughter, brother-sister, friends and lovers. Love may be equally satisfying and equally demanding in every setting. Yet, what relationship is ever really like another? Each has a unique form, follows its own course in our heart—intricate, unpredictable. Love manifests itself with brilliant variation, just as water forms snowflakes, none of which is ever like another. Each relationship offers a new challenge, a new opportunity to know love’s essence, to understand one’s self and to comprehend more wholly the uniqueness of our companions on the planet. Sometimes the process is simple. Often it is not.
I’ve heard To love is to risk. To risk is to love. And I believe it. When we smile or say hello to the new neighbor, approach our adult child to express concern for her welfare, or when we lean toward our beloved with open heart—this is risk. We offer a part of ourselves as a gift in every act of kindness, without knowing how it will be received or what form it may take in the heart of the receiver. But we give because we must, because love will not stand still. It cannot. It will clot or stagnate if we try to stop it. So we risk. We sacrifice ease and comfort for the vital possibility of Love.
I am thinking again about the box of valentines and how simple it all seemed when we were younger. The messages were clear: Be Mine. You’re Purrrfect!
It’s not so simple anymore and I find myself wishing there were a box of Gauguin or DaVinci valentines at the grocery store. Or better yet, Van Gogh. Yes. Van Gogh . . . surely those cards would say something about blood and water.
Will you tell us about your love?