René Descartes hunted for an unquestionable determinate to prove his own existence. He decided he would doubt the existence of everything. This relentless doubting brought him to his famous conclusion: If I am thinking/doubting, I must exist.
But can the same be done with love? What is it? How do I know I really experience love? Is there an ultimate determiner that proves to me that I truly love someone or something? When I used to attend church services, I remember singing:
God is love; And he who abides in love,
Abides in God, And God in him.
At that time, I found no comfort in this sentimental expression. First of all, stating “God is love,” is an a priori judgment because God’s love must be accepted on Faith. At the present, although I believe God exists as an unexplainable mystery, S/He continues to remain unknown to me in spite of the Pope’s January 31 encyclical (Deus caritas est.) So loving God because S/he is Love, is a tautology. Since I am unable to experience this Wholly Other Being, I can’t experience her/his love or warmth.
According to ancient Aristotle, love is the greatest external good. He claims that love sparks desire. When two people truly love one another, Aristotle claims it is as if there is a single soul dwelling in two separate bodies or persons. Haddaway’s song–"What is Love claims," “I know we're one, just me and you.” I like these two short lines because they imply personal bonding. Not just a physical sexual embracing, but a much more intimate personal one. Erich Fromm likes this paradox where two beings remain separate yet in some sense are one.
Freud calls love, eros, a deep instinctual desire to procreate and continue our race. To me, his is a more scientific opinion. He sees eros as life’s energy battling the instinct I have of knowing death and non-being await me. This purely anatomical sense of love destroys its beauty.
Since I cannot find a satisfying definition of love, maybe I can find it by considering the things I love and what I would do to keep that love.
Several years ago while driving along a divided four lane highway to one of the many Pittsburgh schools I supervised, I noticed this small black disheveled furry creature walking against traffic with enough sense to stay as close as possible to the concrete median barrier dividing the highway. At the time I was driving behind a huge truck wanting to pass. This dog was only inches away from being smashed to death against the barrier or under the tandem truck wheels, but the damn thing kept on moving.
Returning to my office along the same highway, a morbid sense overcame me. I had to find out what happened to that poor creature. Miles from where I'd seen her previously, I saw her lying on a small grassy knoll to one side of a busy interchange. After I found a place to stop by driving the wrong way on an exit ramp, I picked this creature up, placed her in the back seat of my car, and went to work just to say I was leaving for the day.
After visiting a veterinarian and a groomer, I took the dog home. For the next eight years Heinz (a female) followed me around only inches from my heels. She became my best friend even though she was ten years old according to the vet who had removed a large sharp twig from her paw.
I cannot explain the special bond between me and that black shaggy animal whom I will never forget. I could not keep her away from me. Her picture sits next to my computer, so often do I think of her. If asked, “Did you love her?” I’d have to answer, “Yes.” But my love for Heinz still does not help me pinpoint the critical attribute to define love.
In 1965, I met a woman during a Board of Education presentation for new Pittsburgh teachers. Although I should have been paying attention, I wasn't. What distracted me was the legs of a young woman sitting directly in front of me. As lunch break neared, a rainstorm broke. This woman had an umbrella; I didn't. Across the street was a small restaurant. Remembering the legs and spotting the umbrella, I asked this young “girl” if she’d mind having lunch with me.
That was forty-five years ago. Today when some experts claim that 40-50% of marriages end in divorce, incredibly, I am still in love with this woman with the shapely legs, my Jennie. Her relationship with me represents the answer I’ve been searching for when hunting the meaning of love. Yet it is difficult to explain. Have I cheated on Jennie. No. I could not—would not ever dishonor her. Would she cheat on me? I’ve never asked—it never entered my mind.
When the two of us “youngsters” stood and vowed to each other that we would remain united “in sickness and in health,” I meant those words. I felt them in my very being. I still mean them, even as I am now, not so slowly approaching the final years of my life.
Why have we stayed together so long? I can only answer for myself: I am in love with Jennie. Together, we have brought two daughters into the world, and have adopted a third young daughter as our own. At the present, Jennie and I have thee grandchildren, a beautiful granddaughter and two handsome grandsons.
But what’s more important, Jennie is absolutely my very best friend. We have been through uncountable hardships together. I could never hurt her. In my mind, I know her feelings and what makes her uncomfortable. What’s more, I trust her. I would never do anything to make her question my trust. If I had to relive without Jennie in my life, it could not be worth it.
So what makes this love different from loving good friends; from loving my favorite dog; from loving my favorite dishes; from loving my rum and Coke; from loving to write, read, and tinker with electronics and toy trains and the countless other activities I claim to love?
The critical answer I’ve been searching for is right in front of me. I would love Jennie by dying in place of her. It’s that plain—it’s that simple. If the Grim Reaper stood before us tonight and said, “It’s time for one of you to go. Here, choose a card.” With no hesitation I would grab both cards.
Jennie is truly my life. I live for many reasons, but in the end, I live for her because I love her. Forty-five years of married life has made me see, over and over again, the goodness of her character—she is a good person, a being that deserves to live on. Her ens makes the world a better place. If there could possibly be an after life, my fondest wish would be to spend it with my Jennie.