Love can just as easily be defined by what it’s not as by what it is. So what is it not?
Love loves what is. It does not transform. It is powerful, but that is not where its power lies. Love will make you want to be a better person for the sake of the beloved, but it will not turn the beloved into a better person. Love cannot change character. Ask any mother of the incorrigible delinquent, or the long-suffering partner of the cruel lover. Love endures, forgives and nurtures. But it does not transform the beloved. If it could, the mother’s love of many a criminal would have kept them from doing harm long before they got to the dock. And that is the shocker. The most unlovely amongst us, in terms of deeds, looks or moral fibre, are not unloved.
The beloved is loved in spite of their flaws. Imperfections become insignificant and glaring shortcomings…mere trifles.
So where does love’s power lie? Love inspires dedication, and action, sometimes against impossible odds. In this respect it has many competitors; achievement can also be inspired by ambition, avarice, or even fear. But love keeps going long after the steam of the others have flagged.
Love persists without being persistent. The aging parent feeling abandoned at a home does not cease loving her children, if she loved them to begin with. Her children might not visit or phone for months on end. She hurts, is angry, lonely and put out, but she would still die for them even though she they do not visit for months on end.
And love’s capacity to forgive is almost frightening.
Love forgives, forgives and forgives again. Some could say that is it’s weakness. Perhaps it is, because love really does have a mind of its own. You can choose whom to be dedicated to, whom to serve, whom to adore, but love chooses you. We are helpless against our passions for ‘useless’ pursuits or quests, spending time, money and energy for what seems like little gain. But our love for them keeps us dedicated, motivated and committed. Ask the chap who spends hours building the perfect table, when they could just as easily buy one. Or the bookish loner spending many rapturous hours reading ancient history. Just because.
Love COMMITS. You can harness the call of duty to complete a difficult task, but with love you really do not mind, no matter how hard it is. Far from Hollywood’s syrupy depictions, true love is evidenced in millions of unglamourous ways in every corner of the world; a carriageful of immigrant workers, enduring horrific levels of servitude and derision from hostile locals to send money home, year after year, so that their beloved can have a better life; the poverty-stricken mother who gives up her child in the hope that he will have a better life; just as much as the rural one who thinks nothing of carrying her infant wherever she goes, never feeling put out by it’s constant needs; the kindness of a stranger who stands to gain nothing from their actions; Love does not count the cost, never wails, ‘look at all I’ve done for you,’ and NEVER imposes conditions. Love does not say,’ I will love you for as long as you don’t leave me.’ Love stays the course, and keeps going for long after will, good sense and passion have gone.
And therein lies the clue of love’s real power. It makes us far bigger and more powerful than we could ever be on our own. It is what makes us, and what we do, extraordinary.