Since the recent celebration of Valentine’s Day, I have been thinking about, what else, love! Because when it comes to loving others, it just seems that there is more to love, more demanded by love, than simply the sentimental sweetness of a Valentine’s card and a box of chocolates, as nice as they can be. No way am I criticizing Valentine’s Day — I can be stupid at times, but not that stupid! — but after the card and candy, just what might true love require of us?
A colleague shares this story: “I once worked with a waiter I’ll call Alex. His car was covered in bumper stickers proclaiming an admirable allegiance to every social justice cause imaginable. His heart was on fire for the plight of marginalized workers, the earth and for oppressed minorities everywhere. But he was awful to work with. He’d steal tables from other waiters, shout at the dishwashers, refuse to share tips with busboys. He was unfailingly rude. One night after Alex had left, an older waiter leaned against the bar and sighed, ‘Alex is one of those people who loves humanity but can’t stand people.’”
Anyone can slap a bumper sticker on a car. But it is a whole lot easier to talk about love and decorate a car with words about love than it is actually to do love. As Erich Fromm pointed out long ago, love is an attitude, something within us, and is not determined by what happens “out there” beyond us. And yes, sometimes love is easy, almost effortless, as if loving others is just a natural part of what it means to be human. But there are other times when love is just too darn hard, times when we are painfully aware that loving and caring for people does not come with the guarantee or assurance that we will always find the right kind of people to love and care for.
Preacher and author, Barbara Brown Taylor shares this story: “I was driving to work through the early morning drizzle. My seat belt on and the doors locked, when I saw a car by the side of the road with its hood up. As I approached, a tall black man stepped into the road, holding up a pair of jumper cables and looking me straight in the eye. Several hundred pieces of information went through my mind in about three seconds: ‘the man needs help … you are a woman alone in a car…the man needs help…never open your door to a stranger … the man needs help…sorry, I cannot help, but maybe the next person who drives by can.’ So I went on to my church office where I completed my sermon on the Good Samaritan.” Again, it is so easy to confuse the knowing, understanding, feeling, thinking or saying of love with the actual doing of love.
The words of a poet come to mind:
Love is no longer a theme for eloquence, or a way of life for a few to choose,
It is the sternest necessity…the ultimatum.
There is no other way out; there is no country we can flee to;
There is no one on earth who must not face this task now.
So take a risk. Get out of your comfort zone. Don’t wait until you feel like being loving, just do it. Don’t complicate things by arguing about specifics. You know what it means to love because some time or another you have been on the receiving end of it. Says Taylor, ”If you want the world to look different next time you go outside, do some love. Do a little; do a lot, but do some and do not forget to get some for yourself. Just do it and find out that when you do, you do live and live abundantly.”