Monday Notes: What is Love?

From the time I turned eighteen until I was forty-one years old, my father visited me twice. He rarely called. However, he used to always say, I love you. And when we were at his funeral, more than one family member made sure to reiterate the sentiment by pulling me to the side and whispering, you know your dad loved you. Two decades of inaction proved otherwise. If someone loves you, then, in my mind, they do things to show it. Although the dictionary shows that love can be a noun, more than likely when you love someone it’s the verb part, a series of actions over time, that lead you to a firm conclusion.

An ironic set of events have made me pause to think about love as a concept again.

My father’s wife, MJ was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She’d undergone a double mastectomy in April, but complications arose. Consequently, we spoke on the phone more as she recounted her life’s circumstances. Whether money or transportation, her daughter and granddaughter, who live in the same city, were not capable of helping her this time. I tried to support from the comfort of my home by providing Uber rides and American Cancer Society phone calls. Soon, I could tell this wasn’t enough. She needed someone present during an additional surgery.

After mulling for three days, I decided that my youngest daughter, Desi and I would go help. I didn’t want to, but I thought about how I would feel if I was undergoing major surgery with no one to support me financially, emotionally, or physically.

Desi and I drove five and half hours to Atlanta. The following morning, I sat and asked her home healthcare nurse pertinent questions that she was too distraught to consider. Later, we went to breakfast, and then I bought her groceries out of my and Dwight’s household money. Afterwards, I made her six meals and packed them in the refrigerator, so she wouldn’t have to worry about cooking. The following day, Desi and I drove her to the hospital and stayed for twelve hours of pre-op, operation, and post-op. Again, I spoke with the nurses when she was too incoherent to do so. We remained by her side until her daughter, granddaughter, and great-grandchildren arrived, around six o’clock in the evening.

LOVE_juneI was able to do these things because I saw each act as service to an individual who needed support. I saw her like anyone else who might need help in the situation.

But she perceived my actions differently.

“I appreciate all you did for me,” MJ said right before we left. “You know I didn’t even know if you liked me.”

“Awww MJ,” I replied, partly in disbelief that she’d continued to repeat a twenty-year narrative.

“Now, I know you must love me to drive all this way and do the things you did,” she said with certainty.

How could I tell her that I didn’t? How could I explain that I provided a service to her out of empathy for her circumstances? How could I tell her that I can perform a loving act without loving her? In fact, how could I tell her that I neither liked, disliked, nor loved her? She’s always simply been my father’s wife.

Well, I didn’t tell her any of that. I remained silent, wished her well, and left.

But here is what I’ve concluded (as of today). We tend to use the word love when really we mean something else. For example, had MJ said, “I didn’t know you cared about me, but now I know you do,” I probably would’ve reassured her, because I do care. Love, on the other hand, is a little weighty and requires more than two-days worth of kind acts to develop.

What do you think? What is love to you? Do you use love when you mean something else?

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79 thoughts on “Monday Notes: What is Love?

  1. Hello K E. I just read your post and I must commend you, it is a well-written post and provides a fresh perspective. To me, God is love. We humans love all the time, however, we are not perfect. Sometimes our actions do not prove that we love someone that we honestly love, and other times, we do things for people who we simply do not love. The only being who loves and makes a clear statement that he loves you is God. God is an ever present help in times of need. He loves us at our highs and lows, he is always there for us, and he never forsakes us. To top all of this, when we allow God’s love into our lives, we become better people and learn how to love others the same way God loves us.

    You might benefit from a relationship with God. I would suggest you try it out if you have not already. Here are the steps I usually recommend for building a relationship with God:

    1) find a quiet space free from distractions, a place where you can pray.

    2) imagine that Jesus is in front of you, talk to him the way you will with a close friend. Tell him that you are ready to accept him, invite him to come into your life and become your lord and personal savior. Ask for forgiveness of past sins. Tell Jesus that you want to die to your old self and be reborn as a new creation in him. Pray that you inherit eternal life and the kingdom of God. Beware of sudden distractions when you pray, this is a trick the devil uses to stop us from having focused prayers. You might also get the feeling that God is not there or that you are simply wasting your time, this is another trick that the devil uses to discourage us from prayers.

    3) If you have any specific prayers, or something specific that you need, you can ask it in Jesus name, and God would attend to the prayers. God usually has three answers to prayers: Yes, Yes but wait, and No. God has a reason for every answer, and his answers are usually what is best for you. When you pray, you need to have faith that you will receive. God does not like it when we pray but doubt his ability to provide what we want for us. Lastly, prayers and faith without works wont bring results. E.g. If all a person does is prays and has faith that they would get a job, without actually applying to jobs, they WOULD NOT get a job. God does not work that way, God loves hard-working people, and God rewards hard-work. If all Christians had to do is pray, have faith, and stay home all day awaiting a blessing, Christians would be the laziest people on earth. LOL. Your part is to pray that God should fast-track your success, so that you recieve your blessings quicker than people who are relying on their own strength. Your blessings might also come in a bigger way. Remember to thank God when you get the answers to your prayers.

    4) Read the bible and obey it. You can find free bibles online. You can also find free bible apps on google play. Keep praying all the time and maintain a connection with God.

    5) Trials and tribulations may come your way, sometimes these are designed to test your faith, and sometimes they are simply tricks from the devil to get you to denounce the religion. At times like this, you pray to God, you fast, and you maintain consistency in the faith, this way, God would lift you above all trials and afflictions.

    6) You can join a community of bible believing Christians. Having friends who are believers would keep you on track, and the conversations about the religion would be beneficial to your faith.

    7) Get a water baptism, and pray to God so that you can receive a baptism in the holy spirit.

    Have a blessed day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your initial kind words. Although I’m tolerant of all religions and philosophies of life, I’m a little taken aback by your blatant attempt at saving me through Christianity here on my blog.

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  2. This was an extraordinary post. Tender, caring, and heartfelt. I wiped away tears as I read it. I have so many thoughts that I am trying to formulate a way to begin… First of all, may I say that I believe your father loved you. Not all men are able to voice their feelings through actions or words. The fact that your father told you he loved you is actually rather monumental.
    I know many people who lived in the same house with parents who never said those words. And while I was fortunate that I had a father who was stern, but loving as well, he was free with hugs to all his children and quite often told us how much he loved us.
    On the other hand, my first husband left when my son was only ten months old. I kept his photo up and told my child that his father loved him. His visits were yearly, sometimes, less, and it was difficult for my son. But they did maintain a relationship which grew stronger as my son, who is now 45, grew up. At my son’s wedding My ex thanked me. He said if it weren’t for me he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have a relationship with his son, and the gift of being a father was something I gave him. He thanked me for never speaking badly about him. He reiterated that not everyone would have kept the door open until he was ready to be a father. I told him I did it for our son. We married young, had a child young and for me, motherhood came easily. For many men, it isn’t second nature. And I have learned that not everyone loves the same way. Or expresses their love in the same way. I think your father did what he was able to do. I eventually remarried and had another child, but my second husband was only 55 when he passed, so if you ask me now what love is I have to pause and say I am not sure. It depends on what kind of love. And there are so many different kinds.

    I love my children and grandchildren beyond comprehension and would jump in front of a bullet to save their lives. They are who I think about when I define love. It is like the universe would not exist without them. I’ve had two husbands who I thought I loved. My first husband and I care deeply for one another and I think that is because we like each other. We were always friends. So I still love him as a friend. My second I loved and I was devastated by his suffering from cancer and his death. But, survived and I now love myself. I have spent most of my adult life loving and caring for others so it is my turn to do the same for myself. So you ask, what is love? It is kindness, respect, caring, adoration, enjoying another person inspire of their flaws, and a plethora of other emotions. It is warmth and pleasure when a special person walks into the room. That person can be my 6 year old grand daughter or my 45 year old son. It is also the sadness when someone is no longer with us. My parents are now gone and I miss them. I loved them. My closest friend died last year and I miss her laughter and our lunches together. They were all loved. I love Shakespeare, Van Gogh and Beethoven.

    The fact that you can extend kindness to others is proof that you are a loving human being. Your kindness might be more love than MJ ever felt in her life. Love can be as simple as feeling cared about. It is all relative. I love my cat. Not like I love my children, but I certainly love my fur baby too.

    You write with such depth and compassion. You, my dear, were given the ability to love whether it was given to you or not by your father. And that is a rare gift. So much so, that others feel love in your presence, or reading your blogs. And Isn’t that what matters? Thank you so much for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lesley, apologies for taking so long to reply. It’s a combination of my wanting to be thoughtful and having a lengthy vacay.

      Thank you for your kind words. I can tell this touched you and I’m happy to share this experience with you.

      Although I understand that people can love you without saying it, I’m not so sure people can love you without action. So, I have to disagree for the converse reason MJ thought I loved her. With my father, it didn’t feel like it because there was no proof, if you will. For example, my husband and I have been married for over 20 years; however, if he never did anything to SHOW love, then I’d have to doubt that he did.

      I totally agree that there are different ways to show love and the story that you’ve shared about your son and his father is remarkable. I think the key here is what my husband calls “keeping the door open.” He often says there’s always a space for a different type of relationship, but you have to keep the space open. I’d like to add that (it sounds like) your son’s father also wanted a relationship and then acted on creating and maintaining a loving relationship with him. I think that’s what we all want, reciprocity where love grows.

      This part, “It is kindness, respect, caring, adoration, enjoying another person inspire of their flaws, and a plethora of other emotions” is so true, and I’m glad you’ve mentioned them. However, I’ve also learned that many times we might be talking about love as a noun, as opposed to love as a verb. That’s where the disconnect derives, and thus the feeling of having or not having love.

      Either way, I’m so grateful for your comment Lesley! It’s a complicated subject that takes time to discern, sometimes.

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  3. This is such a powerful narrative, Kathy. I want to gush about how awesome you are, but I know that’s not why you did it or wrote about it, so I won’t (even though you are). What this highlights is how complicated emotions and relationships can be. We can do the right thing without feeling emotionally connected. This speaks volumes about one’s character, to be able to help and support someone without loving them and without any obligation to do so. I think it really is a way for you to honor your father’s memory, despite his neglect of you. So yes, you’re amazing ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. HA! Thank you Kim! I understand what you’re saying. When I was writing it, I was thinking, ‘I hope people don’t think I’m bragging’. But I did want to describe a few things before showing why she would say this in the end. Thank you for your kind words…I’m glad you think I’m amazing 🙂

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  4. Love is “complicated”, some would say. And love can be a person, a place or a thing. I say love is a four letter word that is used and/or abused for other four letter words…like, lust, lost or need. Depending on where you are in your life, love falls into one of these areas. I discovered the best way to understand love is in the song Love by Musiq Soulchild. Listen to the words. Just listen. Listen and learn!!!! That’s it right there! Thanks, Musiq.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It can be, right? I mean sometimes I think we complicate it (myself included) with conversations like the ones I’ve raised lol and sometimes I think we complicate it because we mix up our emotions, thinking something is love when it’s really extreme like, lust, compassion, or any other thing.

      I agree that it all depends on where you are in the moment and with whom. All of that matters for sure. And I knew I could count on you for an appropriate song 😉 Thanks Cherie (and Musiq).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I didn’t ever feel like my husband “loved” me. He loved the life we had – he’d tell me he loved my cooking and he loved our big house. But I finally left because I realized how many of my needs were unfulfilled by his lack of affection and ability to really care about me.
    So your post brought up a lot for me!

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      1. It’s interesting, Katherin. I just found myself so lonely when my parents were declining. I discovered music and it brought me joy. But then I started to express feelings of hatred and frustration in a new song. I felt very guilty about it. I was married for 31 years! And then I wrote a song to help me consider changing my life by leaving. Eventually, I started to figure it out by listening to my own lyrics!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Love is a complex emotion, perceived differently by different people,.
    I’m glad you didn’t tell MJ otherwise, surgery is a stressful process and your kind actions impacted her in a positive way.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As a person who possesses a deep love for humanity, I think your actions were a result of love. The ancient Greeks have at least seven words for love: eros (sexual passion); philia (deep friendship); ludus (playful love); pragma (longstanding love); philautia (love for self); storge (parent/child love) and agape (love for everyone). You exercised agape love. Perhaps, you feel it isn’t love because it is not the deep and longstanding love you feel for family and friends you have known. But it is love. Being a good person toward others requires love. Thanks for your post…your transparency is refreshing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for adding this thought Chandra.

      I’m familiar with the different (Greek) types of love, but hadn’t thought of them in this situation. I’m willing to agree that this could be an example of love for everyone.

      And now I suppose I have a different thought. Does it matter if what I’ve expressed is agape, but what she feels is storge? I won’t be able to fully explain here, but it seems that this is when we get ourselves into “trouble” so to speak. When we’ve not understood what the other person has really shown, then we begin to tie expectations to the type of love we think is occurring.

      Feel no pressure to respond, of course, this could be rhetorical and something I’ll think about further.

      Thanks also for your kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Now, you’ve said a word! Does it matter? Definitely not in the guilt-inducing sense, but…Yes, this is certainly where the trouble begins…expectations (and impositions). Especially with the vast differences in expression between agape and storge. That’s where the discomfort comes from and when the painful conversation has to take place. Sending good thoughts your way as you work through this…

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      2. Quite coincidentally, a friend posted the following on FB today. I thought I’d share it. Maybe, this will help as you’re thinking through your conundrum.

        The “Image of God” is not a man or a woman. It is not flesh or blood. To envision it as such is egotism as we are merely creating Him in our own image.

        The image of God is Love.

        “The Four Qualities of True Love” (Thich Nhat Hanh)

        Loving-kindness (maitri) – the desire to offer happiness,

        Compassion (karuna) – the desire to remove suffering from the other person,

        Joy (mudita) – the desire to bring joy to people around you, and

        Equanimity (upeksha) – the desire to accept everything and not to discriminate. (not to be mistaken for indifference)

        The longer piece: from https://creativesystemsthinking.wordpress.com/2015/02/15/the-four-qualities-of-love-by-thich-nhat-hanh/

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  8. Yes, I think we sometimes say “love” when we mean something else. I agree that if your father didn’t stay in touch for all those years, he didn’t really love you. He may have cared for you, in his own way, but we don’t abandon those we love unless we have a really, really good reason…like our presence in their lives would be more hurtful than our absence.
    And good for you for taking care of your father’s wife. That was a very compassionate thing to do. It’s sad that she thought the only reason you could do that is if you actually loved her…makes me think that doing something just because it’s the right thing is a foreign concept to her? But in my opinion, what matters the most is that we do what we know is right, and not how others interpret our actions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this comment Ann. What you said is how I felt as well. What a dearth of love or understanding of love she must have (insert judgment here), if she jumped to this conclusion.

      I suppose I wouldn’t worry about how it’s interpreted, except I think it opens up a relationship of misinterpretation. She’s holding on to this feeling for sure.

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  9. Oooh. I get this. Your heart was in the right place, but empathy and kindness do not equal love. I get how she made the leap to love though as it sometimes appears the same. Love, like you said, is more weighted. Earned. I feel really uncomfortable when someone says they love me or thinks I love them and I don’t. Or even claims we’re friends when we’re not. Wonder how your interactions will go with her in the future.

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  10. Wow! So powerful and I appreciate your honesty. The novel I’m currently working on sums up a relationship from undergrad. I remember writing him a poem expounding on the definition of love so by Merriam Webster’s standard I “loved” him but I didn’t feel it…….

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  11. I think many get confused about the word love. Words like compassion and empathy, for example, may feel like love.but. they denote different emotions altogether. And maybe we need to be able to love in order to practice compassion and empathy but it’s not necessary. You can be a person of good moral character and not necessarily be in a state of love because your kind.to other, but it helps. But maybe that’s what love is? It has different shades for different emotions and characteristics and actions… it’s one and it’s many.

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    1. I agree JC. There a lot of ways we can feel loved, but really it’s just the person enacting some other form of care. I do think we have to have an open heart in order to practice compassion, empathy, etc., but I also don’t know if I’m splitting hairs here.

      As for what you say in the end, perhaps. Someone else mentioned the need for more than one word for love. I’m not sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Beautiful blog. To be honest it is a bit difficult to answer about love. A lot of people use the word love to openly even without knowing the person.

    We can feel compasion toward other people but it does not mean we love that person. Sometimes I pity someone and give money or other things but I do not love that person who I just met on the street begging for money.

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  13. “Love is inherently compassionate and empathic.” You have given in a loving way, and it has been perceived or received as love. Whether you see this an act of kindness or caring, what is important you made someone feel loved as you stood by them in hour of need. Thought-provoking post, Kathy.

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  14. God, Kathy, this is a great question and really love that you shared your experience so honesty. I am just looking at what love is for me right now. Do you have any inspirations?

    One thing I experience is warmth when I love. And a deep acceptance. And an experience of caring of my heart going into someone else’s heart. And taking care of myself. 🙂

    Still, whether or not you love your dad’s wife or not, I so acknowledge you for being of service. My spiritual teacher J-R has said that service is the highest form of consciousness. You are amazing.

    Love, Debbie
    ps – I just looked through the photos of us again. Will need to do a blog post that involves them!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure I have any inspirations, but at the same time I suppose life, in any form, could be an inspiration for understanding love.

      What you describe, warmth, deep acceptance, caring, and taking care of oneself seem to all be expressions of love that I agree with.

      Thanks for the kind words Debbie ❤ And Yay! I'll be looking forward to that!

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  15. Fantastic post.

    I appreciate your authenticity about the relationship with your father. It seems like you’ve done a lot of honest and healthy reflection about your father’s words verses his actions (or inactions)!

    Regarding “love”, you make a good point: “Love, on the other hand, is a little weighty and requires more than two-days worth of kind acts to develop.” That may be true, but when someone needed help you certainly stepped up in a loving way.

    Thanks again for the thought-provoking post!

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  16. I just loved loved this post… you are such a sweet person and people around you must be lucky to have someone like you… you write so well that even for a second I didn’t feel distracted while reading your post… I am glad to be Connected with your blog and in that way..with you.😊

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  17. i understand this so much. I rarely ever use the word love because so many people have taken the weight of it and made it what it is not. a lot of people use the word but mean other things. this is support on and it’s wonderful why you and Desi did!

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  18. Hard agree. I use “love” mostly for my mom and daughter and close friends, sometimes for my stepdad (who I do love, but because of our relationship, it’s hard for me to admit).

    Also, my biological father always says he loves me, but nothing in his actions show it, so I can relate.

    Your acts made her feel loved. I don’t think it matters to her how you feel about it or what you would call it. And some of us probably don’t feel cared for at all so that when someone does perform acts of service or kindness, we call it love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. These are good (personal) examples Akilah. Thanks for sharing them here. I know you’re right…it doesn’t matter how I feel about it lol And that last sentence is true for a lot of people, so that when someone does something nice/caring, it’s perceived as love, instead of just loving. Human nature is very interesting.

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  19. I would have to agree in terms of showing love, but nonetheless I’m sorry about your father and how that would have made you feel. For you to travel with Desi for so many hours to be with his wife, to offer support and do so much, is incredible and really shows the amazing woman that you are. You’re right in making that distinction between love and, well, just being a decent human being. You do it because you care, because you want to help someone in need. With the question you asked about love and what it means…. I do think it’s used very off-handedly and very casually, but to me love is deeper than that. It involves a connection. I also see a difference between loving someone (with great compassion, as you would a family member or a very close friend, for instance) and being in love (romantically, with butterflies and the works). Then there’s compassion, which could be a form of love, just at a different point on the spectrum. Fascinating post! Caz xx

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    1. Thank you Caz! That’s really how I see it, “being a decent human being.” I think that’s the word I was missing, connection. I’m glad you’ve mentioned that because that’s what I lacked with my father, which is why it didn’t feel like love, and also what I lack with her, which is why I know it’s not love. Thanks for adding that part.

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  20. I have always wished we had as many meanings for the word love as eskimos have for the word snow.
    There are just so many kinds of love. Since trust comes hard for me I dont use the word love without restraint but I do use the word love in many different ways.
    LOL, if that thats any sense. I think it makes more sense in my mind. See, we need more words for love. 😀

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  21. I choose to love everyone, but the level of deepness, intensity, of that love makes me choose to act upon that love, react out of love. Or not. For some I love, I would jump to fire, others I would not even respond too. Not because I don’t love those, but I choose to love myself more.
    Maybe, yes, maybe there is a difference to make between love, care, kindness, compassion. In that case I would agree with Reena and you. Hm. Food for thought, haha

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  22. Yes! Having compassion and caring is for everyone. And I suppose an act of love can be for everyone too. But to love an individual is different and requires more time commitment and thought I think. It’s complicated, isn’t it ♥

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  23. I’ve learned not to use the word love all willy billy. It means a lot in so many different ways to different people. I agree with you acts of kindness do not equate to me “loving” you; acts of kindness are just that acts of kindness from a loving person. #goodhearts

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