Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Understanding the Meaning of Love

Today I worked at one of my part time jobs. This one has some built in downtime and we are to bring a quiet activity. I brought a book, and I brought an essay to work on. I thought I would try to write an essay for a contest. I didn't think I would win it, this is one that attracts literally thousands of entrants. I thought it would be good practice for me, and because it has a big prize ($3,000) and lots of competition, I would try my best. Then I pulled it out, and looked at the title. "When did you first understand the meaning of love?"
I used up all my first bit of downtime thinking about that question. Not making notes or working on a mind map. Just thinking. Back to work. Next downtime. Had to re-read the question. So, when DID I first understand the meaning of love? Well, what IS the meaning of love? I didn't have access to anything except my own brain at the time, so I pondered. I thought about my first experience of love and assumed that must have been my parents. The problem is I don't think my mom actually loved me. So forget that. My dad loved me. But my dad died when I was seven years old. Did I understand the meaning of love by then? I don't think so, because at that time I think I believed my mom loved me. Although it wasn't long until I understood that she did not.
So then I thought about my own children and how I love them and when I loved them and I just feel like such a bad mother myself that I couldn't think what to write about that. I thought about people I have professed to love and all I can do is wonder: do I understand the meaning of love? I know what unconditional love is when I am on the receiving end: my cat gives it to me. My babies gave it to me until they had been hurt enough times not to trust people any more, to be wary of giving love without condition. I didn't abuse my kids, I don't mean that. But I yelled at them, I withheld love from them, I ignored them when I could have been loving and kind. They felt hurt, ignored, unloved.
And what's the use of thinking about people I've been "in love" with? It was never unconditional, it always changed.
So, what is love anyway? When I say I love someone what do I mean? I love my daughter probably more than anyone in the world. Today that means I would do anything in the world for her. I would die for her. And yet she is also the person I have caused the most hurt. I can't change that, but I would if I could. I love my grandchildren, my sister, my son, my friends, even my mom.
When I say I love you, it means something. I'm not always sure what. I think we've established that it doesn't mean I'll always live near you. For some of the people I love it does mean that I will do anything for you, give you anything I have. Those are a precious few. For everyone else, I'm still exploring the meaning of love. I'm open to discussion.