Years ago I attended a small college nestled in the towering, blue-tinted mountains of North Carolina. Every afternoon after class I joined my peers at a local hamburger joint in a modest brick building, where I forgot about such weighty matters as the American dream seen through the eyes of Clyde Griffiths in Theodore Dreiser’s AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY. But at the beginning of fall semester my senior year I met a guy. I’ll call him Joe. Each day when I let go of my books and settled into sipping my Coca-Cola, Joe sat down, put his elbows on the bright yellow table and made an off-the-wall statement, such as, “I bet you can’t prove to me that God exists.”
My muscles would tense, but I’d set aside my soft drink, turn away from my friends who chatted about the next fraternity party and try to say something to convince him there was a God. A member of my philosophy class, he claimed everything could be explained by science and bombarded me with reasons why there could be no God. Looking back on the situation, I suppose he could have been reaching out. But then, I felt harassed, so after a couple weeks of his needling I put some thought into ending it.
The next day when he sat down across from me at the overcrowded booth, I waited for him to stop his insults on God long enough to take a breath. Then I said, “Well, if there were no God there would be no love, because all things good, including love come from God. If scientists could create love, they already would have mixed up a batch to bring out whenever needed.” He left and never sat down with me again.
Many years later I read an article stating that a scientist had proven that chemicals in the brain produce love. I wondered if it was Joe. Even if it was, he still hasn’t isolated the elements and concocted a bunch of it. So the centuries old question remains. What is the source of the sought after emotion that exists in so many forms that sometimes touches our lives in extraordinary ways?
Recently, an email circulated telling the story of an elderly man who went to an emergency room to get stitches for a cut. While he was there the nurse asked about his wife. He explained that she had dementia and hadn’t recognized him in several years.
When the nurse finished bandaging his wound she asked, “What will you do the rest of the day?”
“As soon as I leave here I’m going to see my wife.”
The nurse looked at him with shocked blue eyes. “But, she doesn’t even know who you are?”
The old man tapped the nurse lightly on the arm and said, “I know who she is.”
Then there’s the passion that captures lovers as described by Elizabeth Barrett Browning in “Sonnets from the Portuguese.”
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,
I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!--and if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.”
Those who study the Bible probably have read that Jesus came to bring a gospel of love. He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 37 - 40).
In “Paradise Lost” John Milton said:
“Freely we serve,
Because we freely love, as in our will
To love or not; in this we stand or fall.”
During the Christmas season this year we had unseasonably frigid weather in Georgia. A lover of warm, tropical breezes, I hardly could stand to walk out of the mall to the car. Yet, every time I did I strolled past the man shivering in a red jacket, standing beside a red bucket anchored in a three-pronged frame, each breath he took frosty white. Some folks brushed past him as though they didn’t notice him while others nodded or greeted him with a friendly, “hi.” A few pulled out a dollar, a five or a ten and put it in the bucket to help the less fortunate. Dressed in clothing suitable for a southern climate, he must have wished for a long, heavy overcoat. But he remained there in the red jacket in semi-darkness in the cold.
However, when I think of love I remember my mother, who had so much of it she must have known where it comes from. Once a member in our family accused my mother of loving the rest of us more than her. Mother assured her that wasn’t true. Then she said, “There’s plenty for everyone. It doesn’t run out like tea you pour from a pitcher.” If there’s an abundant supply it’s up to me to choose love.
I Corinthians 13: 13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”