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As an antidote to these depressing times, let me tell you a couple stories of love I encountered lately. First, as I define it, love is an action verb—much deeper than pretty words. Many people portion out their love to particular “worthy” subjects—spouses, family members, and like-minded friends. But I believe love lives best when it’s left to grow wild—attaching itself wherever it will—dogs, elephants, someone else’s children, people in the grocery store, sunsets—anywhere. Love cohabitates with gratitude, because once you set love free, you can’t help feeling thankful for the beauty you begin to notice beneath surfaces you once ignored or criticized.
My first story of love comes from an interview I conducted with Ric Lassiter, a local man who spends his days creating homes from his imagination and skill. He told me of early days with his wife Sue when they lived in his first building project, a dome house with no running water or electricity. No matter. The home was theirs, designed precisely as they wanted it. They purchased a secondhand woodstove so Sue could cook a turkey. After Ric extracted the wishbone, he asked Sue if she wanted to make a wish. She declined because she couldn’t think of anything she wanted. So they saved the bone for a time when they would have a worthy wish. Flash forward for over 40 years: they added spaces onto the house to admit more sunshine and to accommodate their family and they installed solar energy, but the house is essentially the same. They spend their days doing whatever makes them feel happy and fulfilled. Their collection of wishbones has grown. They’re still waiting for a sufficient need to arise before they use a wish. Love for each other, their family, their community, their home, and their life has evolved into gratitude and gratitude has made them content.
My second story of love is less conventional and comes from the film TO DUST starring Matthew Broderick and Géza Röhrig. The lead character is a Hasidic Jewish cantor who has just lost his beloved wife. He goes to a community college professor for help. At first, the private spiritual revival world of Hasidic Jews presents a challenge for both Broderick as the professor and viewers who haven’t had exposure to the strict rules of the sect. I once worked with a woman who came from living in a Hasidic foster home, so I had a fragmentary introduction. I knew those in the group feel no compulsion to explain themselves to outsiders, because they’re confident in their interpretation of God’s will.
The cantor in the film is distressed to the point of being obsessed, because he has been taught a small part of the soul remains in the body until the corpse has been fully absorbed into the earth—a process that takes time when the body is buried in both a shroud and a pine box. He cannot help fearing that his wife’s soul is suffering, waiting for the biological processes to do their work before she can move on to her reward. So he contacts a biology professor to help him hurry the process along. He’s willing to risk sinning to do what he can for his beloved.
We love others out of a wellspring of self-love or zest for life we yearn to share, even if we must make small sacrifices to do so. Love cannot be selfish or it isn’t love.