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Love Is A Uniquely Human Thing

February 14, 2013  |  By Heidi Romans Nelson, CEO, Duffy Health Center

I found this article interesting. It was written by Eugene Kennedy on Valentine's Day in 1990. The article comes from a recent post in the Chicago Tribune.

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February 14, 1990  |  By Eugene Kennedy

"Earth's the right place for love," wrote poet Robert Frost. "I don't know where it's likely to go better."

These are lines worth recalling on Valentine's Day in a world in which we are reminded many times each day of the worst possibilities of human nature. Indeed, love is something as near to right about imperfect men and women as we are ever going to find. Love is a powerful mystery because it co-exists with and triumphs over so much that is wrong with us.

In the ever renewed debate about what quality distinguishes us from other living beings, one might cast a bittersweet vote for love as the capacity that finally marks us as human.

"America," a foreign visitor observed many years ago, "is the only country in which love is a national problem." Indeed, Americans are natural Utopians and remain ever hopeful that they can find perfect and easy solutions to everything from dieting to salvation. Huge self-help industries rise like dream castles on the foundations of such optimism. Zelda Fitzgerald claimed that she was a real American because she believed you could learn to play the piano by mail.

The statistics on the frequency of divorce are often thought to mean that the ideals of love and marriage are disintegrating. In fact, the figures suggest something very different about Americans. We want love and marriage to succeed. We suffer the often intractable pains of divorce not to abandon love and marriage but to pursue and combine them more successfully in another relationship. There are no greater supporters of the institution of marriage than Americans.

But, as with many other commonplace but essential structures on which we feel we can force perfection, such as the postal service and the telephone system, we often do more harm than good. We have such high expectations of love that we are badly hurt when it disappoints us. We are constantly rediscovering the truth that love cannot be separated from the beautiful but necessarily flawed fabric of existence. "Marriages may be made in heaven," Ann Landers observed, "but the maintenance work is done down here on earth." Saint Valentine's Day celebrates romantic love, that secret spring from which flows the energy and magic of everyday life. It provides an opportunity to remember that love, sought in a perfect state, is actually found only between imperfect human beings. Love abhors perfection as nature does a vacuum. Its majesty and meaning come to life only in homely circumstances often when people least expect its arrival. Love is, in fact, our potent response to the intrinsic lack of perfection in our personalities and our circumstances. There would be no need for love if we were capable of perfection, no need for the response that knits together the ragged margins of existence and closes the gaps that would otherwise be unbridgeable between us. Love exists only because loneliness exists, only because we can harm and misunderstand each other, and because the alternatives of self-absorption and isolation are also real.

What would be the meaning of love if we could never fail in our attention and concern? It would be as empty of meaning and power as truth would be if we could not lie, or trust if we could not be unfaithful. What could virtue mean if we could not sin? Love allows us to transcend our worst possibilities, to make something of ourselves and, despite our faults, to reach others across the chasms that can open like the fractured earth beneath our feet. When we stop trying to get love down perfectly and expose ourselves to the possible hurts of drawing close to somebody else, we break free of narcissism and are born again into the faulted glory of being human.
 
Love is not the prize of those who over-value the surfaces of life. Indeed, fashion models, celebrities, rock and movie stars have enormous difficulties making enough room for anybody else in the cold spotlight in which they love to stand. Ordinary people with their faults thick upon them-those who will never even be famous for 10 minutes-are good at love.

This feast in the middle of February allows us to take a fresh look at these armies of the uncelebrated, those who have learned that love comes into life only when we stop trying to manipulate it, claim it as a reward, or think that it exists by itself without endless sacrifice, forgiveness and daily hard work.

Still, one may protest, the great crowds that shoulder past us seem anonymous, sunk in themselves, symptoms of the anonymity of modern living. That interpretation of ordinary human beings collapses, however, if we can observe them in the right angle of light. Step off a plane, for example, and study the faces of young and old gathered in the beige airport hallways to welcome or to say goodbye to those they love. The great realities of love-those of separation and reunion, of hope and expectation, of concern and care-are writ large in very unself-conscious expression. It is no longer a milling crowd of strangers but a serendipitous family whose common humanity can be seen and felt by those who take the time to do so.

Better still, enter a greeting card store at almost any time of the year. There, the people who a minute before seemed blank figures in a cold urban landscape are transformed as, hardly aware of each other, they concentrate on choosing just the right card for someone they love. These men and women are indeed so lost in thoughts of their beloved spouses, children or friends that we can see them with their defenses down, see them as they really are.

This angle offers a transcendent view of the human race. Each person is smiling, his or her otherwise plain features lighted from within. These strangers with their hearts laid artlessly bare seem poignantly beautiful at such a moment of revelation. One can read the ordinary dramas of their lives in these remarkable expressions. Nobody knows the troubles they've seen but they can't hide the love that got them through, either. Earth's the right place, the only place for the love that is the abiding wonder, source of hope and the most reassuring sign of our common humanity.