Does love even have a ‘meaning’? I used to think it meant being attracted to someone or something. But then I learnt that it goes far beyond just attraction.
“Love exists in things, it exists in plants, it exists in nature; not just in people and not just in romance.”
-Mia Hansson, in a TEDx talk
Leonard Scovens was an unhappy man. A terrible childhood had turned him into a young man with rage and bitterness in his heart.
As a result of his childhood experiences, he had developed a distorted idea of love. He associated it with hurt, and he measured love by how much pain a person would take from him.
This warped perception eventually led him to commit a horrific crime. In his own words, it was “the worst kind of murder a man can do”.
One fateful day, Leonard killed his girlfriend and her 6-year-old son. He was arrested and sentenced to prison for the rest of his natural life.
Justice, you might say. But that’s not the end of the story.
Finding the meaning of love
Agnes Furey, the mother and grandmother of Leonard’s victims was searching for her own resolution. Numb with grief, she struggled to understand what had happened. After much soul-searching, she took an incredibly loving decision: she made up her mind to reach out to Leonard.
By rights, Agnes should have hated Leonard; nobody could have blamed her for it. But she didn’t. That was the beginning of a relationship that had results that were almost miraculous. Because through it, Leonard learned what love really is.
Agnes saw past his condition, past his actions and his imprisonment. Through the journey they took together, Leonard found healing. He began to understand what love is and what it can do. He was transformed from just another hardened convict to a sensitive human being.
Together, he and Agnes chronicled their journey in a book, “Wild Flowers in the Median”. He became an award-winning essayist and author. With Agnes, he co-founded “Achieving Higher Ground”, a non-profit that provides restorative justice in Florida, and set up a series of workshops called the “Higher Ground” workshops.
That is what love can do; that is the meaning of love.
What is love, really?
Love is more than a feeling, though that can be part of it. The word love is, as Stephen Covey says, a verb. So love is not just an emotion, it is an action. This is what makes it so powerful: you can choose to love. Even if you dislike the object of your love, you can choose to act lovingly, and that makes all the difference. It can change what happens, and it can change people. It can change the world. It is enormously powerful.
Acts of love resound through the generations and the ages. Great writers have portrayed the immeasurable effects that an act of love can produce. A tremendous example is the Bishop’s gift of his candlesticks to Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.
All the other kinds of love that we know are expressions of this great power that we each have. A man’s feeling for his sweetheart, a parent’s love for her child, your love for your pet or for life of all kinds in all its forms—even the love of abstract things such as a love of mathematics or music—these are all reflections of the “kelson of creation” that Walt Whitman talks about in Song of Myself.
What then is the meaning of love?
The secret to understanding love is in the word ‘verb’. Love is an action more than a feeling. An action intended to benefit another person is a loving action.
M. Scott Peck puts it best, in ‘The Road Less Travelled’:
“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”
How does this make things any different?
The difference this makes is first of all in ourselves. When I first realized that love is a matter of choice, it transformed my whole view of the world. I understood the difference between liking and loving, and that you can love even someone you dislike intensely.
I learned to love myself – to do things that were good for me, but that I didn’t like to do. For example, giving up smoking was something which at one level, I certainly didn’t want to do, because I had learnt to enjoy it immensely. But at another level, I loved myself and my family enough to keep trying to stop, until, five years ago, I finally succeeded.
Learning to love in this way guides us to live our lives fully, effectively, and fruitfully.
In the end, that is the meaning of love.
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