Valentine’s Day; that ancient holiday responsible for creating knot’s in a 6th grader’s stomach. There we sat; just back from lunch where we mentally digested morning geography images of half-naked tribal Africans drumming and dancing during their version of a Bar Mitzvah. Now we prepared to endure California mandated coed sex education classes. But first – we shared the contents of our Valentine’s bags classmates “filled” earlier that morning. This was supposed to show us how much we were loved. Some were more filled than others. None of us had any idea what love was.
Fast forward 6 years to 12th grade. Thankfully (except for that one girl who passed me that note saying she wanted to hold hands, and we never got to) we moved to other side of LA County and I escaped the embarrassing stigma of pubescent sexual awkwardness. I healed from the eroticism of those mandated classes and figured the important parts out on my own. Now I was learning something better; Romanticism; behavioral AND literary. My English Teacher introduced me to Charles Dickens and I fell in love with Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities. Romantic, morbid, morose and fantastic; just what a 17-year-old love-crazy boy needed! I still had no idea what love was, but Dickens’ character Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities showed me a new example of love; sacrifice for the good of another.
Carton’s love was unrequited, yet he gave everything to express his love in a way that eternally benefited his beloved. That was completely counter to my teenage, hormone induced way of thinking. We learned about hedonism and narcissism in Psychology class, but we never learned about asceticism. I’m not saying Carton didn’t have desire for Lucie Mannette. But, he knew he couldn’t be the man she needed or deserved. To express his love for Lucie, Sydney pledged to give his life to save the lives of those he loved. My mind was blown. You’ll have to read the book.
A few years later I studied psychology in college. I joined a Bible study with some students and learned bout phileo and agape love. Now I understood Sydney Carton more fully. Carton knew more about love than I did. I had always been motivated by “what’s in it for me” and was afraid of finding nothing in it for me. There was my “ah ha” moment. Fear is selfish. Love – real love – is selfless. Perfect love casts out fear. Perfect love is unconditional; a gift that may not give back. The thing is, that kind of love IS attractive. Why? Because sometimes we fear showing love because we’re afraid showing love will demand something of us.
But, what if we find a kind of love that demands nothing from us except to accept and embrace it? Love like that of a missionary; expecting to get nothing; living to give everything for the good of another? Love like that of Sydney Carton. Love like that Saint Teresa? Love like that of Jesus? “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Like the 1984 Foreigner song, I want to know what love is – that perfect life of love. Do you? Check your love tank. How’s your love life?
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