“Fathers and teachers, I ponder, “What is hell?” I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.”
—Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
I agree with Dostoevsky, but for that to mean anything, we’ll need to work out what we mean by Love.
The word is wildly overused. I love pastrami, and I love Star Trek, and I love Genesis, and I love To Kill a Mockingbird. But, I think what I really mean when I say those things is that I have a strong preference for them. I’m not saying that I would put the needs of any of those inanimate objects above my own. I’m not willing to die to protect my sandwich.
When I love a person, I mean that I am willing to put their needs above my own. How much I love them determines how far I will go. There are people for whom I would die, without hesitation, if the situation required it. There are people with whom I’ll share my last cigarette. There are people I will turn down, even for that small request.
I wrote earlier that in some ways I like to think I love all people, but not in a way that is likely to change my behavior very deeply. For that to be affected, they have to have secured themselves a place deep in my heart. And, more people than I had thought have done so.
Being in love is, again, something entirely different. I’m not in love with the vast majority of the people I love. For me, being in love requires an element of desire. Yes, a part of it is sexual, but mostly it’s having “grown accustomed to her face.” It’s the feeling of needing her presence in my life in order to be content. It’s the Joy of believing somewhere, somehow, she’s thinking of me. It’s the happiness I feel whenever I think of her. I miss being in love. Valerie Bertinelli notwithstanding, I’m not entirely sure I ever will be again. I joke often about being in love with her, but, honestly, I’ve met her only once, for just over 30 seconds. That’s hardly enough to call being in love.
But, what would life be without the ability to love at all? If I can never see or feel for anyone beyond myself, that would severely limit my ability to feel at all. And, for as much as I worship at the Vulcan Altar of Logic, I believe we all exist to experience feelings. I believe Love to be the first emotion we ever feel. It’s usually to and from our parents. And from there, it expands. We meet people, and we learn to love them. And when we do, our lives are enriched. There is more reason to continue to live, just for the chance to love and be loved one more time.
I don’t try to limit my love. I always hope to expand it. I love my dog. I’ve learned to love the cats with whom I live, but mostly because they forced me to do that by showing me love. When a cat cuddles you as your dog becomes too old to do it, there’s a wonderful feeling of being special, being important. It’s a feeling that you matter.
You matter to me. What does that mean? It means I think about you from time to time. It means I want your life to go the way you want it to go. It means I’m probably willing to make efforts, within my pathetically small abilities, to help you reach those goals. It means that I gain satisfaction from your happiness.
If I couldn’t feel those things, life would, I’m convinced, be Hell.