That, Thomas Merton suggests, is the model of love that has predominated in our culture.  I have needs, you have needs, let’s make a deal.  We put ourselves on the market until the deal is made.  Then, even once the deal is made, there is often still an eye out for a better deal. 

Mary Ann taught me what it means to love someone.  That is one of the gifts we received through the addition of Parkinson’s to our family circle.  Of course we would never have chosen the Parkinson’s as the textbook, but we were grateful for the learning.  The feelings that drew us together were intense and exciting and overwhelming, at least to me — I cannot speak for Mary Ann.  They are not what constitute love.  The feelings that first draw us to the one we love we are convinced are pure and selfless.  We would do anything for her/him.  Like it or not, those feelings are about us, me.  We love the feelings we have when we are first in love.  We are in love with love. 

The truth is, those feelings are the way God has wired us so that we will be drawn to one another.  They help create the setting in which love can grow.  Love is not a deal in which we get what we need or want.  Merton says: “But the plain truth is this: love is not a matter of getting what you want.  Quite the contrary.  The insistence on always having what you want, on always being satisfied on always being fulfilled, makes love impossible.  To love you have to climb out of the cradle, where everyting is “getting,” and grow up to the maturity of giving, without concern for getting anything special in return  Love is not a deal, it is a sacrifice. 

As feisty as Mary Ann was, as strong-willed, she understood how to give the kind of love that involves some self-sacrifice.  It took the challenges created by the Parkinson’s to teach me how to give love meaningfully.  It is very easy to fall into the illusion that a gesture at a birthday or anniversary or Valentine’s Day is what love is about, saying I love you every once in a while is enough.  We are expressing the feelings we have for the one we love.  Love certainly includes feelings, but the feelings are not the love.  They are part of what drives it.  They are a natural consequence of love lived.  It is the doing of love, the living of love, acts of love that nurture the feelings, not the other way around. 

In our toughest times, demanding her willingness to allow me into the most basic and personal dimensions of her daily living and my willingness to do whatever was needed, we grew the closest, the love grew the most.  We didn’t just talk about it, or make lovely and romantic gestures as if that was the substance of our love, we did it.  When I helped her off the bed into the wheelchair, there might be a lingering embrace as we moved in tandem.  We were by no means always sweet and tender with one another.  We were real people, ordinary people, flawed people, making the best of a bad situation.  I learned the most because I had the farthest to travel to learn it.  But I did learn how to love, really love.  Mary Ann and the Parkinson’s taught me.  I am so sorry she had to suffer through the onslaught of the Parkinson’s.  I am not sorry for the gift we received, a love far beyond anything we could have imagined 48 years ago when we first fell in love and over 44 years ago when we promised to love one another until death would part us. 

Merton again: “When people are truly in love, they experience far more than just a mutual need for each other’s company and consolation.  In their relation with each other they become different people:  they are more than their everyday selves, more alive, more understanding, more enduring, and seemingly more endowed.  They are made over into new beings.  They are transformed by the power of their love.”

It is that kind of love that God is.  God is the source, the Cross is the delivery system, our circumstances are simply the setting.

Advertisements