What is Love?

If anything, it’s undefinable. And I hope it remains so. Yet I’m always so surprised to come into contact with people who see it, somehow, as small. A thing for Disney movies and incurable romantics and – I don’t know – puppies? A thing those of us too naïve or soft to know any better turn to when we should be batting down the hatches or sharpening our knives and white-knuckling our guns or putting huge walls up between ourselves and our neighbors.

Because in this worldview, love and its particulars are for those who are too small to stand up and fight, who remain intentionally – and foolishly – too soft to match blow for blow, strike for strike, insult for insult, hate for hate. Yet while I’d be the first to admit that hate and fear and anger are loud and violent and hard to ignore, to feed and fuel and invest in them as if they are the most powerful and lasting contributions of humanity is no different than voting for a schoolyard bully as most likely to succeed.

I don’t mean to draw too much attention to the size of love, as it’s unquantifiable by almost anyone’s standards, but I do want to emphasize its pervasiveness, and its complexity. I wouldn’t have written an entire book about love stories if I could explain that theory in a few lines, but it does seem that the sheer bravery and strength and isolating thrills of love are undermined in our collective conversations. All stores ARE love stories, not because all stories are about our deepest, most fulfilling connections, but because of how, no matter what, we continue to seek those connections, or feel their absence, or define ourselves against their lack.

Love drives us all, whether we want it to or not, and yet so few of us want to admit to it. But this is because we try to define it too narrowly, too simply, when it truth it underscores the best and the worst in all of us. Those who do not feel it experience unimaginable isolation; those who are deprived of it feel forever incomplete; those who are hurt by it grow hard against it or develop callouses of the heart that make it strange and strong. We are driven to connect to one another, and to claim otherwise or try to diminish the light in this truth is an exercise in futility, a practice in denying the undeniable.

What happened in Orlando this week has sent millions of love stories into the ether, like so many sparks of light after an explosion. Stories of the terrifying risks of love, of the anguish of love ripped too cruelly and too soon, stories of those who fear it more than murder. Yet all of these fall away in the midst of stories of the sheer strength it takes for most of us to love, to stay open and affective while navigating a national crisis of violence and finger pointing and social desperation. It is astonishing to think that some consider love to be weakness, a deliberate pulling of the wool over one’s eyes, when it is the truth-fearing coward’s way out to shut down and calcify, to court toughness when our bodies and spirits are unchangeably mortal and dependent and fluid and short.

When we really look at love, there is as much sadness as there is joy to its stories, but to feel that sadness is to feel the entirety of love, to know that to lose or shun or deny it is to suffer, and that to welcome and allow for its imperfect allowances is step into our collective inheritance as we might step out of shadow into light.

Reclaiming Summer!

I’m writing this from my favorite spot on earth – Cape Ann, Massachusetts. It’s a little spit of land off the north coast of the state, and it’s all light and ocean and old houses and visits from nearly forgotten but essential ghosts of myself. We spent almost every summer up here when I was a child, and at every turn I can catch a glimpse of my younger self at the other end of the beach, or in the light dappled shadows of the trees, or further down the dense forest paths where the wild blueberries can be found. And the most wonderful thing about all this is that when I look around, I see that my ghosts aren’t alone.

For example, have you ever noticed how the beach is a great equalizer? People of all ages wander the sand looking for shells and sea glass, or squeal when they put their toes in the Atlantic in June, or lie on beach towels and chat for hours while they bury their hands in the sand.

In four days, it will officially be summer. I know, I know. You have work to do, a full schedule, a demanding life. But isn’t it true that everything in the world has a counterpart, that all actions have equal and opposite reactions? One of our biggest faults as a society is that we tend to convince ourselves that, in all our greatness, the laws of the physical and natural universe will probably just bend on our behalf. We don’t really need all that much sleep. Or to feed ourselves well. Or soften and be vulnerable. We’re too busy working and doing and earning to think of such trivialities.

That is, until we get sick, or burn out, or get divorced, or lose our jobs and think our lives are over if we can’t earn as much money as we once did. Sooner or later, the balance we haven’t cultivated is going to come crashing down on us like so many spiritual and/or metaphysical bricks.

So how’d I get from beach days and childhood to such a sobering reminder? I’m so sorry, but you made me do it. Because the beauty isn’t enough, is it? The gentle call from within you — the one that already asked you to schedule a beach day approximately six trillion times since the last frost – keeps getting told it can wait. Even though we all know it can’t. Just because your work voice is a bully doesn’t mean it’s right. In fact, the loudest and bossiest among us are usually the most exhausted and cranky.

So how’s your wandering calendar? Have you scheduled any Not Work? Maybe you can circle June 21st on your calendar. Draw a star by it, or outline it in every pen color you can find, or just mark it with something else totally ridiculous to remind the hidden, quieter parts of yourself that you’re going to make it OK for them to come out of hiding. You’re going to make some space for them to breathe. You might even find a way to let them run around a bit and stretch their legs. Maybe even play.

And the great part of all this is that you can justify it to the most sober and serious and responsible parts of you. Because even they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that a life of work produces nothing. That distress and disease and discomfort and disappointment don’t make you into some kind of noble work martyr. They just martyr your work. The real saints among us – and most of the creative and productive and accomplished people I admire – radiate joy. Aren’t you ready to join them? Aren’t you ready to be whole again?