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.

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