We all have that fear: that one day we will wake up, forty years older than we are now; on our death bed – wracked with the utter regret over what we have not done in life. No more time to go back; yet, so many things we would have wanted to do. For some of us, it is the fear that we will not have been as successful as we would have liked; for some it is that we will have not traveled to a place or done something specific; for others it is the fear that we will have been too successful and lost out on so many other experiences life has to offer as a result. Fundamentally, the regrets we fear the most are different for each and every one of us, but universally that such a fear is there is undeniable.
And so out of this fear we act. In many senses it is what drives us to do the things we do with our lives. There is that old adage: “if I died today, what would people say about me at my funeral?” Was I a caring, loving person? Or was I more successful and accomplished than anyone else in my age and social strata? Would there be five hundred people in attendance at my funeral; or would it be only the grave digger and a witness?
And so out of this fear we act.
One such action we take is to love – be it another, ourselves, or materials. In the action of love we think we will have no regrets at the end of our lives; for in acting out of passion, we should be content. This could not be any further from the truth, though.
In the Sunday paper for decades, now, there has run a cute, little comic called “Love is…” It includes a sketchy cartoon of a couple (obviously in love), and a saying of something material that signifies what love is. “Love is a walk in the park on a rainy day under a shared umbrella.” “Love is saving for a vacation to the other side of the world.” “Love is looking into each other’s eyes.” And so on…
Traditionally, when one says they are “in love,” this is what is being pointed to. They have found that special-someone to spend their lives with; or however long the feeling can sustain itself. For them, love really is walking in the park under the same umbrella, or saving for a special vacation. Thus, the first problem that arises out of this “Love is…”-view of living is that to set oneself up with such an expectation is to (statistically) set oneself up for failure. For in defining love in this way, we necessarily pit ourselves against one another to give us the love we need. Love has to be about the “Love is…” cartoons – it has to be about the walks on the beach, the strolls in the park, and the saving for a couple’s cruise. If it is not, then we do not have the love we are looking for.
But this is a dangerous prospect, for in defining our love by another, we become dependent on them. This is further why the other mainstream idea of love is just another set up for failure. For the other mainstream love – the “love of the game” – again attaches the lover to something material which then makes happiness contingent on that thing being there. Thus, when someone is so in love with a career, a job, a place (any material thing); once that thing passes (as all things do), the lover is thrown into a state of despair. The thing that defined them no longer exists.
To suggest that either of these things is not love is also absurd, though – for as a quintessential part of the human experience, we must have the love of others and the love of things to survive. It is the way our society is set up – and only in participating in society can we practically survive in the “real world.” But, this is then paradoxical. For in the same breath I have stated that first we must not love by societal standards; but must also love in such a way. We must love others and value the “Love is…” cartoons of the real world; just as we must take pride and love in things we do and enjoy.
So it must be, then, that to define your love by these things is where problem arises. To say “Love is…” and then list a gamut of things – all material, all fleeting; is categorically wrong. These things may be a consequence of love, but they are most certainly not Love Itself. To do this – to define who we are by the things we love to do or be with, we then lose a balance. To be more specific, placing a label on our selves (“I am an accountant”) or on our feelings (“Love is a romantic dinner”), we lose the special, ethereal nature of real love. Thus, love is… not a “Love is…” The only fear we should have then, is that on our death beds we will regret having not truly known Love.