8.01.2012

what is it about love?

I was looking my dogs, thinking about how each came into our lives. How one day a dog is living in a shelter, and that's its pack and its life, and then one day it is put in a car and taken somewhere else, and now it has a new family, and a new life.

The dog loves its new people and its new packmates, because that's what dogs do. That's what it's programmed to do, so to speak. That's its dog way of being. Even if the dog is stressed from the huge change, or depressed over the loss of its old family, after a period of adjustment, the dog will grow to love its new pack with the same loyal, intense dog-love, because that's what dogs do.

And for us, the day we bring the dog home, we're excited and we like the new dog, and we anticipate is life with us. But the longer the dog lives in our home, the longer we take care of the dog, the longer it depends on us, the deeper the bond becomes, and the more we love the dog. Because, I think, that's what humans do.

I like all animals, especially all dogs, but when I look at my own dogs, I feel a unique and profound love. And if another dog were to appear in my home, and it depended on me and I took care of it, I would eventually feel a deep and special love for that dog, too. One day a dog is just a dog, and another day, it's part of your family and part of your heart.

And that's the way it is with people, too.

How do we love, where does love come from?

People talk about "maternal instinct," the drive of a mother to love her children. I don't doubt that a mother's love for her biological child can be a unique force. We've only to check YouTube for all those animal mothers nurturing orphaned babies of other species to see how that works.

But that's a partial explanation at best. "Maternal instinct" doesn't explain a father's love, or the love of adoptive parents for their children. Or how I took a job as a nanny, and grew to love the boy in my care, how he came to be part of my heart's family. Or why I love my dogs.

We could say it's caring for another being that forges that special bond - but that, too, would be but a partial explanation. It wouldn't explain the protective love of a young child for its new infant sibling. Or my love for my nieces and nephews. Or, for that matter, our love for our partners.

It's a mysterious force - so powerful, intrinsic to us, and beyond our control.

On the one hand, love keeps replenishing itself: the more you give away, the more you have. The more you love, the more you can love. There's limitless room for love in our hearts.

And on the other hand, the more we love, the more potential there is for loss, and for pain. The loss can be devastating. But knowing that, most of us continue to love and to seek love. Those who don't - people who try to avoid love, in order to avoid pain - are seldom happy.

I recently finished reading this excellent book, the literary zombie novel. In the end, I saw the whole story as a search for human connection, the human's relentless search for love. In a world filled with misery and death, with the knowledge that whoever he connects with will soon die or disappear, our hero keeps searching. He keeps telling himself he's through, that he wants nothing further to do with other people, yet he continues to make those connections, in spite of himself. He can't help it. It's what humans do. I can't rightly call this a metaphor for life: more like a simple description.

When I was a teenager, and avidly collected quotes and sayings that felt profound to me, I loved the poetry of Kahlil Gibran. All these years later, I re-read The Prophet and the verses still speak to me.
When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.


Kahlil Gibran, from The Prophet, On Love

3 comments:

johngoldfine said...

I like very much your run into prose poetry here.

But my experience is different--and that's probably my loss. Some dogs I love (and I've loved many different dogs and many breeds of dogs and many differing personalities of dogs); some dogs I like; some dogs, frankly, I do not like and never did, as long as they lived with us, which in one case was nearly 20 years....

Jean despairs of my instinctive creation of hierarchies like this, but that's what I do.

Like you, I don't think there's much hope of ever fully explaining, defining or understanding what, when, where, why, who, or what we love.

"It's a mysterious force - so powerful, intrinsic to us, and beyond our control."

Yep.

laura k said...

Thank you, John. I felt a little weird posting this, but I wrote it, so I might as well get it out there.

Interesting about your different feelings for each dog. My love for each of our dogs has been different and unique, but each was still profound.

Like you, I don't think there's much hope of ever fully explaining, defining or understanding what, when, where, why, who, or what we love.

Exactly. It's human beings at our irrational best.

Amy said...

Beautiful post, Laura. Love sure is a mystery.

I have loved all of my pets so deeply, except one cat who was just...well, not nice. I loved her anyway, but not the same way.

As for loving humans, who knows? I am just glad we can give and receive love of all kinds.