Posted by: Karen (Betty Bear) | February 13, 2012

Real love

This coming Tuesday is, if you’ve been living inside a box for the last few weeks, Valentine’s Day, or, as girl child calls it, Make Single People Feel Like Shit Day. In an on-going effort not to make her feel like shit we will celebrate in our usual fashion. This tradition started with my mom. She would set the table for Valentine’s Day with a card and a tissue paper covered book on each plate and a little dish of those candy hearts with the sayings, and then we would have a heart-shaped cake for dessert. I’ve continued the card and book tradition although have substituted M&Ms for the hearts since no one likes them and will either make dessert or buy it if I don’t have time. I’m a little stymied on books this year as I can’t think of any that any of them want, but I’ll figure out something.
All this Valentine’s Day stuff though, gets me thinking about love and what it is and what it means. Christians are told to “love your neighbor as yourself.” What does that really mean? How can I feel the same emotional bond and caring for someone I may not even know or like that I do for the members of my family? Once I was reading a Madeleine L’Engle book in which she said “Love is a policy.” She went on to explain that you choose to love with your actions even when your emotions are not, as we say, feeling the love.
There is a limitation to our general definition of the word love, in that it refers to emotion and not really the same emotion even then. We love people, we love chocolate, we love that song, we love being at the beach. Really, that’s not the same feeling for each of those although the same word is being used. Also, think about the love you feel for a particular person. Do you feel that way even when you are really angry at them? Does that mean you don’t really love them? If you believe that love is a policy, a way of acting, then feeling an emotion doesn’t negate that. Love can be the way you choose to live your life. You can base your actions on the solidity of loving action rather than the fluidity of emotional response.
This sounds all high-minded and lovely and all, but what does it mean in actual day-to-day life?
Here’s an example: when someone cuts you off with their car the tendency is to think, “what a jerk!” When you cut someone off in your car, you know it was because you were really distracted by your mother’s pneumonia, your possible job loss, your kid’s diagnosis. That is, you forgive yourself for doing something stupid and/or wrong with the knowledge that you didn’t do it on purpose. And you realize that one wrong action doesn’t make you a bad person. Loving your neighbor means that you need to give them that same forgiveness. I know, I know, this one is easy to preach, but really hard to practice. I suck at it. That person who cut me off is a horrible driver and their license should be taken away from them and burned. The point is to remember to give people the benefit of the doubt. When you don’t know their particular circumstances, understand that there may be things going on in their life that are giving them pain that you don’t know about.
Forgiving as an act of love brings me to my next point. There is that pesky instruction about turning the other cheek. What does THAT mean? I think it means that you should counter actions that are wrong with forgiveness as much as possible. However, that doesn’t mean that you should stay there and continue to get beaten on if violence is that wrong action, but that turning away, walking away, from violence may be the most loving thing you are capable of at the time. It’s essentially important to remember that it’s not love your neighbor instead of yourself, it’s love your neighbor as yourself, which asks you to love yourself. Leaving may be the best way to do that.
This has probably gotten long enough so I’m just going to leave you with some of Madeleine L’Engle quotes.
“Love isn’t how you feel, it’s what you do.” – Madeleine L’Engle, The Wind in the Door
“The best way to help the world is to start by loving each other, not blandly, blindly, but realistically, with understanding and forebearance and forgiveness.” 
- Madeleine L’Engle
Madeleine L'Engle



  1. I am an aide in sixth grade CCD. It is a class of eight boys, so I’m pretty comfortable there. My only goal is to get them to be more compassionate, more loving, without using the word because it would gross them out. At the end of each week, I give them an assignment. I’ve been hanging with “be forgiving” for a few weeks now. It takes love to forgive.

    Your traditions sound like mine! I give everyone a bag with M&M’s, and sometimes a movie to share. I will probably make brownies in my heart shaped pan, thus negating any weight-loss for this week!

    • Boy child is in 6th grade so I know EXACTLY what you’re talking about! He’ll be lovey-dovey with me, but NEVER where anyone else could see.


  2. “it’s not love your neighbor instead of yourself, it’s love your neighbor as yourself, which asks you to love yourself.” I’ve heard that before, but hadn’t thought about it in a long time. Thanks for bringing it up again.

    In one of those fortuitous moments where you do something by pure dumb luck that turns out to be smart, I told MadMax once when I’d been griping away at him about something or other, “You know I still love you even when I’m mad at you, right?” and he looked up at me, surprised. No, he didn’t know that. Now it’s become the custom whenever I’ve lectured him to end with something along those lines– “I still think you’re a great kid, even when I’m mad at you.” I said it to him earlier this week and he actually laughed.

    • I’ve had that exact same conversation with my kids. I have even remarked upon occasion through gritted teeth, “yes, I still love you, I just don’t like you very much right now.”

      Yes, Barb, go forth and love yourself.

  3. Great post! And yeah, many ways to define “real love” isn’t there? Because I believe all of them are REAL, just so different.

    We do nothing for this day, it’s not a holiday for us. Mostly it just meant a lot of forced kitchen table time when the witchlings were in school, addressing cards to people they didn’t necessarily want to give anything to. What we tried to get across to them, because truly, we live this way, is that loving someone does not mean buying shit we don’t need on one pre-assigned day of the year. It means being there for your loved ones (get it, loved ones) ALL the days of the year. I think it worked. At least, it appears to have.

    I like your daughter’s name for it too. 😉

    • Finally, finally we no longer have the agony of addressing cards! And, yeah, they are all REAL, just different!

  4. Happy Make Single People Feel Like Shit Day. I love many things, not the least of which is my friendship with you. You kids sound AWESOME.

    • Why, yes, yes they are! How incredibly perceptive of you!! 😀

      Friends are awesome! Thanks, Fokker.

  5. So why didn’t I realize you had a blog? I’ll have to look around a bit. This was a lovely post — I used to have a piece of paper tacked up over my workplace — “Love isn’t just an emotion; it’s also a policy.” (I was dealing with some … difficult fanily members at the time.)

    • Squeeeee! One of my favorite authors posted a comment! I haven’t had it for too long, only since last summer and I just started commenting with it in the URL. It’s been a bit scattered, but since it is really just for my own entertainment and incidentally anyone else who happens along as opposed to a professional blog, I suppose it is okay. Enjoy! There are a few posts with pictures, although none as lovely as the ones you take.

  6. Karen??? I know you’re still around because I see you other places, but I miss your posts!

    • Karen!

      • Okay. Fine. Post written. Dull, boring post written. Just for the two of you.

        Thanks for checking in and giving me a kick-start!

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