A friend shared with me a fascinating video about a photographer who went out onto the streets of New York City to ask complete strangers to pose with one another as if they were intimate friends or family. What is fascinating about it is that those who participated—even in spite of initial awkwardness—reported feeling that they began to care for the people to whom they were introduced.
I have long suspected that our current assumptions about relationships—especially romantic ones—are entirely backward. We assume that we are supposed to “feel something” and then test out whether the person is “compatible” with whatever these random feelings happen to be. We treat relationships rather like so many other consumer products, and discard them when they fail to elicit nice feelings.
The photographer started not with feelings, but shared work: “Imagine you love each other, and let me take your picture.” The feelings followed.
Of course this insight is not new; in fact it is ancient. It was Aristotle who observed that authentic friendship had to begin with shared work toward the good. False friendships, he wrote, started with feelings which eventually dissipated.
St. Ignatius was an Aristotelian at heart when it came to relationships, both with God and one another. “Get over yourself,” he says in as many words in his preface to the Spiritual Exercises, “be in charge of your feelings or your feelings will be in charge of you.” What is needed is love first, and the feelings will eventually follow.
I learn a lot working with leprosy survivors. They grow their own grain, vegetable, and fruit. They invite us to taste and enjoy what all they cook for them and for their collaborators.
Working in elder care has been a revelation, in terms of exploring love. Romantic attraction has nothing to do with it. I am discovering more about love with every client (I hate that word!) It’s not an ersatz or diminished love, by any means. And attachment is problematic. I guess my point is, I would never have chosen any of these folks as friends or companions. Meeting them, caring for them, is teaching me more about love. As Tim writes, the invocation comes first, the care comes naturally after.
After watching the video, George Harrison’s song came to mind…
Please take hold of my hand, that I might understand you, Won’t you please, Oh won’t you…
Give me love, Give me love, Give me peace on earth, Give me light,
Give me life, Keep me free from birth, Give me hope, Help me cope, with this heavy load, Trying to, touch and reach you with, Heart and soul…
Love, hopefully. If the two blooming roses can manage to grow together.
“If the two blooming roses can manage to grow together.” – Exactly! And it is, as you say, a gift from God. 40 years in a marriage a number of family members said wouldn’t last a year, but God had other plans for us so here we are, older, greyer, better friends than ever.
There were a number of arranged marriages where I grew up, and they seemed to have developed into loving relationships. Perhaps this was because the couple were working toward a goal, that being stability, the creation of a family, taking their place in community. Marrying for at-the-moment in love may be at the root of divorce in our culture. Once the bloom is off the rose what’s left to keep a couple together?
I believe in romantic love and that it has always existed – but I also believe that it’s a rare gift and that it very much comes from God when it happens (and that you still have to work to make this love last).
What I see in my generation is that people are obsessed with finding “the one and only” and think that sleeping around as much as possible is the best way to do so…it’s sad really.