Love In all its forms and splendors

"Love is the greatest light, the brightest torch, and will always be the greatest instrument of change."

--Jennifer Beals


A television commercial running frequently (at least in our market) features a series of children finishing the sentence “love is. . . .” It is not meant as a peek into the world of endearing or clever kids. (For that, check out this link –and have tissues handy.  Then laugh at the more jaded take from the slightly older set, at  The rejoinders from boys and girls in the tv ad include “when you like someone. . . hugging my mom. . .being able to write. . .run. . . dance. . .” (and the inevitable equivalent of “haven’t got a clue”). The young spokespeople, patients at Shriners Hospitals for Children, attest to what the love of others–donors who provide funding and professionals who deliver medical care–accomplishes: it immensely improves their lives.

Hand holding flaming batonWho can argue against the power of love to effect positive change? Anyone who has ever been in love knows how the intense emotion alters mood and motivation.  (Not to be flip, but how many diets have been successfully maintained in the light of new love?)  Deep devotion, and not solely to a romantic partner but also to a cause, country, family, or goal fires the imagination, the strength and drive to do and be more; it inspires change in the behavior of the individual who feels it. And that is where all improvement of the world begins, through grand ideas and tiny steps alike. Imagine that every flicker of a torch of passion burning anywhere creates an alteration in the atmosphere, however slight (like the impact of those butterfly wings flapped far from the weather system they influence), each shifting the course of events, for the good.

DP203148The actual (as opposed to metaphorical) torch has been associated with love since the days of ancient Greece.  On the night of a wedding, a stick-and-rag source of light ignited in the fire of the bride’s home accompanied her as she was led to her groom’s abode and used there to start the fire in her new hearth.  That custom may be the source of the expression “carrying a torch for,” which we understand as undying and, especially, unrequited love. Perhaps it suggests the flame never reaching the intended or hoped for destination continuing to burn in hand. (Or it could allude to use of the olden equivalent of a lantern or flashlight in figuratively searching for the subject of one’s enduring affection.)

So now I can’t help but envision Rosi, my survivor friend, as part of a scene depicted in a Greek sculpture. (Romantic that she is, she would love that, herself draped in a pleated diaphanous gown, hair in cascading ringlets. . . .)  While she continued carrying a torch for the young man she fell in love with at age thirteen–the one her parents deemed unsuitable and unworthy and who left for America as the Nazi threat rose–another man whose ardor she could not return carried a torch for her across two continents and to a third. In my imaginary statue, Rosi at center slightly leaning and holding a torch to the right, looks to the man in that direction, who gazes away. The man on her left, also holding a torch, leans toward and looks longingly at her.

Rosi with the two important men in her life reunited in America

Rosi with the two important men in her life reunited in America

“It is better to have loved and lost. . . .” wrote Alfred Lord Tennyson.  Rabbi David J. Wolpe expands on that truth: “The only whole heart is a broken one because it lets the light in.”  His insight (based on a teaching of the 19th-century Chassidic master Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk [the Kotzker Rebbe]) suggests that through the experience of heartache we grow and improve.  An opened heart admits sensitivity, compassion, concern–love of and for others.  In the light entering through the fissures created by loss or disappointment or grief we see things differently, which means we learn.  Just as a laser repairs physical defects (one procedure actually creates small channels–cracks?–in the heart to improve blood flow!), that light seeping into the narrow sorrow-sewn spaces heals.

Two Cupids, One Carrying a Torch. . . etching/engraving by Pierre Alexandre Aveline, from the collection of NY's Metropolitan Museum of Art

Two Cupids, One Carrying a Torch. . . etching/engraving by Pierre Alexandre Aveline, from the collection of NY’s Metropolitan Museum of Art

I hope a powerful mending brilliance will flow into the hearts of any mourners reading this, and especially two friends who each recently lost her husband, too early (it’s always too early when you share a remarkable relationship, as both these couples did), one much much too early.  Each, surrounded by a close, caring and emotionally generous family and community of friends, will continue to experience, if in a different dimension, the enduring embrace of a doting spouse, a true partner in the fullest sense of the word.

Rosi’s life might not qualify as the romance she dreamed and desired–in the mold of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Abelard and Heloise or Romeo and Juliet (without the double suicide, although her husband did, if selfishly, suggest that end for them)–but hers is very much a love story.  She understood that embracing everyone around her with the powerful, life-altering emotion and accepting the depth of sentiment returned to her, if not always from a preferred source, not merely sustained her; at crucial junctures it literally saved her life. To be able to extend love and know that you are loved, by anyone, in any way, are gifts more precious than all the flowers, chocolate, jewelry and extravagant cards that will be exchanged this week in celebration of romance.

So whether or not any of us is fortunate in having a love-of-your-life soul mate, lets each think with gratitude of all the people–parents, teachers, siblings, friends, lovers–in their myriad ways, whose acts and expressions of love light up our lives and help each of us be the best version of ourselves.

The painting at top is Benjamin West’s Omnia Vincit Amor–Love Triumphs Over Everything–from the collection of NY’s Metropolitan Museum of Art



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