Posted on February 9, 2010
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.2
It is still well over a week until Valentine’s Day, and I find myself stationed at this laptop in a small, quiet coffee shop conveniently located close to home. I was able to get away tonight after the meatloaf dinner had been eaten and my love assured me he will handle the dishes and our child and everything else for the rest of the evening.
“Go ahead, and don’t rush back,” he said. He knows it’s something I have wanted to do for several days: leave the living room and the toys strewn across the floor and escape to write. Writing is a love of mine as well, and a practice I’ve neglected too long while worrying about so many other things. Like taking care of those I love and trying to serve the church I love. But this evening I have escaped to do this special thing I love. I have coffee and cake and a longing to let something profound come forth.
The owner of this shop is European. I cannot place his accent, my ear is not attuned in that way, but he gave me a friendly welcome. He now recognizes me, as I’ve visited this shop several times. There are always delicious cakes, tortes, and other tempting pastries. Those are what I come here for, although I find nothing unsatisfactory about the coffee. And I like the atmosphere: there are few customers usually so it’s quiet and the light is warm and golden. Tonight the owner recommended a layered cake dessert labeled “Mozart.” I saw the chocolate ganache on top and quickly agreed. The truth is I probably would have accepted it even without the chocolate — Mozart is my favorite composer. It did bode well.
He has told me before that his wife makes some of the pastries. Tonight I overheard him remark to some other customers that his wife is “very good.”
“She cooks very good. She cleans very good. Bakes very good.”
“She’s just a very good wife, huh?” the lady asked in a sweet, but maybe a trifle condescending, tone.
“She is my life.”
This man works hard. The shop is always spotlessly clean, and he is an attentive host to his customers. He doesn’t have employees as far as I can tell (I doubt he could afford any), and I am guessing he spends every evening here. The shop is open until 10:00 weeknights, so I can only guess what time he finally makes it home to his good wife. I am the daughter of an immigrant, and I understand this work ethic because I grew up with it.
When I think of my mother’s long work hours on her feet in factories and restaurants throughout my childhood, I am almost ashamed of myself for not fully appreciating how blessed and easy my life is. She would come home to piles of laundry, meals to cook, too many bills to pay, and a husband and three children in constant need of attention. Of course, she did complain and lose her temper and sometimes just cry. She wouldn’t be human if she hadn’t. Daily life was rarely easy for her. But what I never understood until I became a mother is what her love enabled her to accomplish.
“I don’t know how you did it,” I have told her. “It makes me tired just thinking about it.”
“I don’t know either,” she will say.
What we don’t have to say to one another is what we both already know: women move mountains everyday. Because they love.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 567
Chapter 13 of the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians is a very popular scripture reading at weddings. It was read at my own wedding over thirteen years ago. The funny thing is on that October day I honestly thought I knew about love. Love was what the wedding was all about as far as I was concerned, and this man was the one I had found and fallen in love with. Our family who loved us was all gathered, we were in a church because I loved God (as well as I could then), and I was wearing a white lace dress I loved, carrying roses (the only flower I love), and I had just been escorted down the aisle by my loving father accompanied by my most beloved of melodies, Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major. Because my mother loved me, she had allowed me to wear her emerald earrings, which coordinated with the emerald engagement ring my love had placed on my finger ten months earlier. I love emeralds but not diamonds, which was fortunate because he could afford a small emerald back then and not much else. It was all right — we didn’t need a lot of money because we had love. When you’re 24 and naive, you can tell yourself that you’re ready for the commitment because you feel so much … love.
I am not who I was that day. And he has become someone else, too. Beyond the physical changes of our bodies, there’s the transformation that has happened, subtly, to move us from the naive and reckless lovers we were then to the deliberate partners we now are — who are still not as wise as we ought to be. It’s a maturity we have fought, but it comes unbidden from the struggle: to negotiate our roles and responsibilities, to protect our unique personalities, to recognize and forgive our essential flaws, to accept how fragile the bond between us can seem at times, and to compromise in the daily gap between each of our desires and dreams and the limits imposed by the choices, both wise and foolish, we have made. Together.
But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. … For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
It will be challenged and tested. It already has been many times. Love — like faith — is a journey, not a destination. I can look ahead and imagine our future selves. I can hope for a second child, a bigger house, more travel, perhaps a second career, but what I neglect to anticipate are the moments when we will struggle. There will be more losses to face, more debts to be repaid, more failures and disappointments to move beyond.
Just as I have been pondering the passage from 1st Corinthians the past couple of weeks, a line of poetry by William Shakespeare has glided in and out of my mind like a persistent but gentle draft. A breeze begging me to acknowledge it, like a hungry child. I know it is a verse from a sonnet, but I don’t remember which one, so I do an online search and the first hit is on a question and answer website. Someone has posed this: “What is the meaning of the quote by Shakespeare ‘Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds’ ?” I am almost 38 years old, have been married for over 13 years, and I have a four-year-old son — I think I can be forgiven my reaction: a roll of the eyes and chuckle at the absurdity of asking such a thing in an internet forum. Not to mention expecting a useful answer. I imagine a nineteen-year-old college student frantically typing the query as she rushes to finish a paper she owes to a pretentious and intimidating professor of literature so that she can meet her girlfriends at the bar just off campus. Maybe there’s a chance she’ll hook up with that guy. Again.
Another hit answers my original question: the verse is from Sonnet 116. But before I can continue my research I click another link to yet another question/answer forum on which yet another person of questionable judgment (yes, I am being judgmental) has posed the very same question as my imaginary college co-ed. It is possible the same co-ed, in desperation, has sprinkled this query throughout cyberspace. The answer given at the second site, I can only guess, has been provided by someone who’s been there and done that (sort of like me):
“It means that love doesn’t change when those in love change or encounter change in their lives or each other.
This is actually rubbish since love is always changing. Love relies on each individual’s perception and interpretation of it, and since people change throughout time, then how they view love changes with them, be it slightly or largely. Which is one reason people fall in and out of love.”
I can respect that, despite the arbitrary and rather cryptic grade this respondent has been electronically assigned by the forum: “8% best answer.” Apparently, there is also some point value associated with the question as well as the answer. (It is a confusing system to me.) I can only speculate what that pretentious and intimidating professor will think when he reads this word-for-word in the co-ed’s term paper.
But I have to leave that now and get down to business. Sonnet 116 and love that doesn’t alter. Of course, I wind up at Wikipedia and learn that this verse was first published 301 years ago and that its form and structure are typical of the Shakespearean sonnet. There is further exegesis on each of the three quatrains and the concluding couplet as well as 32 cited references from scholarly research. I am sure this would prove interesting reading for this former literature major, but I just don’t have the time today. I have laundry to finish, the dishwasher to empty, and a child to supervise and encourage in his (and my) ongoing struggle to keep his pants dry. Later this evening there’s a meeting at church. I look forward to relaxing and gaming with our friends later tonight. If the weather doesn’t get too treacherous.
And, anyway, even Wikipedia points out at the top of the page regarding this discussion of Sonnet 116, “This article is in need of attention from an expert on the subject.”
If the subject is love, good luck finding one.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
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