The Final Test
I am scrambling to gather a few odds and ends from my office before heading out of town for a weekend conference. Downstairs is the mingling of voices and the tinkling of spoons and plates and coffee mugs as a group of people gather for Friday morning coffee and conversation. I look out my window as a few latecomers straggle in. One dear couple catches my eye. There was a stroke years ago that has changed their reality in irreversible ways. I watch them share a smile as he gently helps his wife out of the vehicle, into the wheelchair, and down the snowy path toward the church. All around there is the hum of traffic and industry, all of this frantic busyness hurrying by unaware of this simple, unobserved, holy moment—this “ordinary” scene in an extraordinary story that is simultaneously awe-inspiring, heartbreaking, and profoundly hope-filled. I feel like I should take my shoes off. Or something.
I think about the portrayals and understandings of love so dominant in our culture…of the lust-fuelled exaltations of youth and beauty… of a sensationalizing media that plasters private details of real human lives all over the newsstand and the internet… of temporary and disposable marriages… of restless eyes and bodies and hearts always hungering and craving and demanding that others meet our needs and complete and fulfill us… of a world gorging itself on a thin parody of love as a confused and desperate expression of longing for the real thing.
I look back out my window and I think, no, this is love.
Love is patient… kind… keeps no record of wrongs… does not dishonor others… is not self-seeking… always protects… always trusts… always hopes… always perseveres…
Love never fails.
From Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet:
It is also good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is mere preparation. That is why young people, who are beginners in everything, are not yet capable of love: it is something they must learn. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered around their solitary, anxious upward-beating heart, they must learn to love.
It seems to me that we’ve lost the kind of realistic and formative imagery found with the couple you’ve mentioned. The sexual context of our culture belies more the craving for power than anything else. Love is no longer understood as a sacrament of the losing and melding of two solitary identities into something mirroring Trinity, but as a vehicle to control the Other forcing them to capitulate to the demands of the powerful. I am humbled by the couple you mention because I know that I’ve been formed, not by images like this one, but by those superficial, power-laden ones common in the cultural milieu.
Yes. Me too. And I could not agree more with your comment about how power is operating behind the scenes (or blatantly right out in front!) in so many of our cultural portrayals of pseudo-love. Thanks for your comment.