The Things About Love

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My husband and I both remember the electric moment in which we first laid eyes on one another. I was drawn to the life-embracing grin in his large eyes. He was intrigued by my crossed-arm scrutiny of the other teenagers that evening in the church basement. He was eighteen, I was seventeen, and we never looked back.

Needless to say, in the years since then, our concepts of true love have gained complexity. Not just romantic or marital love, but any human love, suffers shock and shifts—parent and child, siblings, friends, or mentor and protégé. However fulfilling our human relations, the ties that bind are constantly plucked as we negotiate needs and nurture.

To love things is far easier. Sure, we trivialize love of things, as in “I love your new dress.” But even love for objects implies a bond—like my bond with the red geranium on my patio. I feed and water it, admire its brilliance . . . at the same time, I don’t fear messing it up the way one agonizes over a child. If I forget one day to set it in the sun, the geranium will not accuse me of ruining its life.

As a child, I loved my threadbare teddy bear right down to the sawdust sifting through its seams. Several of my pots and pans are old friends. And there is our place here on a not-high East Texas hill. My husband and I have not labored hours on its plum thicket, dozen or so tree species, and acre of Saint Augustine grass to keep up with the Joneses. Our nearest neighbors graze in a pasture behind our house—a handful of scrub cows whose only concern is the grass beyond the barbed wire.

Ours is a homely hill whose patches of impenetrable red clay and sandy soil retain a good bit of my life’s cycles. Last year I grieved at the death of the cedar tree in whose branches, as an eight-year old, I recited poetry. I remember a Christmas Eve ice storm that transformed the tree and the world to dazzling crystal in the next morning’s rising sun.

My love for this place is pure; it cannot pressure or coerce me. In fact, my feelings cannot influence the hill’s sweetgums, sand, pines, and mockingbirds. We have no hidden agendas. The land goes on being itself, and I go on caring for it. But in its simplicity, my love for things serves higher, more complex loves.

At this moment, for example, that man with the irresistible smile is outside my window, mulching the azaleas. He is sweating. The bushes don’t thank him for the mulch. But they will bloom. And is that not what true love always sweats and hopes for?

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