Any attempt to expound on the subject of love must first come to terms with the problem that we use the word in many different ways and situations. There is romantic love. There is sexual attraction. There is the love of a parent for his or her child. There is the feeling we have for a great work of art. There is an appreciation we have for the natural world around us. Which of these sorts of love are we talking about?
Musicians have expressed feelings of love in a host of different ways. There is John Coltrane with his piercing, reverential A Love Supreme. Steve Miller sang of the “pompitous of love,” having to create a new word to describe the full scope of it. There are The Beatles singing “She Loves You” and then, a few years later, “All You Need is Love,” in between singing of the word “love”:
Everywhere I go I hear it said,
In the good and the bad books that I have read.
There are Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys meditating on the topic:
Late at night,
I think about
The love of This Whole World.
We have Delbert McClinton singing about “Plain Old Making Love.” Then we have the Gershwins, claiming:
In time the Rockies may crumble,
Gibraltar may tumble,
They're only made of clay:
But our love is here to stay.
Robert Hunter and the Grateful Dead affirm that:
A box of rain will ease the pain,
And love will see you through.
Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane warned us with some urgency that we'd “better find somebody to love.” John Hiatt reminded us that we “can choose, you know, we ain't no amoebas.” Then there's Laura Nyro swearing that “We could build a dream with love.”
We have Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders instructing us:
Now the reason we're here –
Every man, every woman –
Is to help each other,
Stand by each other.
When love walks in the room,
Everybody stand up.
Are all these sorts of love different things? Or is it one thing, felt and expressed in different ways at different times?
I tend to go with the latter interpretation. For me, love is an elemental human feeling that helps to bind us to one another, and to the world around us. It is a feeling of care and appreciation for, and attachment to, people and things of value that have an independent existence outside of ourselves. And while love may not be “all we need,” it does seem to be an essential starting point for everything else.
German basketball player Mo Wagner delivered a lecture on the subject at the end of a Sweet Sixteen game in 2018. Mo's team, Michigan, had just won the game at the buzzer with a fantastic shot by a freshman. The Michigan players were all ecstatically chasing the guy who had made the final basket, while the losing team, Houston, was trying to adjust to the sudden reality that their season had just ended. One Houston player in particular, Devin Davis, was visibly sobbing on the court, despondent over having missed two critical free throws. Mo Wagner was crossing the court to celebrate with his teammates, but upon seeing Devin stopped to throw an arm around him and console him. Davis later said of the gesture, “It was a respect move for sure. I appreciate him for doing that, especially in that time. He came and talked to me and consoled me, and I appreciate that.” When Wagner was asked about the meeting, he had a few simple words to say to explain his actions:
At the end of the day, it's sports, and it's all love. I feel for both sides.
British author E.M. Forster had a handle on the comprehensive nature of love when he wrote, in Howard's End:
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.
And another British author, G.K. Chesterton, had an important insight into the primacy of love:
The cause which is blocking all progress today is the subtle skepticism which whispers in a million ears that things are not good enough to be worth improving. If the world is good we are revolutionaries, if the world is evil we must be conservatives. These essays, futile as they are considered as serious literature, are yet ethically sincere, since they seek to remind men that things must be loved first and improved afterwards.
Chesterton was right. If we do not start with love in our hearts for people and things around us, then it will be hard to convince ourselves or others that they are worth improving. So while all of the other Practical Utopian big ideas are important, they are nothing without love. So let us love the seemingly broken and irredeemable parts of ourselves, let us love our spouses and family members, let us love our neighbors, let us feel an aching love for the natural world around us.
Yes, I want more of this stuff in our world: more love.
You can find an Apple Music playlist for all of the songs mentioned above at this link, or by using the player below.