What Is Love?

And finally she asked herself the question, "What is love?"  For it is more than merely passion flowing, more than just emotion's gain, more than the sense of flesh on flesh.  And it seemed to her as if she were asking, "What is God?"  or "What is creation itself?"  Yet now it seemed to her that this was the question she sought an answer to all her life.

So now, at this point in time, she queried, with all the varied experiences she'd had, what could she truly say of love?  For one, it is an opening of the heart, so very hard to describe.  It is compassion, yet it is self-interest too.  It is giving, yet it is receiving.  It is caring, yet it is letting go, saying yes and at times even saying no.  It is to empathize, yet to realize another must learn to feel for themselves.  It is a mother's nurturance, and a father's tenderness, yet it is also a mother's insistence and a father's authority.  Yet it is even more somehow.  It is order, yet it is chaos too, that then brings a new order, but then chaos will always come again, won't it?

So perhaps she could say one thing of love - that it is cyclic, like nature, or like the ocean's ebb and flow, the tides moving in and out in their own rhythm, in their own season.  Love is the peace of nature and the storms of her fury, the warmth of a summer day and the coldness of the deepest, darkest winter night.  Love is the flower opening out, yet the passing of its innocent beauty too.  Love is life, breathing itself, creating itself, destroying itself.

Love is forever, of that she is certain.  Yet can anyone forever be love?  Love is commitment, yet love is also a setting free.  Love is personal yet universal.  Love is mind and heart and body and soul, all at once somehow, so love is also totality, is it not?

Love is thought-provoking, yet without thought.   Love is having everything and knowing nothing, yet it is knowing everything and having nothing too.  Love is the closeness of togetherness, and love is the solitude of isolation.

Love is inspiration, intuition, joy.  Yet it is also heartbreak and loneliness and solitude.  Love is the trembling excitation of newness, and the shaking of the grief of loss.  Love is a slow and steady pace, yet too, it is the exuberance that makes us want to run and dance and sing.  Love is ecstasy and misery, sureness and confusion.   Love makes us feel as if we could do anything, yet love also makes us feel like nothing at all at times.  Love is being light-headed and dizzy, yet love is feeling heavy and as if about to die.  Love is the slow and steady heart, yet the flutter of its racing too.  It is freedom, yet it can also be the bars of a prison found deep within, can it not?

Yes, love is all of that…  Yet still there is an illusive answer on the wind that she hasn't quite caught, so she sits in stillness, and moves as she must, and waits for its arrival.  For once the question is asked, sooner or later an answer forms out of the everything.  And now she wonders if perhaps love is everything - all that we feel, and all that we think, and all that we sense - even all that we are.  In essence, undefinable then, for love is life itself, the path of many windings, the foot upon the path, the movement and the stillness, the taking in and the letting go.  Love is the illusive moment of now and the memories of yesterday and the longing for tomorrow, all at once.

But she has that uneasy feeling that always comes before the answer, so still she waits, while waiting has always been the most difficult of all for her…

Love is ageless and timeless and without dimension, yet love is here and now in this moment of forever.  Love is ancient and new and ever-becoming.  Love is what we always and ever and never can have, for love is dynamic.  Love is the worth and the meaning and the quality of hope and hopelessness.  Love is the glory of enlightenment and the darkness of unknowing.

Love is the white lotus of the seventh chakra, the brightest, deepest red of the first, and all the many, varied hues that are forever creating yet another shade of beauty in between.  Love is the high note and the low, played at once in harmony, the crescendo, yet the deepest chords resounding.  Love is expression, yet non-expression too - a cacophony and symphony of composition.

Love is the sleeping and the dreaming and the waking.  Love is real and yet invisible, felt and yet the deepest mystery.  Love is existence and its annihilation.  Love is the question and the answer ever changing.  Love is what we want to do and have to do and refuse to do.  Love is pain and comfort too, the illness of disease and also its healing.  Love is the beauty of perfection, yet the difference of disfiguration.

Love is the height and the depth and the width, yet love is immeasurable.  Love is darkness, love is light.  Love is emptiness and fullness, the yin and yang - forever and always distinct yet flowing within and through and with each other.  Love is the yearning for life and the illusion of death.  Love is continuance in time and time's obliteration.  Love is its own beginning and ending and becoming.

Perhaps the only answer then, is this:  Love Is.  While in its allness and in its nothingness, we simply need to let it Be - in us…

? Michaelette?

Spring 1999
Copyright© 1999, Michaelette L. Romano

Addendum (10/1/2003)

This essay will never be complete.  Neither will you or I, as I see it.  Not in any future that is foreseeable by we very human beings.  I have loved, and I have loved, and I have loved.  I've been loved in return here and there, but not very often, and not for very long at all.  Rather, I've been beaten down and broken more than once by the underground systems of humanity and the masquerades individual people continually play.  The scars will never go away completely.  Yet still I love - I must.  There is no point in living without that.  I've learned that what some call street-smarts is merely a realization of the truth of an intent that lies hidden deeply behind the words all too many speak - in voices that are trained to vibrate with a touch of honesty - while they peddle half-truths that are no better than a lie.  And I've found that the only battles every really won were one-on-one, in depth.  So too, the losses are enumerated.  But what does it matter in the end, the numbers deemed such high priority in these, our morally debased days of life within modern society...?  Even the ancient Egyptian kings and queens were never able to take their acquired possessions with them into the underworld after death.  Nor will any of us.  For things are not eternal.  Love is...

Three years ago, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.  The doctors - those overpaid, supposed healing teams of experts - were unable to heal her.  They could not do a mastectomy or give her chemotherapy because of the weakened condition of her heart.  (I still consider this a blessing., by the way.)  So the experts chose only to put her through the hell of radiation treatments and drugs.  A year ago, it was confirmed that the cancer had metastasized into her bones and lungs, etc.  Suddenly the relatives came crawling out of the woodwork (concerned with no more than the thought of their inheritance, it seems).  Not realizing at first, that she'd assigned me as her Power of Attorney, in case of...  The case that I so earnestly prayed would never come to be...

About a year ago, I also found myself in a cardiac intensive care unit - feeling all used up...  just all used up...  yet needing to fight for my mother's right to die with dignity, even as I fought for the continuance of my own life in time.  The doctors gave my newly diagnosed heart condition some long, Latin name, even as they were telling me that they had no idea what might have caused it, nor any way to fix it.  But here, they said, take these nine prescriptions drugs that cost an arm and leg for the rest of your life, if you care to go on living.  For we decree that you are too young to die of this.  And my life was changed forever.  My body still does not feel like my own - the illness was one thing, but the side-effects of all that medication are just too bizarre to describe.  But in this past year, my own body distinctly convinced me that I would never again feel the way I used to feel - never again quite that "alive."

Without even having time to come out of shock from all of that, my mother's condition worsened so severely that the day after I was released from the hospital, I had to start taking care of her and all her "stuff."  Even as I was still attempting to come to terms with the fact that I'd been laid off from a job that I'd held for eight years, and the only position I could find after September 11, 2001, had been a temporary one - with no insurance benefits, no savings left, no income at all.  But being told that I definitely needed not to work, for the sake of the continuance of my life.  I veered back and forth inside, between my own unsolvable problems and those of my mother's.  And along the way, I was advised by all too many people, that the thing to do for my mother (as if I could wash my hands of her fate the way that Pontius Pilate once tried to do with Jesus Christ) would be to leave her in nursing home, sell her home, and put her on public aid.  Her own sons and other relatives told me that, in their opinion, that really was the way to go.  While being imprisoned in that nursing home - not the cancer - was quite literally killing her - the fact that she thought she would never be able to go home again.  When her radiation treatments were over, I was told by the social worker at the nursing home and their legal staff, that yes, that is exactly what I should do.  Sell her house, pay the nursing home out of her assets until they were all used up, and then put her on public aid.  Because Medicare would no longer cover her expenses there, since she was no longer receiving any "life-continuing" treatment like radiation.  It was 1997 when our government decided that anyone of age that was diagnosed with a terminal condition was no longer worth supporting in full.  All that had something to do with the cold and cruel determinations of what doctors and scientists call "bio-ethics" these days.  And the politicians ate it up.

Something inside of me just clicked then.  No! was its only possible expression.  No, I would not allow my mother to die from lack of personal care in an institution!  No way, no how.  Not after I found her lying almost naked on her bed without an attendant anywhere near or to be found - all wet from the coffee that her shaky hands had spilled on her at breakfast - hours before my arrival.  Because even when I (a person still able to communicate in words) tried to get an aide to help her, it took forty-five minutes and my screaming in the hallway before anybody bothered to come.  And this was a nursing home considered one of the "better" nursing homes - according to another nameless, bodiless, unidentified, infernal survey.  Where the staff really wanted to care, but found that management was more concerned with the bottom line than in staffing to the capacity that was needed to give all those people the care that they had more than earned in their lives and more than deserved - every one of them, God bless them. And all that she ever said to me when I visited her was that she wanted to go home - amid the tears, those endless, heart-shredding tears...

And so I went home and started gathering information and figuring out another way to go.  As it turns out, it costs less to have a full time, live-in nurses' aide with her at her home than for her to be ignored and  thus mistreated in a nursing home environment.  Ah, if only each of you could have seen the transition in her the day I brought her back home...  Still on the stretcher in the ambulance, she sat up and started waving to me, and I swear to God, she absolutely shone with living light...  And I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I had done the right thing, no matter what anyone else had advised.

People need time to heal when they are ill.  Few understand that in these days of quick cures and hiding the real symptoms of illness in their lives.  And what I need to say here is that, people need time to find their own way to die too.  There is a process to the letting go of life and relationships that must be honored.  In an atmosphere of their choosing, if at all possible.  With a sense of dignity and individuality.  They need to know that their lives were not in vain.  That their trials and their losses and their victories, still matter to those of us left to live them on.  And while they are still living, they need to know, above all else, that no matter the condition they find themselves in now, we still love them as much (if not more) than we ever did before.  And the oddest thing happened afterf she got back home, as the months went on and she got a little stronger for a while.  I started to hear back from the people who had condemned me for not doing it their way last year, and they told me that they thought my mom was very lucky indeed, to have daughter that loved her enough to do that for her.  And that bothered me.  It still does.  For what does that say about the state of our humanity, in general...?  It used to be a given, don't see?  Not so very long ago, at that.  One could always find their way back home, if that is what they wished or really needed.  And others would support them in that goal, especially family.  And more often than most would think, even strangers would show up, ever so unexpectedly, to help them find the way.

And what does it say about the quality of love in our modern, complex, technology-oriented society today..?  "The quality of love is never strained."  Wasn't that a line of Shakespeare's?  Then where the strain these days, I  have to ask in all sincerity.  For the quality of life must choose to live in love, no matter what or when or where or how we are.  Newborn and healthy, middle-aged and starting to slow down and change, old and bent with yet more light still streaming from our eyes - Love is the only meaning that there is.  What a tragedy that so few of us make time to notice this.

My mom has outlived her doctors' predictions yet again.  She is very ill, no doubt about it, but she is not yet quite ready to let go - whatever the reasons.  Hospice care is what she needs.  And if she likes flying high on her morphine now, God bless her in that too.  And so I choose, in love, to still stand by her side.  To help her up when her legs are too weak for her to stand alone and to slow down my lesser pace yet more, in order to keep on walking with her while she is here.  And more than anything else, it seems, she really appreciates it that when I am with her, I stop the babbling brooks in my mind, and take the time to really listen to her - no matter what she says...  How could I ever not love her enough for that...?  She gave me my life, after all...

And so we come full circle yet again.  Universal love to personal and everything between.  Breathe in the heights, then dive into the depths.  Remembering the glory of each flight of in-between.  Always honoring the love that all our lives are based upon.  For in the end, what's left that really matters...?  Except the love that we have shared while we were here...


P.S.  I still live alone, as I have since 1982, through all of this.  Grown children too busy with their careers and mates to find much, if any, time for me.  Lovers come and completely gone within a wild-eyed quest for something more in their chosen ways of life.  Yet somehow still sustained by my own mother's worth - even now.  Wondering just what the future holds...

Perhaps the only answer then, is this:  Love Is.  While in its allness and in its nothingness and in all it creates in between, we very simply need to let it Be - within us now…  and now...  and now...

? Michaelette?

Copyright©2003, Michaelette L. Romano

Addendum (6/16/2004, not long after my mother's death)

Love is wanting and needing to gather them in your arms to comfort them, but not being able to; knowing that any touch, even the most loving, will only bring them more pain.  Love is standing back and allowing them what they need the most, even if their need is to die, to move on, to let go.  Love is carrying the great burden of having been helpless to save them.  Love is letting the wounds heal, that someday they might heal cleanly, leaving only loving memories instead of scars.  Love is allowing them to lie in bed when they are too weak to get up; lifting them into a wheelchair when only their eyes are left to speak to you to tell you what it is they really want; then rolling them back and forth through their house because you know that, even in such a state, their eyes still really do work and need more than just one ceiling to stare at, day in and day out.  Love is letting go - to let go the hope of their medications when they are no longer able to swallow them.  Love is signing the DNR so that the doctors can no longer just prolong their misery.

Love is sad and love is sweet.  Love is tender memories.  Love is one last kiss on the forehead of the beloved before the coffin is closed.  One more touch of a hand now grown cold.  Love is knowing that every moment, every year, and every tear have really mattered beyond any hint of dissension.  Love is forgiving them for having been human and having to leave first.  Love is treasuring the good times that lie hiding in your memories.

Love leads beyond obsession or possession.  Love sees the light inside forevermore.  No matter the darkness controlling their limbs or their minds.  Love stands up and takes a beating in their place without complaint.  Love burns us up inside, thus allowing us to start over - again and then again.

Love is a star in darkness growing - a great illumination of the soul.  Love claims our hearts and won't let go again, no matter what infraction some cold society might try to blame and shame us with.  Love is knowing when to walk away, and knowing when to stay.  Love is an empathy so deep that we must feel each pain, each joy, each great distraction that the other feels, in sync.  Love is an insanity that never ends, the craziness to take a risk, the despair of the most lost and lonely moments of our being.  Love is intuiting the fact that silence can be the most honest statement of all, instead of choosing to use it as a weapon.  Love is holding in the letting go while letting go control.  Love is a peak when all the world senses harmony and peace drawn from the chaos of the universe.  Ever expanding until it breaks down yet again.

Love is living through the pain they left behind.  Blindly absorbing it until its form and substance have a chance to really change.  Love is letting your mind drift over the embellished moments of agony that must come, soon or late, of any real relationship.  Love is saying, "Yes, it hurts.  It hurts so much," while clinging to the truth that this too, will surely pass.  Love is a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, a child - a friend and a lover - a mirror that claims all others as ourselves.  Love is the frenzy and the arguments, but most of all the making peace again.

Love is the grief that tears our hearts apart, just when our intellect seems to have gone on vacation.  Love exists beyond, beneath, within, all logic and all creed.  The love we feel is always free to share - the most honest expression of our being.  Love is lost and love is found.  Love never costs a moment bound to expectations.  Love lives within vast moments of completion, ever growing nearer to beginning yet again.  Cyclic in its long lost harmonies.  Broken into pieces, but then forming into something new again.  Through all the years and all the change, love is the only truth that still remains...

Copyright©2004, Michaelette L. Romano
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