In the home in which I grew up, with the rest my "gang"–my siblings–the word "love" was sacred. That is, love was not a word said causally, tossed about in social conversation. Rather, it was used to convey the deep bond that exists powerfully and unconditionally between two people.
Later in life, I realized that the way it was in our home with my parents was not the norm. To me, at first it was a shock to hear total strangers use the word "love" within minutes of making an acquaintance. Although I was blessed to grow up in a home where there was nothing but "love" between my parents, and also a different kind of love within our family, the word "love" still was using sparingly in our home, because it really meant something.
We know that when an important word is used to excess, its meaning becomes diluted.
"What is love?" is a question that has confounded great thinkers since the beginning of time. When a person says, "I love you," what does that person mean?
On my walk on the Malibu Pier (where I am writing), I asked people, "What does the word 'love' mean to you?" The first person declined to respond. Undaunted, I asked the next fellow. Was he giving me a politically correct response, something he thought I wanted to hear, when he responded, "G-d?"
And, as we ponder the dumbing down of "love," we are asked about "true love," the romantic vision that has inspired so many writers and poets and songwriters. Paradoxically, romantic love can be fleeting.
But what of the love of a mother for her child? And how far would the child's father go to help their child? Indeed, we can even find divorced parents who still say they "love" each other, but they don't get along. Or one will say, "I loved her so much I wanted her to be happy, so I let her go." All that said, their love for their children remains undiminished and seems enduring.
The Hebrew word for love is Ahavah. As in all Biblical original texts, there are many layers of meaning in a word. At the root level, the word is rooted in "Ava" -- meaning "desire," which seems to relate more to that ideal of romantic love.
As the reader may know from reading my past columns, every Hebrew letter is associated with a number, the Hebrew letter “Alef” equals "1" and the letter “Bet” equals "2" and so on. The four letters in the Hebrew word for love is numerically the same as the value of the word "Echad," which means "One."
Perhaps, then, we can say, that in "Love" there is only one. This begs a question for another column -- does that mean that there is "only one" for whom you are destined for eternal bliss? Or are we merely saying that love is unitary.
It is easier to say this about a unitary theme: by nature we all have a "love" for our own being -- self-love. Indeed, we go to great lengths to feed our unique drive and our desire to "feel good." As a result of our internal love, we also tend to endure certain consequences in order to feel better. Consider the person who undergoes plastic surgery, with its painful aftermath, to look better.
We know that self-love is necessary and even a positive, to a point. In excess, it becomes self-indulgent, narcissistic and ultimately hurtful for the person
When we love someone, we are empathetic to that person's needs. As President Bill Clinton used to say, "I feel your pain." When you love someone with whom you have a conflict, your ability is to see the conflict from that person's perspective, as if it were your own. But sometimes self-love is so strong that it prevents us from seeing our own faults. This is when self-love and ego trump mutual love and empathy.
Yet, there is much to the saying that if you do not love yourself, you cannot love another. But if you love only yourself, how can you love another?