"I know what love is." (You do?)

Photo by damselfly58

Dydd Santes Dwynwen just passed. Dia dos Namorados isn't until June 25. But in the meantime you get to celebrate Alla Hjärtans Dag, Ystävänpäivä, and of course, Valentine's Day.

Ah love. It's always in the air, and this time of year, it's also in the stores, in the mail, and in chocolate. I'm not a fan of the day's over-commercialization (aside from handwritten notes), but I am a fan of thinking about love in all its forms. Which raises the central question: what is love, exactly? Well, depends on who you are.

If you're a five-year-old, love is kind of by your trachea. If you're learning English, love is a lesson plan. And if you're the famous photographer Ansel Adams, love is a thundercloud (via Letters of Note):

June 19, 1937

Dear Cedric,

A strange thing happened to me today. I saw a big thundercloud move down over Half Dome, and it was so big and clear and brilliant that it made me see many things that were drifting around inside of me; things that related to those who are loved and those who are real friends.

For the first time I know what love is; what friends are; and what art should be.

Love is a seeking for a way of life; the way that cannot be followed alone; the resonance of all spiritual and physical things. Children are not only of flesh and blood — children may be ideas, thoughts, emotions. The person of the one who is loved is a form composed of a myriad mirrors reflecting and illuminating the powers and thoughts and the emotions that are within you, and flashing another kind of light from within. No words or deeds may encompass it.

Friendship is another form of love — more passive perhaps, but full of the transmitting and acceptance of things like thunderclouds and grass and the clean granite of reality.

Art is both love and friendship, and understanding; the desire to give. It is not charity, which is the giving of Things, it is more than kindness which is the giving of self. It is both the taking and giving of beauty, the turning out to the light the inner folds of the awareness of the spirit. It is the recreation on another plane of the realities of the world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and men, and of all the inter-relations of these.

I wish the thundercloud had moved up over Tahoe and let loose on you; I could wish you nothing finer.


CHILLS. If I had added emphasis throughout, the whole thing would be bolded. Because what form of love doesn't the guy hit on? He gets:

  • Love as wisdom. ["Love is a seeking for a way of life; the way that cannot be followed alone ..."]
  • Love as soul. ["... flashing another kind of light from within."]
  • Love as others. ["Friendship is another form of love ...]
  • Love as artful action. ["...the desire to give..."]

(Note that he says nothing about roses, Hallmark cards, and chocolates.)

Adams is talking about love as relationship, not relationships -- in this case, that "both the taking and the giving of beauty" completes an act of love. It's not accounted; it's accumulative. It's not transactional; it's transformative.

I too want thundercloud love -- love that rolls through me, love that casts shadows, love that never loses the sun glow within it. Adams found this love in the stillness of Yosemite. I want to find it in the stillness of my heart.

Prayer #199: Wish Me Nothing Finer

If You meant love to be solitary
You would not have bothered creating us.

You would not have given us thoughts.
You would not have given us voices.
You would not have given us a world to wander through,
companions to encounter,
or any knowledge of You.

But You did give us all these things
free of charge
with a simple expectation:

That we send the gifts back out in iridescent rays,
filtered through our inevitable imperfection,
and live for the hopeful moments
when the thunderclouds split
and we quick shield our eyes
and remember what it feels like to be warm.