By JOHN PAUL CARTER
Reporting on the news from Lake Wobegon, Garrison Keillor describes the ordeal of the Tollefson boy as he is driven by his proud, but eccentric, family to register for his first year of college.
When they are unable to find a parking place, the mortified boy seizes his opportunity to escape, bolts from the car and races alone toward the registrar’s office. Keillor observes that, although the boy doesn’t know it, it’s love that he feels.
“What else,” he asks, “could make us behave so badly, if not love? What else could cause us to be so easily embarrassed, so self-conscious, so humiliated than just love?”
Like the Tollefson boy, we’re sometimes blindsided by the pain that love can inflict. Not only can love be “a many-splendored thing,” but it can also be a many-splintered thing. The words of an old song are truthful: “You always hurt the one you love.”
Paul’s description of love in his letter to the Corinthians accurately depicts God’s love for us and sets an incredibly high standard for our efforts to love each other: “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous, or conceited, or proud; love is not ill-mannered, or selfish, or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up: its faith, hope and patience never fail. Love is eternal.”
The danger in such lofty words is that we may mistakenly conclude that any devotion that does not consistently live up to that norm is less than real love. Ironically, we who love are too often impatient, irritable, ill-mannered, and intolerant toward those that we love and who love us the most.
However, the hurt of love goes with the territory because we imperfect creatures who love each other spend so much time and so many unguarded moments together. As a result of caring so deeply, both the ecstasy and the pain that flows from our relationships is intensified. Truth be told, it is more difficult to consistently act with love toward our family and friends than it is to love our enemies.
That’s why real love must be laced with forgiveness and mercy. Although the painful memories may linger, love that lasts resists retaliation and holding a grudge. We who love, more often than we wish, have to say, “I’m sorry,” to each other.
In his poem “To Earthward,” the aged poet Robert Frost recalls that in his youth he “craved the strong sweets” of love. But after a lifetime of experiencing both the agony and ecstasy of real-life love, his longing changed:
Now no joy but lacks salt
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault;
I crave the stain
Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove.
Lord, our love for each other is too precious to be uncomplicated. Help us, like You, to be slow to anger and quick to forgive. Amen.
John Paul Carter’s “Notes From the Journey” is a regular feature of the Weatherford Democrat.