Thursday, October 15, 2009

Love Is All You Need?

Love is all you need, love is all you need…. Stuck in my head from a commercial for something I can’t recall and will not bother to look up. Cool kids though and, well, fun to watch. I think they all find themselves by the last frame too and that’s always a good thing.

Love is all you need. When I was 18, back in the early 60’s, I think I might well have said yes and then, maybe, added books. Peace and freedom and full stomachs would have grown naturally, organically, from that one strong root, the original blessing of love. Even at 18 I didn’t think love was as simple as a song, but it was music and as natural as a sigh. And if I could have, I would have put my arms around the world and everyone in it and held them close,

Life changes. We change our circumstances and our circumstances change us. Shit happens. Children and bills come and the years when love is action and quite often as much fun as dragging an eight year old or yourself to the dentist. I love you still rolls off the tongue but sometimes as one more item on the endless To Do list. A question, a wish, a promissory note, sometimes spit like a curse, or pounded like a club up side the head: thud, thud, thud.: I-Love-You.

Oh, the drama of it. Of course those years weren’t endless drudgery and the bills to pay. They were a jungle, thick and rich and surprising, one swing of the machete and you turn to heartbreaking beauty, you pratfall into the mud, a wasp stings you, the piranhas needle your feet to the bone and your friend pulls you out of the slough and you laugh and drink coffee in a clearing.

But if you had hummed Love is all you need I might have laughed, spewing my coffee; I might have turned my head away so you wouldn’t see and let the tears flow. But I wouldn’t have been able to say yes. I would have told you that love is complicated, easy to say, hard to live, a choice—something willed and worked at. Oh, I still wanted to put my arms around the world and hold everyone close, but I knew how little good it would do in a world of stick thin kids with swollen bellies, people armed with guns and money, a world where four kids (well fed and, thankfully, unarmed) couldn’t ride in a car for two hours without nearly killing each other and giving my peace loving tie-dyed mind serious thoughts of child/teenicide.

It’s a broken world and love comes in many flavors, as the Greeks told us with their four words for whatever it is, that crazy little thing called loved...

Of course at a certain point, it gets simpler again.

Love is what you lose.

My father died in ’83, my mother in ’96. Children leave even though (if you’re lucky and the stars are right) they don’t die. They discard soccer uniforms, prom dresses, baby shoes and boots—the Barbies stay behind with the Legos and leave them behind to gather dust along with all the things you were going to do and never did and all the things you did or said or thought and wish you hadn’t—they slip away from their childhood like a snake sheds its skin.

Friends become acquaintances, acquaintances become memories, husbands and wives leave, brothers turn gray….

That’s when you learn that loving is the bravest thing you ever do. That anyone ever does. Because the last word that love ever says is always good-bye.

Now I’m in my early sixties rather than living in the Western world’s 60’s. More drugs but less fun. (Unless of course you consider staying alive and nominally sane fun. Which I do.) And love is all you need is a Blackberry commercial. (OK, I bothered to look it up.)


I know I don’t need a Blackberry and at the moment don’t even want one. The commercial’s catchy though and if I weren’t a klutz and regular destroyer of cell phones I’d have an iPhone. (Instead I carry one that’s popular with construction workers and park rangers.)

So, don’t need a Blackberry, but what about love?

I have fallen in love so many times, the physical and emotional symptoms poets and scientists describe—and certainly not always with a potential sexual partner. A new baby floods body, heart and soul with oxytocin and the ability to go without sleep and not abandon the creature whose needs keep you from sleeping. I’ve been drawn by a glance from across the room, giggled and cried with friends, held a child with so much emotion that I laughed and cried.

So back to the 60’s in my sixties and peace and love and crunchy granola? Well, I can’t paint you a rainbow or tie dye a meadow, but here, in my sixties I think I can say, love is all I need. I’m not trying to say that a starving child in the Sudan just needs a big hug or that loving Ted Bundy would have saved his victims’ lives. This is a complicated, messy, and cruel world. Smart bombs kill stupidly. Unspeakable horrors never even make a small paragraph on the back pages of a newspaper.

A great, wide, wonderful world in which everything works for good and the all endings are happy? Well, as Papa Hemingway would say, “wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?”

But the world is. It exists and in itself that’s amazing. I am here, you are here. We try to understand what the hell or heaven is going on and what in the world or out of the world we are doing here? Or are supposed to be doing here?

And we love—write songs, change diapers, hug, kiss, make birthday cakes….

My mother was a shy woman, didn’t want to say boo to a goose. When my dad was dying, there wasn’t a doctor safe from her questions. She would hunt them down, notebook in hand, relentlessly asking questions and writing down every answer. Did he need something he didn’t get or get something he didn’t need? Someone would hear and hear and hear until the situation was resolved to her satisfaction.

This wasn’t being “in love.” (I love you but I’m not in love with you.) This was love as a fierce and active verb. No happy ending of course, just a miserable, painful death from cancer—regrets, sorrow, grief—grief and relief that the pain was gone and you didn’t have to watch him suffer and didn’t have to feel guilty or even a little bored when he was drugged and slept and you read magazines by his bed.

Love is an act of faith—at every wedding, every birth—maybe even at every divorce—there’s an act of faith that love is possible, that it can last—hang on through thick and thin, good and bad—make the long run or leave to try another track because love is possible.

Love is all you need. I think I finally learned about love when I learned to make tea the way my mother liked it. A tea bag steeped for exactly five minutes, two spoons of sugar to make it sweet, a squeeze of lemon or spoonful of bottle juice to make it sour. Five minutes made it too strong I thought and even slightly bitter.

So I would cheat and make the tea the way I thought she should like it. Until one morning something—might have been love—clubbed me over the head and said make the damn tea the way she likes it. Because that’s her tea and you let the words I love you roll so easy but you make her tea the way she doesn’t want it.

Love is all you need? From the vast distance of 63 years, I say yeah. Love is all you need.

Not love that hands you flowers or even sticky kisses.

The love you need is the ability, the grace, the gift of being able to love. Because when you do, when you love you make the tea the way she likes it.

Maybe you even figure out how to get some food to the child starving in the Sudan.


  1. Sometimes love feels complicated and confusing, but when I am centered and open and unafraid, love is very, very simple -- because it simply *is*.

  2. And now we come to the age old theme of life. We all think about it. We all search for it. But few ever find it. Fewer still understand it. Like many things in life, the harder we search the more elusive it becomes. I think that the sudden randomness of love is one of its best qualities. If you live your life determined to love everyone and everything you are doomed to failure. If you drift through with few expectations, it will find you. Be assured there are several in your life who love you for who you are and what you are and they need little confirmation on your part.