Last week I had the pleasure of reconnecting with my best friend from high school, Jess. It was so rejuvenating to see Jess again, to hear about the twists and turns life has thrown at her, and to remember why we were best friends. I owe her for introducing me to romance novels. She was the first person who got that shifty look in her eyes and handed me a book with a cover I would never have shown my Mom and said, “Here, you’ve got to read this.”
One of the things we talked about was love. More specifically, the way we were raised to see love. Jess and I were both raised in a relatively small religious community. We went to a church school where we had chapel every morning and religion classes as part of the curriculum. The good news is that the early exposure to philosophy that that gave us taught me how to think about the bigger questions of existence. The bad news is that some of the messages we were given about love have left me, and Jess, with life-long scars. But ours is not the only religious or philosophical tradition that dictates this misinformation about love.
You see, we were raised to believe that the highest form of love is that between one man and one woman, the kind of love that produces a family. In other words, marriage is the highest form of love. Although I’m sure there are some people who would also argue that the love of a parent for their child is the highest form of love as an off-shoot of that.
Like I said, we weren’t the only ones raised this way. In fact, a lot of current popular media pushes the same agenda. The highest state of love you can attain is a spouse. And yeah, marriage love is awesome, but is it really the highest form of love? Is it something that everyone should aspire to and that people should be disappointed about if they don’t acquire it? How many couples out there marry and then find out that they were sold a bill of goods?
There are other traditions out there that would tell you that devotion to God is the highest form of love. These are people and cultures that do not laud marriage as the be all and end all. The aim in these traditions is to rid yourself of all worldly attachments, including love of the flesh and love for other people above God. In these cultures it is the guru or shaman or religious that has attained the highest form of love. Marriage is considered an impediment.
So right there you have a tradition that directly contradicts what I was raised with. That gets me to thinking. If one culture espouses one set of values and another says something entirely different, then what really is the highest form of love?
Sometimes I feel like I get a lot of pressure or a lot of pity for being single. Poor Merry, she isn’t able to attain the highest form of love. Well, that’s just absurd. I feel as though I am so full of love that it bursts out all over the place, on paper and in real life. Just because I’m single doesn’t mean all that love inside of me has nowhere to go. Quite the contrary.
Personally, I believe the definitive word on love comes from one lovely Bible verse: “Greater love hath no man than this: than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” There you go, folks. The Bible puts it clearly and succinctly. And you don’t have to be Christian to see the point it’s trying to make.
The highest form of love is whatever form it takes when you set aside your own wants and concerns to help or comfort or consider someone else. It could be a life or death situation or it could be letting someone else have the last slice of pizza. Sure, that could easily be the love between spouses. But it’s not limited to marriage. Yep, it can also be the love a parent has for their child, or vice versa, but it’s not exclusively that relationship either. It is a form of love that every single person on this planet and any others can partake in to an equal degree, no matter what their status in life is.
The theologian Emanuel Swedenborg has another way of putting it that I love: “To feel another’s joy as joy in oneself: that is loving.” I don’t know about you, but seeing someone I love, friend or family, burst with joy over an accomplishment or a milestone is absolutely the best feeling ever. It’s love and pride and happiness all rolled into one gorgeous package. It’s awesome. And it’s not exclusive. Anyone and everyone can feel that way.
So what is the highest form of love? It is the love that brings you outside of yourself. It is the love that urges you to be a better person. It is the love that improves the world one person at a time as we stop to consider what would make our beloved, friend, spouse, or family happy regardless of what we want.
It is the love that everybody can participate in and everyone can benefit from, no matter what their state in life.
Incidentally, I also found this quote from a site of Bodhisattva Quotes while looking for pics for this post: “Friendship is the purest love. It is the highest form of Love where nothing is asked for, no condition, where one simply enjoys giving.”