For Love, A Need by Hal O’Leary. In honor of Dottie, learning and life. Have a nice weekend, Yareah Magazine friends!
For Love, A Need
While there’s an old adage that says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, there is also the adage that says you are never too old to learn, which I have recently and delightedly done. Old as I am at eighty-eight, I learned something of love from Dottie, my wife of sixty years. This learning experience was initiated by the viewing of the movie, A Patch of Blue, with one of my favorite actors Sidney Poitier. It really is an amazing movie for the enlightenment it affords. I hope that what follows will help you to understand a, not to be underestimated, human need which I had overlooked in my many attempts to find meaning and purpose to my life through an understanding of love.
At ninety-three, Dottie had recovered physically but not mentally from an automobile accident in which I was at fault, and over a period of more than two years her keenness of mind gradually faded until even the simplest of conversations became no longer possible. Feeling responsible for her condition, I undertook what I assumed to be an obligation to care for her. Having long been one who had preached to his students and others the imperative of brotherhood after reading John Donne, Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway and others, it followed that I should, as an obligation, practice what I had preached. We are our brother’s keeper. When this admonition is ignored, as it was in the case of Camus who, for the sake of his own career, refused to move his tubercular brother to the south of France for a better climate, insisting that they remain in a cold and damp Paris where his brother died, one must, as Camus insisted, accept the responsibility and suffer the consequence. This I did willingly , but little did I know or suspect that from this admittedly painful experience I would profit so greatly. What this old dog would learn went well beyond what he had considered to be an obvious obligation of brotherhood.
As an adjunct and a spur to my awakening, the movie A Patch of Blue opened the door to an awareness I had never dreamed of. If you have not seen the movie, it tells of a black man who by chance meets a blind teenage white girl in a park. This chance meeting gradually grows into an intense love. When Poitier as Gordon learns that the blind girl Salina has been condemned to a most sordid environment being abused by a whore for a mother and an alcoholic grandfather, he arranges for her to be removed from this hell and placed in a proper school for her salvation. While this, of course, adds great validity to the truth of mutual responsibility, it also led me to a truly new and enlightened understanding of love and what it may imply.
What makes any concept of love so confusing is that there are so many different relationshipsin which we casually use the word love. There is brotherly love, parental love, love in the sense of honor or adoration and of course romantic or sexual love, but through all of them runs a thread that should not, cannot, be overlooked if we are to experience love in its true sense. I’m speaking of a need common to all humanity and perhaps to other species as well. You might agree that we all have a need to love and to be loved, but have there not been times in your lives when, in the confusion of what love might be, you have questioned whether or not you are even capable of loving? I certainly have. Somehow, what we experience in our relationships doesn’t seem to measure up to the wondrous stories of the compulsive and unending love we find in literature. What if there should be an unrecognized need that if understood could set our minds at ease in this regard? Perhaps there could be a more basic need underlying all of what it means to love or to be loved, a need that stems from the concept of brotherhood which Is, or should be, considered nothing short of love. Stop for a moment and think. Is there anything more conducive to an expression of love than the vulnerability of one helplessly in need? There is now scientific evidence that humans, along with other animals, are hard-wired for empathy at birth. This empathy is the ability to feel with the vulnerable as opposed to merely feeling sorry for, as in sympathy. Empathy can and should rightfully and properly be interpreted as love, the broader love of humanity, which could be the basis of all its other designations. It is this empathy that forms the greatest need of which I speak. It is, quite simply, THE NEED TO BE NEEDED. This may take several moments of serious introspection before it can be fully appreciated, but once it is, many of our doubts about the meaning of life and love are eased. There is little meaning or purpose to life other than the need to be needed, and there is little understanding of love without an awareness of that need. It answers the question raised by the shortest poem in the English language, “I?…Why?” as it serves to address all the confusion surrounding the word love. Just as in A Patch of Blue, Selina’s vulnerability served Gordon’s need to be needed, Dottie’s vulnerability served mine. The reward I received in the assurance that, yes, I was capable of love had turned a most painful experience in into a most positive one, for never had I loved her more than I did in accepting my need to be needed.
Think about it.