“Love is 20 things, but it isn’t 19”

Excerpt from the NPR interview with Tom Stoppard, Screenwriter for the Adaptation of Anna Karenina:

On what he thinks love is

“Love is — OK, it’s 20 things, but it isn’t 19. And I think that love reaches for something which is very, very deep in us and is very easily obscured, and is also very easily denied, which is the instinct towards the other person, other than toward the self. In the end, it’s the deepest question, really, you know? Are we born self-interested and we have to learn to be good? Or are we born selfless and merely corrupted by competition and institution?”

Wow! There is a lot packed into that thought. My mind keeps reeling with the idea of love being 20 things, but not 19. I love these sorts of mental challenges. What does that even mean?

Because I’m still hen-pecking the keys, typing with only thumbs due to my recent injury, I am forced to keep this brief. Although truly, I would enjoy going round and round on this one.

In my mind, I envision a sweeping grand dialogue on the nature of true love. There are so many facets. There are so many poetic lines. There are so many artists over centuries, their faces come into view one after the other, along with their gifts, their additions throughout space and time to this overwhelming question. We are a tableau, a great feast of ideas and thoughts, swirling through the ages, all wrapped around this question – What is Love? And we have answers wrapped in more questions, wrapped in poetry, prose and song, wrapped in mystery and a blaze of colors.

And what defines our question best is the leaving out of one percentage of the whole. Without that one sliver, the rest falls apart.

As we embark on another feast of family togetherness for Thanksgiving, I am more aware than ever that there are parts of love I freely give, and there are parts I tend to withhold from certain family members. Each family has its dynamics. We tend to go into these things knowing what each person craves, and our willingness to give depends largely on whether we have felt snubbed or wronged by that person recently.

We are all grown-ups but somehow resort to playground power plays when we are all together. I am not necessarily speaking of my family. I am speaking in broad brushstrokes about the phenomenon of Thanksgiving turned family drama as we experience it in America.

For my part, I want to remember that it is not always the 19 things I freely give that matter, but the one thing I stingily held back that a loved one might notice most, because that was the one thing she hoped for, that he has been steadily dropping hints about for months.

Focusing on living intentionally, means for me this year, to focus on loving my relatives, not in the expressions of love that I crave, but in the manifestations that matter most to each of them. It’s a bit of a scavenger hunt sometimes. Not all my loved ones wear their hearts on their sleeves like I do. So deciphering the one-part-of-the-twenty-that-matters may not be as easy as pie. But the exercise, I am sure, will make my interactions with each of them more meaningful, true and heartfelt. And that is the part of the equation that is magical to me.


photo from here

4 thoughts on ““Love is 20 things, but it isn’t 19”

  1. What a fabulous post to kick off the weekend of spending time with our families! I love the way you phrased it, about leaving out the one thing. Yes, we all have the one thing we withhold, don’t we? I think if you dig, you will find that there is always someone who has been wronged behind that withhold. Fantastic.

  2. This is truly beautiful. I need this reminder to check in and see if I am holding back. I think I do – not in a stingy way – but in a self-protective way. But, releasing that last percent is part of the trusting and letting go that I am learning to do.

    1. I like your caveat – that it’s not in a stingy way, but in a self-protective way. I think that’s usually what it is. That helps me see things more graciously when I feel someone is holding out on me… What do they feel they need to protect? Is there something I can do to help them feel safe?

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