Caravaggio: Amor Vincit Omnia
I write about love in my books. Not only the mushy “loooove” type of love, because love as a concept encompasses so much more than the electrical shiver that runs up your spine when your loved one places a hand on your lower back. We have a tendency now and then to narrow down the meaning of love to be about one person and their significant other, but love is about children and siblings, enervating parents and wonderful friends. It’s about the network of relationships that brings structure to most of our lives. And yes, loving is at times the equivalent of ripping your shirt wide open and baring your chest to the executioner’s sword. At other times it’s the warm feeling that settles in your stomach as you bask in the proximity of the people who make you belong, who see you for who you are rather than what you do. (In case you hadn’t figured that one out, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you that most people never get beyond what you do – they simply don’t care enough.)
While I find the English language a wondrous creation most of the time, it does have a severe deficiency in the “love” area. Okay, okay, so there are other words one can use such as adore, worship, cherish, but all of them have a slightly different connotation, none of them as unencumbered as that glorious four letter word, “love”. So we’re left with one measly verb, so many varied depths of emotion… I love chocolate, I love my job (intermittently), I just love my new dress, and BTW, I love you. (What? As much as you love chocolate?)
Many Germanic languages struggle with the same deficiency, i.e. one verb only, but in many cases the speakers of f.ex Swedish are much more restrictive in using the verb “älskar” than English speakers are with “love”. Still, all these languages grapple with the single verb problem – or maybe they don’t, maybe it’s just word freaks like me and the majority of authors that struggle with these issues.
I guess the only way to avoid devaluing the word love is to become more restrictive in using it – which is going to be a taxing efforts for all those people who seem incapable of stringing together five words without one of them being “love”. Alternatively we decide this is a non-issue and continue loving chocolate and our significant other, hoping context and body language will suffice to indicate the “depth and breadth and height” we are presently feeling.
I lean towards being more restrictive. I have a close male friend with whom I can discuss absolutely everything. Luckily, as there are times when my husband acquires a rather glazed look as I interview him on what reactions a man would have in this or that situation.
“How should I know? I’ve never fought hand to hand on a battlefield!”says hubby.
”But you’re a man! Use your imagination, okay? What would you think/feel?”
“Fear. And you?” Upon which he walks off, and I decide to explore this issue with my friend instead …
Anyway, one day very many years ago my friend and I were talking about something work-related when the conversation segued into a discussion about people we cared for. (Happens to all of us, right?) My friend was talking about his wife, and his voice became heavy with warmth and pride as he talked about this as yet (to me) unknown woman.
“So, do you tell her that you love her?” I interrupted.
“That I love her? Why should I? I told her once – you know, all that ‘to love and to hold’ stuff. I’ll be sure to let her know should my feelings for her change.”
Sheez! The strong and silent type, the sort of man who is most economical with spoken endearments but shows his woman with actions and gestures just how much he cares. Us women fall like pine trees in a storm when faced with men such as these. Perversely, we tend to view the men who go around spouting just how much they love us with a skeptical eye.
Okay, so I’m not as restrictive as my friend. Plus it doesn’t go well with my personality, I think, seeing as I am nowhere close to the strong, silent type. And hey, I DO love chocolate, okay? But what inspires my heart to soar, my soul to expand in depth and breadth and height are the people I love – the people without whom life would at times be quite the dreary march to Calvary and beyond.
Amor vincit omnia, they say. Love can conquer anything. A no-brainer – even if we’ve only got one verb with which to express the whole gamut of emotions. Fortunately, the glorious, rich and varied English language is a veritable smorgasbord of wonderful adverbs with which to qualify this my favourite verb. What??? We’re supposed to be restrictive with adverbs? Aaagh!
Maria van Oosterwijk – Vase of tulips, roses and other flowers. It makes me think of adjectives and frothy adverbs 🙂
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