OK, I Can’t Resist: Love

human hands forming heart on white surface

I’ve had my local grandkiddos over a lot lately, and they remind me of how much I love them, and the local family multiple generations, and the grandchildren and family farther away geographically but not in my heart, and dear friends and colleagues near and far, and….so, yes, I capitulate and say I cannot resist addressing the meaning of the word “love” in February!

However, I am delighted to turn the meditation over to one of my favorite wordsmiths and columnists of language, Caleb Madison, the crossword editor for the Atlantic magazine. So delighted that all I will do here is to provide you with two excerpts and with a sincere invitation to check out Caleb’s work and maybe subscribe to his wonderful mini-essays (and crossword!). You’ll find him at Caleb Madison at The Good Word, in the Atlantic magazine.

Today, Caleb shares, in part:

Love’s roots run deep, etymologically speaking. Linguists trace its origins all the way back to Proto-Indo-European (PIE), a reconstructed hypothetical language spoken as early as 4500 B.C. that eventually evolved into the Romance languages, Russian, Hindustani, and many others. The PIE root leubh-, meaning “to care, to desire, to love,” also gave us belief, libido, and leave. But, in a fantastic etymological anomaly, even as this root word split and evolved through various cultures and languages over the next 6,500 years, from the Sanskrit lubhyati to the Russian ljubit, its core meaning remained the same. A strong, heavy attachment to the unspeakable essence of human experience anchored the phonetic sounds of *leubh– across continents, through massive technological and political revolutions, all the way to the present. This means that if you could travel back in time and play the opening to “All You Need Is Love” at a Copper Age Khvalynsk horse sacrifice in the Eurasian steppes, the humans there might just understand what the Beatles were singing about, and maybe even spare the horse.

Perhaps love is not meant to be defined—just used. Context and intuition tell us whether it’s an instinctual positive response, a metaphysical attraction, or a spiritual symbiosis. My favorite definition comes from literature, specifically from the master of bending English to express the abstractions of inner life, James Joyce, who proclaims in his epic masterpiece, Ulysses, that “love loves to love love.” Paradoxical, nonsensical, yet impossible to misunderstand—a perfect illustration of the idea that the intuitive meaning of the word works only in practice.

The “unspeakable essence of human experience,” and yet we must speak of it, our hearts compel us to speak of it.

As a matter of fact, in the retreats I provide based on Aramaic scriptures, I point out that the sound of the word “love” there, too (lub), points to the sound our hearts make as they beat. (In English, we sometimes write this out as “lub-dub, lub-dub.”)

Love is the beat of life. Love is our hearts alive. Let’s share that life.

Happy February.

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