How do I love Thee?
I know February is long way away but I have a few thoughts on love. I am not sure that pure love, the highest, noblest, and greatest emotion the human family can experience, can be characterized into five “languages” or prepackaged in logic. Love is difficult to quantify, or condense into specific, dogmatic themes that leap over time, space, and culture. It is too individualistic to be funneled through a few subjective strainers then generalized to all humanity.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a poem called “How Do I Love Thee? Let me Count the Ways.” In speaking about Browning’s use of the word how, Jeffrey R. Holland, an Apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, explained:
“ . . . I am impressed with her choice of adverb—not when do I love thee nor where do I love thee nor why do I love thee nor why don’t you love me, but, rather, how. How do I demonstrate it, how do I reveal my true love for you?” [i]
When it comes to love, how really is the most important adverb. Love really isn’t concerned with one’s ability to quote sonnets, purchase flowers, or write affectionate poetry as much as it is concerned with doing dishes, changing diapers, and mowing lawns. Yes there is a place for poetry and flowers; however, buying flowers without changing diapers won’t make life or love smell any better.
Another key when experiencing love is the almost absolute necessity of reciprocity. Love isn’t too much fun when it isn’t given back. Additionally, some erroneously believe the greater the love between two people allows for lower expectations; in other words, some people believe, “Oh, my parents love me so much they will understand if I break their rules . . .” or, “because God loves me, it matters little how I live my life.” Both thoughts neither reciprocate love nor understand its essence. The greater the love, the greater the demands placed upon that relationship—and that is true in any relationship.
So what does this have to do with loving a special needs child? Shakespeare said, “Love is not love/ which alters when it alteration finds.”[ii] A genetic alteration has not and indeed cannot alter my love for her. My angelic daughter does not understand the social and cultural norms of expressing and reciprocating love and affection. She doesn’t like hugs, rarely snuggles or even understands their culturally derived significance. However, the look in her eyes, her clapping and stomping when I come home, and her gestures are genuine and divine.
So, Elise, how do I love thee? Well, it’s more than changing your diapers—though that is part of it—it is more than feeding you every day—though that is certainly part of it—it more than tickling and singing with you at 3:30 in the morning when you wake up because you don’t realize it is the middle of the night —yes it is even more than that. It is a bond forged through an alteration. A genetic alteration hasn’t altered my love for you Elise, it simply alters the opportunity, methods and demand through which I can express it to you.
[i] Jeffrey R. Holland, “How Do I Love Thee” BYU Devotional 15 Feb. 2000, speeches.byu.edu
[ii] William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 116” shakespeares-sonnets.com