Well after almost 24 hours of travel, 18 of which were on a plane, I have safely arrived in Chautauqua, New York where I will spend the next week hanging out and attempting to slowly adjust to being back here.
Over the past several days as I have packed my bags, said my goodbyes, boarded planes and said hello to one of the places I call home, I have often been asked how my year was. My generic response tends to be “I loved it” or something about loving the people, the culture or the place.
As I have constantly offered this response, I have begun to wonder a bit about what it actually means when I say that I “loved it.” While reflecting on this, I recalled a devotion that a dear friend had offered during my time at Luther. It was a passage from a book called Pine Island Paradox, In the passage that was read, author Kathleen Dean Moore contemplates this same thing: what does it mean to love?
I think that the answer she comes up with is poignant, accurate and much more articulate than I can be at this point. Rather than try to summarize or paraphrase, I will just share Moore’s words directly with you and tell you that this is what I mean when I say I loved the people, the culture and the place.
I stretched my back and started two lists. What does it mean to love a person? What does it mean to love a place? Before long, I discovered I had made two copies of the same list. To love---a person and a place---means at least this:
One. To want to be near it, physically
Number two. To want to know everything about it--- its story, its mood, what it looks like by moonlight
Number three. To rejoice in the fact of it.
Number four. To fear its loss, and grieve for its injuries.
Five. To protect it---fiercely, mindlessly, futilely and maybe tragically; but to be helpless to do otherwise.
Six. To be transformed in its presence---lifted, lighter, on your feet, transparent, open to everything beautiful and new.
Number seven. To want to be joined with it, taken it by it, lost in it.
Number eight. To want the best for it.
Number nine. Desperately.
Love is an anchor line, a rope on a pulley, a taut fly line, a spruce root, a route on a map, a father teaching his daughter to tie a bowline know, eelgrass bent to the tide, and all of these---a complicated, changing web of relationships, taken together. It’s not a choice, or a dream, or a romantic novel. It’s a fact: an empirical fact about our biological existence. We are born into relationships with people and places. We are born with the ability to create new relationships and tend to them. And we are born with a powerful longing for these relations. That complex connectedness----nourishes and shapes us and gives us joy and purpose.
I knew there was something important missing from my list but I was struggling to put it into words. Loving isn’t just a state of being, it’s a way of acting in the world. Love isn’t a sort of bliss, it’s a kind of work, sometimes hard, spirit-testing works. To love a person is to accept the responsibility to act lovingly toward him, to make his needs my own needs. To love a place is to care for it, to keep it healthy, to attend to its needs as if they were my own, because they are my own. Responsibility grows from love. It is the natural shape of caring.
Number ten, I wrote in my notebook. To love a person or a place is to accept moral responsibility for its well-being.