A group of children, four to eight years old, were asked, “What is love?” Here are their responses:
When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.
When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.
Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.
Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.
Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure it tastes OK.
Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My mommy and daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss.
You think when you tell someone something bad about yourself and you’re scared, they won’t love you anymore. But then you get surprised because they still love you, but even more.
Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday.
Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.
My mommy loves me more than anybody. You don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.
Love is when mommy sees daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford.
Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.
I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.
Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.
When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.
If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.
You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.
If I had to answer the question myself, I would recount a life-changing lesson I learned from my mother:
When I was first inspired by the teachings of Jesus, I took him as a role model of wisdom and compassion. To remind myself, I taped a small photo of Jesus on the glove compartment of my car.
As you can imagine, my certified Jewish mother was not quite pleased as punch about the photo (especially since she had, uh, bought me the car). Every time my mom sat in the passenger seat, she would make fun of Jesus. “How ya doin’, Jesus?” she would mock-ask him. “Was it cold out here last night? . . . Maybe you’d like me to knit you a little sweater?” And so on. . . you get the idea.
I took the hint and decided to not push the issue. The next time I went to visit my mom, I untaped Jesus from his display and lovingly placed him in the glove compartment. I figured that if he is really who he says he was, he would understand. He did.
A few weeks later I went to visit my mom. As I entered her apartment I noticed an unusual photo on her dining room table. I picked it up and recognized it as a portrait of a Catholic saint. I could hardly believe my eyes! In my entire life I had never seen any such likeness in my Jewish household.
Stunned, I asked my mom how the picture had gotten there. “Well, I was at a garage sale,” she explained, “and I thought you might like it.”
That moment my mother taught me a lesson that far surpassed any bestowed by all the gurus I have studied with. In her own unique way, she stepped out of her history, religious belief, and comfort zone, and did something for me that would make me happy, even if she didn’t approve. Now that’s love.
Many years later, I still hold that lesson as a benchmark for serving others. Rather than seeking for them to follow the choices I would make for them, I seek to support them to do what would make them happy. And in all my life I have found no greater joy. Thank you, mom. True love teaches true love.
By Alan Cohen