…was spent remembering my sweet grandmother, Ruth Lorraine Huffaker Christensen, at her memorial service in Caldwell, Idaho. (That’s just outside Boise, for those of you not lucky enough to be on the Idaho-Utah beltway.) My “Grandma C.” was truly a spectacular woman. She was the original Supermom, when supermomming meant canning and gardening, not chauferring and shopping. She spread her thin budget over her large family by sewing their clothes and making marvelous meals from scratch and yes, a hand-plucked chicken dinner was a joyous Sabbath feast to behold. And though she raised ten children on very little, she ended up with quite a lot; every one of those children graced her bedside as she passed, and then banded together in the week that followed as they made final arrangements and helped each other to finally let Mom go. At her service, the adult children spoke as much about the love they felt for one another as the love they felt for their mother. Talk about a success story.
Have you ever been in a room where love pressed down so thick and heavy you could assign it a color and paint it on the walls? I have. (And I would choose red. A dark, burnished red.) Have you ever spent Valentine’s Day holding your husband’s hand in a church pew, surrounded by one hundred and ninety-six immediate family members and countless extended family and friends? I have, and I would choose it over roses and chocolate. Have you ever spent Valentine’s Day dabbing your eyes in happysad tears while listening to truly great love stories? I have, and I would choose it over a romantic movie. I heard tales of my grandmother’s love for her children, her childrens’ love for her, and–my favorite–my grandparents’ love for each other, which started seventy years ago and is, no doubt, carrying on even as I sit at the keyboard this fine winter’s morning.
This Valentine’s Day, I thought less about romantic love (eros) and more about selfless love (agape). I thought about how the eros between my grandparents led to the agape surrounding me at the funeral; how their lifelong commitment actually created the sweet feeling in that chapel. And it seemed wonderful that I, who had done nothing to deserve a place in this warm room with these warm people, was not only welcome but expected to partake of that feeling. And it struck me how, before “love” can be felt and written and sung about, it must first be created. And it struck me how, though the polished-up package of love is attractive, the methods of creating it are less so. Creating love is hard, and slow, and often unappreciated until years later, when you look around at your one hundred and ninety-six family members and think that someone, somewhere, did something seriously right.
Creating love looks very different than falling in love. Creating love looks like forfeiting the carefree days of youth for the careful responsibilities of adulthood. Creating love looks like worries about money and teething and tantrums and two jobs and a worn-down house and sewing patches (again) on your four boys’ jeans because darnit if those kids don’t go through clothes faster than you can keep them on their backs. Creating love looks like long days and long nights–many good, some bad, but all of them coming at you full force, one after the other, each demanding as much of your scrupulous energy and attention as the last. Creating love looks heavy, and it looks tired. But it always looks forward. And it always looks beyond itself.
And that got me thinking, this Valentine’s Day, how just two generations after my grandmother’s, our society–so eager to celebrate the raptures of “love”–seems confused about how to create it. We seem slow to understand that the best kind of love is started by choice, not found by chance, and–like the hand-plucked chicken dinner–it is started from scratch. Falling in love is reactionary; creating love is courageous. Your friends fall by the wayside, your parents fade into the background, and it’s you and him and you and him, every morning and every evening and on Friday nights too–those same Friday nights that were once spent dating and dancing and laughing loudly with girlfriends. Eros is worshipped by a media who wants to watch love unfold against a Hollywood soundtrack. Agape is patted on the head then forgotten in a corner, because its soundtrack is a baby wailing in the playpen and the click of a young husband’s lunchbox, closed and handed to him as he leaves in the early dark for his morning shift at the plant.
I think our human nature wants the bouncy soundtrack before the softer sounds; we want the Finish before the Start. And when the eros exhausts itself, we forget to wait…wait…shh, just wait… for the agape. And then we miss out on both. Because I’m guessing that the warm embrace of agape I felt in that chapel is simply one side of a coin which, when flipped, bears the heat and intensity of eros on the other.
And so this most romantic of holidays had me thinking about how romance–that thrill surrounding the giddy half-truths and fuzzy edges of a person we kindasorta know–is such a beautiful way to start love and such a lousy way to finish it. And how eros is about Us, Now, but agape is about Everyone, Forever. And so this Valentine’s season, I pay tribute to my grandparents for being romantic enough to fall in their own little love and brave enough to build a love big enough for us all. I thank eros for starting it and I thank agape for finishing it.
But mostly, I thank my grandmother. For all of it.