Yesterday was my first real Valentine's Day. Lori and I were engaged over last year's Valentine's Day, but we lived in different states. I won't say anything to embarrass Lori (not that that is an easy thing to do), but I will rather dwell on love and its relation to ethnographic study relative to my thoughts over the last few days.
To paraphrase/quote Moulin Rouge and some great song lyrics (I'm not sure how close my paraphrase is - I have seen this movie way too many times for most men to admit. I am not ashamed.), "love is a many splendored thing; love lifts us up where we belong; all you need is love!" Though its expression is different from culture to culture, love is universal. Romantic love and brotherly/humanly love have their differences, as we have defined them in our culture, but they share qualities that might be said to belong to Love, that highest form of regard for other sentient beings. I present here five.I've picked up these things over the course of my life, and nowhere have they been tested or proven more than in my relationship with my wife, hence Valentine's Day being the perfect season for writing on them.
1) Tolerance and appreciation - sometimes we need one, hopefully we can gain the other.
strengths - sometimes the things we hate most about others are those things they are truly gifted in
2) An inexhaustible source of willingness to help. When love is present, the minutes, hours, days, years, decades, eons spent in service towards others have purpose and don't seem to be so arduous. Love provides stick-to-it-iveness and all those spoonfuls of sugar that help the medicine go down.
3) Prevention of "help" that is really "hurt." Sometimes love requires allowing a person or people to suffer lesser evils so they might be spared from greater ones. We of course tell children not to touch the stove when it's on, but I don't know very many kids who really learned their lesson until they were sneaky enough to grab that red iron when no one was looking (or stick their hand in the fire, or grab the iron on the ironing board, etc.). I'm not suggesting we stop warning people completely - some particularly dangerous things must be prevented at all costs (getting a burn is one thing, getting run over by a car in the middle of the street another), but occasionally there is wisdom and true love in letting the kid think you're not looking so he or she can get a good hold on the stove ring and learn the lesson in a shocking and permanent way. Also, in the case of sensitivity in international or local social work, creating communities of dependents or creating false expectations is an evil to be sorely avoided.
4) The right questions. Instead of asking, "what's wrong with you," Love might ask, and actually want an answer to, "who are you? Why are you? Where are you right now (emotionally, physically, spiritually, etc.)?" Also, and perhaps more importantly, Love often knows when not to ask questions, but to simply be in the present moment. Love knows that sometimes there aren't answers, at least not answers that can be articulated by the usual methods, and that that's okay. I just talked to a retired Marine chaplain who is doing hospice chaplain work, and one of his preferred methods for helping people deal with stress is to go on a walk with them (if they can walk. Wheelchairs work fine for most of the rest.) and say, "Talk if you want to talk, don't talk if you don't want to talk. Let's just walk." This lets people deal with things on their own terms, and they are up and about and feel like they are actually doing something about it rather than isolating and wallowing - even if they don't say a word. That is an example of asking the right question, and asking in the right way.
5) Time. Though this may seem the same as answer 2, Love provides a new angle on time in life. When true Love is present, the person possessed by it moves farther and farther away from a finite way of looking at things. In one of the papers that I wrote for Dr. Keller's graduate world religions class (you can find the paper on this website somewhere - I'm not sure where at the moment), I talked about the difference between playing a finite game and playing an infinite game. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, and all methods used to arrive at winning matter less than the outcome. An infinite game is played for the purpose of playing, and outcomes don't matter because they really don't exist - the next step in the game leads to yet another step, and on forever. Love plays just to play, loves just to love, damn the torpedoes and forget about the ending. Impatience? Why bother with it? Rushing? Forget about it.
I am of the opinion that if one is going to undertake field study, one sure as hell needs to care about the people in the area one is studying. If one is going to do anything that involves other people, one better be willing to fall in love with them and be lost in it. I hate how ethnographers use the term "informants," just as I hated how missionaries used the term "investigators." There isn't anything inherently wrong with these labels, but they are so restricting, and connote a level of boxed-in definition I am not comfortable with in any human relation. I wonder how many marriages would be saved, how many people would be saved, if they knew more certainly what Love entails and what it will mean to have and be in Love. I do not pretend to know more about Love than any other person in the world - just because a person writes about something doesn't mean they know a thing about it, as you will see if you read anything else I've done. I feel like I know as much as amounts to a single snowflake on the top of the iceberg. That snowflake, however, is the most precious thing I have. It finds its embodiment in my family, my faith, and my friends. On occasion it even shows up in my schoolwork, and in even rarer instances it actually affects how I treat people.