The National Catholic Review

My late husband and I often caught the tail end of a popular television talk show while we were waiting for the news to begin. One evening Tao, a guest of one of the hostesses, got into an animated dialogue over the definition of love. A beautiful actress, whose name escapes me, painted that virtue with a truly broad brush. She had produced a short film dealing with children. From her description of it, we suspected that it bordered on pornography. “Innocent curiosity, love and truth,” she explained, was the lofty theme of her study.

 

Hands flying, eyes sparkling, entire body language an eloquent reflection of her convictions, she stressed her belief that “whatever love decrees has to be right.” She quoted that already moldy chestnut: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Free love (in whatever form or direction it deviated) was always justified, she reiterated. “Furthermore, marriage is never obligatory.”

She surely touched all the bases. “I have to love me first before I can go out and love others. Love has to be selfish. Isn’t that supposed to be the beginning of wisdom: ‘know thyself’? Doesn’t the Bible tell me I must love my neighbor as myself?” A plethora of similar floral convictions were aired before an older panel guest interrupted her cockamamie lecture.

“Poppycock!” snorted the old-time, respected actor. His face was flushed, his eyes shot fire. “That’s not love. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re all smoke and mirrors. The way you toss it around, love becomes just another four-letter word.” He leaned forward, tempering his exasperation with paternal concern. “Love is giving—not satisfying one’s self. It’s reaching out to others, feeling for them, wanting to do for them—first. Then, as a resulting boon, favoring one’s self as a sidebar.” His tone softened as he wound down, watching her squirm under the audience’s hostility.

They applauded his defense, giving audible evidence of their disfavor of her argument. Of all he said, one impression emerged clearly: love is an old-fashioned, contemporary-eternal virtue. All the variations, the man-made interpretations, watered-down or blown-up versions for sale on today’s market, are just fluff that the winds of eternity will blow away. Though the hostess and her other guests tried to lighten the situation, the fact remains: love reflects God, and God is not to be mocked. Once again love had found a stalwart defender in that old professional actor—a knight well able to protect her.

Then the evening news came on, reporting the usual highway fatalities, murders, strikes, political shenanigans and wars all over the world map. Then, finally, the wind-up human interest story from a veterans’ hospital: interviews with residents who would probably never return home again. Yet each had something cheerful to offer concerning the approaching holidays. One elderly man spoke of his wife’s passing several years back. “She had a leg amputated. I took care of her for nine years. They told me I couldn’t do it for one month with my own disability. I did it for nine years. She was a beautiful woman. Every morning, I got her up, dressed her, took her out in the wheelchair. As she got more helpless I fed her. She was no trouble to me. Those were nine short years. She was wonderful. She eventually died of cancer, but she never complained. Wonderful....”

A tear glistened in his rheumy eye as the camera faded. I wiped a tear from my own. My husband, stirring beside me, huskily observed: “Now, that’s what I call love.”

The old vet hadn’t mentioned the word—but there was no need.

“Yes,” I whispered, “that’s love, pure and eternal.”

No need for us to decry that beautiful actress’s childishness, her frenetic conclusions. The memory of the last televised scene, though brief, would linger much longer. We could only pray that some such message might some day, miraculously, get through to her.

Alma Roberts Giordan, a regular contributor to America, writes from Watertown, Conn.

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