A Perfect Love
It was a Friday evening and I was walking up the narrow stairs leading from the basement of the prison's chapel where the New York Theological Seminary office and classroom were located. As the clerk for the night, I had just closed up after Professor Mark Chapman's Theology and Culture class. The master's degree candidates in the class had already made their way toward the auditorium where I intended to wait until the officers announced the "go back." At that point, we would be allowed to return to our respective housing units.
But when I reached the top of the stairs, one of the chapel's porters (another incarcerated man that I had known for decades) was having a conversation with the officers and Professor Chapman, who was waiting to be escorted out of the prison after his class. When the porter saw me, he said, "Well let's ask him? Two answered yes and two answered no so he can break the tie."
These are always exciting and potentially uncomfortable situations for me because you don't really know what you have gotten yourself into. On the one hand, you don't want to offend anyone or cause anyone to be hurt or lose a bet, but on the other hand, it is always fun to be the tie-breaker.
"Okay, what's the question?" Trent, the porter, was very good at delivering the question, giving no hint as to which way he, or anyone else, was leaning.
"Do you believe there is any such thing as a perfect love?"
Sheesh! I was looking for a question along the lines of "Do you think the Knicks will make the playoffs?" or "Should the progressives support Biden's economic agenda?" or even "Why is water wet?" After a few moments, I answered "Yes, of course." I went on to explain that however you define love as a concept it is meant to describe something that is perfect and so to describe it as imperfect would represent a contradiction in terms. Love as an ideal is precious to us precisely because it is perfect in our minds. It is something we aspire to have because it completes us in ways that we cannot always fully describe.
Now, it is an entirely different matter if you are asking if human beings are capable of demonstrating perfect love. It occurs to me that when we say that love is a joke, or that love is cruel, or that it is imperfect in some way, we are really describing our feelings of disappointment. We feel that our love interest has fallen short in some way or that we ourselves have lapsed. But I don't think that means that the love we felt was not real because it was not always present. In this case, we would be asking if love is permanent, or if permanence is a defining element of love rather than asking if love itself is perfect.
That night I thought about a personal working definition of love that I would like to share:
Love is the most powerful unifying force known to humanity. It brings families, lovers and friends together in spirit, mind, body and soul and the unions that it creates are born of an energy that does not diminish the individual even as it strips away artifice, but makes each person within its field of influence a greater version of themselves. It is the most potent catalyst for our expansion out into the world, for unifying people with themselves and for bringing us peace.
What does a perfect love look like for you? How would you define it?
Leave a comment with your definition of love!