What is love?

What is love?

(No, the next line isn’t “Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt meeeee anymore!”)

What is love?

Do you know?

Some say it’s a feeling; others, a choice. It is both?

What is love? We all seem to know intuitively, but defining it is a challenge.

Philosophers have spilled oceans of ink trying to define ‘truth’. Truth was thought to be absolute for so long, and then postmodernism shook that certainty to the core.

Is there one absolute truth? Are there many relative truths?

Is truth absolutely relative, or relatively absolute?

But what about love? Most people seem to believe that the nature of love is intuitively obvious and therefore needs no definition. Then again, didn’t the nature of truth seem intuitively obvious for so long?

Is love absolute? Is it relative? Is it absolutely relative, or relatively absolute?

Back in September, 2015, I traveled from Uganda to Nairobi, Kenya, to attend an African linguistics conference (on Nilo-Saharan languages). For some reason, I tend to have more mystical experiences when I travel alone. I think it’s because, without responsibility for others, I am free to engage in pure observation and contemplation. On this particular trip, I was deeply moved by two instances of what – to me – were expressions of Love. I think it can be ascertained from what I write that Love does indeed involve both feeling and choice, emotion and decision. Perhaps the two aren’t so exclusive after all.

On the bus ride to Nairobi, I sat behind a mother and her 12-year-old special needs daughter. The girl was mentally retarded. She drooled and dribbled. She shook and writhed in her seat. She shouted out rude language in Swahili, repeating unkind things that have likely been spoken to her throughout her lifetime. This went on in fits and stretches for sixteen hours. It really wasn’t a problem for us passengers, but for the mother, it was her never-ending reality. And yet her love never faltered. She exuded tender love, care, and affection for that girl in the most visible ways. She never raised her voice even once. She never lost her patience. She gently tended to the girl’s needs, even so far as to change her diaper mid-route. I was amazed…Later, I found out the girl’s name was Joy, and I thought, “Yes, she does bring joy, doesn’t she?” She brings joy because her natural unlovableness unleashes a tide of supernatural love in those who, like her mother, have opened the floodgates of their hearts.


On the second-to-last day of the conference, an Italian linguist showed up with his daughter. She was so radiantly beautiful in face and form that her presence created that polarizing tension in which women ignored her out of envy and men out of a desperate attempt to hide their notice. After her father gave his talk, I tried to connect with him, but he blew me off…

As the day wore on, I observed that no one was even speaking to this man’s daughter. I didn’t either because, as a married man, I didn’t want to appear as inappropriate. On the next day, on our group game drive in the park, people continued to ignore both the father and the daughter. Finally, during our brunch near the park entrance, I got up to get more tea, and there she was, standing nearby smoking a cigarette. This time I obeyed the Spirit and talked to the woman. Her English was halting, but we managed to chat for a few minutes. Later, when I got off the bus and turned to wave, she waved back with a big smile on her face. One of the other linguists had called her father a ‘royal asshole’. But just a simple act of love makes a big impact. After emailing her father later, I got a very friendly reply, and I can’t help but think that my being kind to his daughter had something to do with it.

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