According to Merriam-Webster, the word love serves as both a noun and a verb. The love you have within you is a tangible thing, like your bones, your heart, your opinions. When you have it, it’s a noun. Put it into action, and “I love you” expresses an emotion or an act of volition - something done - a verb. We love chocolate (okay, that’s me). We love hockey, we love cool breezes on a hot day, and we love others.
The phrase “I love you” is important; It makes us feel worthwhile and appreciated. Persistent proclamations of love are reassurance that even if everything goes to Hell in the proverbial handbasket, let’s say, a zombie apocalypse, Scotte and I will stand side by side to defend each other’s lives. Risking being bitten by the undead in order to lop off heads that then can’t bite the person we love - now, that is true love in action! Even something as mundane as a ship sinking, and putting your soulmate on a floating wooden door to ensure she will survive, and that you catch hypothermia and dramatically sink to the bottom of the ocean, is actionable love. Yet, how often do we find ourselves and our love tested in big, heroic, movie action-hero ways?
Wendy and Dan, a beautiful couple we met in Grand Rapids, Michigan were battling for Dan’s life. His most recent diagnosis, within a week of our interviewing them, was of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The doctors had previously proclaimed that he had bacterial meningitis following brain damage from a head injury. In other words, they couldn’t specifically confirm the reason for Dan’s memory issues, difficulties functioning, or loss of dexterity. Wendy had taken on a second job to make up the loss of income from Dan being unable to work. She kept a positive outlook as she gently reminded him what he was doing a moment before, or cooking dinner after coming home from her job because Dan was physically unable. And, still, Wendy called Dan the strongest person she had ever known.
Another couple we interviewed, Luwanna and Baron, endured a volatile and difficult marriage, ultimately ending in divorce. Years later, Luwanna accepted her ex-husband back into her life in a second marriage because of the love he’d expressed in his actions in the years after the divorce: babysitting the grandchildren, making repairs around the house, going to church with her, and changing “his wicked ways”. Luwanna told us,
“Love is a choice and a commitment, not an emotion. If you go with emotions and feelings, they change all the time; and you can say, ‘I don’t love you anymore’, ‘I’m out of love with you’. No. I choose to love him. I choose to love him, even when he’s unloveable. When he’s just being a brat.”
During the interview, they repeatedly touched and said, “I love you”.
How then can the rest of us put love into action when we do not have a volatile relationship, a life-threatening illness, a zombie apocalypse, or an iceberg sinking our cruise ship? Love as action can be heroic if we practice it in epic little ways every single day.
In one interview, Donna expressed how her wife, Gretna, becomes nauseous at the sight of a wadded up paper straw wrapper on the table. “It looks like chewed gum”, Gretna stated. When dining with friends, Donna promptly removes any crumbled paper inadvertently left in her partner’s sight. No comment, no explanation, no fuss; just a simple action.
On a personal level, Scotte knows I have OCD tendencies. I don’t count my steps (all the time) or open and shut the door a dozen times before I can leave the house. I do, however, get anxious when pictures are hung askance, unlevel in a drunken, swaying manner. On at least one occasion, we asked to be moved to a different room when the motel art was bolted to the wall at an angle making it impossible for me to straighten. When we go out to eat, Scotte scopes the artwork on the walls. If he spies a crooked picture, he will position himself so that I cannot see it - at least until we leave, which is how I found out he does this.
Daily deeds showing understanding, compassion and support - doing those little things that say “I love you” without the words being spoken - that is love in action.
"Promises to love without putting those words into action are just empty proposals. It’s not tangible until it is actually seen." Annie Lobert
Oh, and Scotte, remember yesterday when you put fuel in my motorcycle while I used the bathroom? Thanks for turning the gas cap so that the Harley Davidson logo was lined up straight... I love you, too.