Do you love me? I ask Santana, who has just settled inconveniently into the narrow space between me and my laptop, making it impossible for me to type.
It seems that he must love me: he is forever trying to get as close to me as possible, to nestle as much of his furry body against mine as he can. I abandon the typing project for a moment, cuddling him back and burying my face in his soft fur. He is warm and smells good, I tell him, in the babytalk I usually employ in talking to him, punctuated with lots of yes-you-dos and my-great-Santis and my-best-Santis. I know for sure that I love him.
But does he love me? Do cats love? Do any animals? Nope, scientists tell us. It's all about need and socialization, they say: they've learned to cuddle with us because it ensures their food supply. It's not love.
But I am not so sure. My own love -- for anyone -- is far from disinterested. I get at least as much as I give, once I am in it: the broadening of my own understanding of my good to encompass the good of the one I love, the filling of my need for physical and spiritual closeness. And it broadens my exposure to pain, as well: there are more ways to hurt me than there would be if I did not love. Might not the complicated human blend of generosity and need be just a more sophisticated version of what the animals know?
Maybe scientists just don't know everything there is to know about what love is. Maybe love includes our pettiness, at the same time as it transcends it, encompassing our habituation to one another, as well as our infatuation. Perhaps the nobility of soul we occasionally show forth in it -- for there are loves easily worth our lives -- lives side by side with the shabby grasping and jockeying for position we recognize all too well. Perhaps it is we who love, we humans -- not gods, not moral titans, not people in books -- and perhaps we love in a human way.
Santi had a hard trip back home from Italy. He internalized most of its stress (I say most of it: I had to mop up the part he externalized with damp paper towels purloined from the restroom on the plane) and didn't eat for days when he came home. He lost weight. He groomed himself compulsively, creating spiky little dreadlocks of matted fur all over his lower back and hindquarters, which I eventually had to cut off with scissors. He kept to himself upstairs, wanting only to sleep as close beside me as he could get. He drowned his sorrows in a $500 vet bill. He is only now returning to himself.
You may recall that it was the essential clumsiness of love that got Santi to Italy in the first place. Santi is actually our grandcat: he had to leave Brooklyn in a hurry after having sat on the new baby. He wasn't trying to hurt the baby; he just wanted to be close to the baby's mother. But he scared both new parents out of their wits, and in no time at all was on a plane to Italy. That trip, too, was a hard one, but in the end Santi enjoyed his year of la dolce vita, and was not thrilled to return stateside.
But back he came, along with his hardier brother and his humans. We won't ask this sacrifice of him again. We won't have to -- the baby now outweighs him. He can go home to Brooklyn if he wants to, I guess. But I've heard nothing about such a plan, and I have said nothing. He slides in beside me on the couch, as close as he can get, and rests both paws on my forearm, which makes typing even more difficult. I tell him I love him, yes I do, such a bad boy, such a silly boy, just my best boy, yes he is.
October 19, 8pm EST When Faith and Depression Meet, an eMinistry Teleclass with Barbara Crafton
Sorrow comes and then, after a time, it goes. Almost always, it leaves a scar - a big one or a little one, depending on what it is. But sorrow is the usual human response to loss. Sorrow is as normal as toenails. And it's not what this class is about.
Depression isn't something everybody has. It is not normal. While it may take root in the shock of a sudden sorrow or a profound life change, it may also just come for no reason at all that the naked eye can see, invited in by a wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time neurochemical moment which is hidden from public view. Depression is the sapping of spiritual strength and joy, the graying of everything, a growing awareness that something is missing and nothing is working as it should, a creeping inability to honor any of one's own achievements or claim any of one's own blessings.
This class will explore depression in the many people of faith who have experienced it. Of course, it will not do so fully: like all human experience, depression fits itself to the vessel it has chosen, and no two of us are the same.
To register for this one-hour phone talk, visit www.eministrynetwork.org.