It's a sad fact that we don't always love the way we want to — love being like a wind that assumes many forms. It ducks and hides and blasts out into the open in unexpected ways at odd times. But it's OK.
A traditional blues tune recorded by musicians from Bessie Smith to Pete Seeger to Madonna starts off with a lament — you can sing it three or four times, in true blues fashion, giving the pain in the guitar licks time to escalate. Love, oh, love oh careless love . . . the words vary to suit the spurned lover's situation. Love has swooped down on the unlucky pair — uninvited — and somebody ends up doing somebody else bad wrong. Murder or at the very least permanent heartache — the kind that doesn't always work out for the best and doesn't become a learning experience — ensues.
In a sense all love is careless. Love between lovers, between parents and children, between siblings and even self-love. Who among us thinks carefully about that fragile, invisible current that binds us?
Careless love also be a ho-hum blue-jeans affair, rather than Sunday-go-to-meeting love, all dressed up with flowers and careful not to make a mistake.
Unconditional love is like everyday love, like the kind you have for the sunrise, or the in-your-blood love you have for your children and parents and partner — you'd do anything for them, but why can't they take out the garbage once in awhile and why do they always try to fit the leftovers into a container that's too small?
There's also hard love, a self-denying kind. In the loft of an old Shenandoah settler's cabin last fall, a friend and I laughed about the reluctance of our moms to yield what might today be called positive reinforcement. Trouble might loom down the road they knew we would travel without them if we got the big head. So they became masters of the rare compliment, served always with a twist. And it irritated the daylights out of me.
“You look great, but what's that you're wearing on your feet?” my mother inquired of my shoes as I got off an airplane for a spring visit to my hometown. They were pale blue, fresh from the trendy new shop in my Chicago neighborhood. I fumed.
In retrospect, the hard love seems purposefully restrained. Surely it would have been easier to allow her children to have their way more often, to be happy, even if temporarily. But the road had been rough, and she was preparing us for the long haul, not today's indulgence. “Everybody's going or everyone's wearing this or everyone's doing this” cut no ice.
Late in her life, my mom apologized for being “so much trouble” to me when her health failed. I reminded her promptly of how she cramped my style when I was 16 — that was real trouble. The moment pardoned us briefly from the grief that hovered over all of our final conversations especially when she recalled the time I surreptitiously slashed all of my skirts and then hemmed them to a few inches below the crotch.
Her goals for us didn't include outsized self-esteem, aka the big head. Nor did her dreams center on making lots of money, though clearly that might be useful, getting to the top of a career ladder, desirable but not a priority, or securing prestige-bearing objects at the cost of more valuable, if less tangible, personal goals. So what did she value the most? To be the “same thing all the time.”
Now I know she meant authenticity, not a word she would use. Now I know people who are the same thing all the time: They're some of my best friends. Thank heaven for all that wayward, careless and hard love.
Love, oh love, oh careless love, see what you done done.