A long while back, a friend mentioned in passing that he hoped he would fall in love. Though the conversation was an interesting one, what struck me then (oddly) was the least remarkable phrase: “fall in love.” Why do we talk of “falling” into love? Is love a trap that catches you unawares? A deep ditch or a hidden well into which we tumble headlong and find ourselves trapped? Do we set ourselves up to fall? Or to love? What is the action? Though I don’t claim to know much about love, this phrase strikes me as odd and I have found myself saying. “hang on, wait a minute!”
One level, I understand. The emotional rush of love can feel like falling. It is heady and exhilarating. There is too the shock of the landing – the painful moment when the first rush and swoop of love hits life’s firm realities. In that sense, the metaphor is apt. Even so, the aspect of the phrase that grates against my mind is the befuddlement of noun and verb. There is at least a grammatical difference between loving someone and falling in love with someone. In one, love is a verb. In the other love is a noun that happens to you. The second is implicitly passive, and the first active. Are the meanings then really one and the same? Are they not separate experiences? Can either stand alone?
My rational self wants evidence and justification for all emotion. I therefore tend to think that love must be a doing thing or it is no thing at all. (In other words, avoid passively falling at all costs.) And yet, even the meaning of the active verb form can get muddled. What exactly is the action? Is the emotion the action? “I love you,” says the Lover to the Beloved. Does he mean, “I have this colossal tower of emotion in my heart that can only mean one thing … love,” OR “see by my action how important you are to me”? Can one express love without emotion? Can one feel emotion without doing anything to demonstrate it? If so, is either still love?
Wendell Berry tells a bittersweet and beautiful story of a man who loves a woman who does not notice him. When she marries another man, Jayber Crow spends the rest of his life committed to her, loving her from a distance. Though he never tries to tempt her from her marriage, he stays near, keeping his emotion to himself and demonstrating his love by making sure she is safe, supported, and provided for in times of desperate need. He both feels and acts his love towards her without expecting anything in return. Only at the end of her life did she finally understand the truth and connection between the actions she had seen from him and the emotion he had felt. It was not a tragedy, but a joy in that moment for them both to realize the true nature of love.
I am learning, though so slowly, that there is a right emotion to love. More than that, there is an emotion we naturally experience when love is given TO us. First the doing, then a feeling, which brings again the doing. Children learn how to love because someone first gave them love. We love because Christ first loved us. Life begets life. Love awakens love. Deep calls to deep.
In short, I am learning that all the things we do are but clanging gongs if we do not feel this thing called love. All the things we feel are but tempest and wind if we do not do this thing called love. There can be no separation. And may I never hope to “fall”, but instead walk with boldness and humility towards that for which we were all made.