Dew Drops on Rose Petals
With beautiful almond-shaped eyes and a deceiving grin, Jannay Towne, co-anchor for the channel thirteen news, tells me not to speak for an extended period of time or take deep breaths during these days of record cold. It can permanently damage your lungs, she says, smiling at the camera as if her words aren’t at all concerning.
The next afternoon finds me at my locker, pulling on a hat and thick gloves, shrugging on my coat and zipping it up to my neck. Towne’s words resonate with me. I’m not taking any chances. In an effort to look and feel less ridiculous, trudging down the hall in my anti-blizzard suit, I avoid eye contact with those I pass. While making my Great Escape, I zoom past stragglers in the hall as if I am Jimmie Johnson on his final lap. Thankfully, I am ignored by all, leaving me to weave around groups of twos and threes and listen to a few seconds of various conversations. Most of what I hear is pointless chatter, but one pair (obviously a couple, judging by the way they use the precious minutes as a stolen moment of passion) stands out to me. “Love you,” the guy says, pulling away from the girl. She repeats the sentiment, letting their connected hands linger before starting down the hall.
Um, what? Are the two actually in love, or is it the thrill of a high school relationship making them act the way they were? Did they recognize the weight of their words, realize they will most likely fall apart before the year is out? What do those three fateful words, I love you, even mean in today’s society?
First and foremost, I must recognize that there are various types of love. According to Doctor Neel Burton, psychiatrist and philosopher, many deep thinkers of both ancient and modern times recognize seven different pieces to the puzzle of affection, the definitions of which are as follows:
Eros: sexual or passionate love most akin to our modern concept of love
Philia: friendship and shared goodwill; love between friends
Storge: familial love that differs from philia in that it tends to be unilateral or one-sided (in the case with small children, the parental unit performs nearly all of the caregiving)
Agape: universal love for strangers, nature, or God; unlike storge, it does not require familiarity
Ludus: playful or uncommitted love, involving activities such as teasing, flirting, and seducing; regarded by the general public as lust and a form of intense desire, rather than pure love
Pragma: practical love highlighting reason and duty above sexual attraction
Philautia: self-love, which is either healthy or unhealthy; the spark to one’s fire of confidence
It’s an extensive list, from true love to lust, sweeping love for all beings to what seems like more of a business contract than a marriage ceremony. While it seems as if each and every one of us is full of countless tales of these forms of love, to me, eros, philia, storge, and philatua stand out from the rest. Case in point: my parents.
To some, I seem old-fashioned in my belief of soulmates and true love (known as eros), but to the doubters, I present a challenge. Spend one day in the company of my mother and father, and watch a lack of faith turn into solid conviction. My parents married and had children young but my father can still crack a cheesy joke and make my mother erupt into giggles. Just last week, my mother dropped the bag of frozen peas on the kitchen floor. My father, sitting at the island, makes eye contact with her and says, in all seriousness, “you peed on the floor.” If that’s not true love, then I don’t know what is. My parents represent the ultimate team, even when performing the most menial tasks: he cooks and she cleans, he rotates the laundry and she folds it, he watches football while she crochets. As each other’s best friends, they have both eros and the second type of love, philia.
Philia, identified above as love between friends, has a myriad of examples. My best friend Heather and I speak nearly every day. We often joke that we are twins: she is a righty to my lefty, black-haired to my blonde, scientist to my author, and the most brilliant and beautiful person I’ve ever met. The beginning of the school year brought extreme disappointment, as Heather and I discovered we had no classes together, but that didn’t stop me from promising her this: “Heather, if anyone gives you crap or anything you don’t like, you tell me and I’ll beat them up. A student, teacher, whatever. I have your back.” She laughed, tilting her head toward the ceiling as giggles rose like bubbles on a warm summer’s day.
“You too, man,” she grinned. Man. An odd term of endearment, seeing as we are females. But that’s the thing—Heather and I are full of inside jokes and ridiculous pet names. We’ll make stupid faces at each other from across the hall, contorting our features into the most grotesque shapes. Our cringeworthy one-liners range from shouting What a nerd! when one of us complains about schoolwork to pretending to buy tickets for the next flight to Alaska when life just gets to be too much and a tiny cabin in the middle of a forest sounds like a wonderful escape from our dismal realities. Even the smallest interactions between Heather and I are the best examples of philia. In the opposite sense, however, the unequal relationships of storge are best highlighted between the interactions between myself and my cat, Duck.
In a word, my cat is petulant. Though he acts like it is a complete coincidence he’s trying to sit on my chest, the moment I don’t give enough ear rubs or squeeze his tiny paws, he’s off sulking under the bed. But I wouldn’t trade my fluffy, fifteen pounds of cat for anything, even though he has been in congestive heart failure for almost two years. I remember the day of his diagnosis: I’m laying in bed with Duck on my stomach, per routine (if I’m not in bed by my usual time, Duck will come find me and wail in my ear). While running my hands down his back, a surefire way to calm both me and him down, I notice that he’s panting, stretching his neck out from his body like any breath could be his last.
The issue was fairly obvious and the examination swift. Throughout his life, the walls of Duck’s heart have been slowly thickening. Now, in his old age, it is extremely difficult for his heart to pump blood to the rest of his body, causing fluid to build up in his lungs. To counteract the deed which will eventually take his life, Duck is on two different liquid medications, given at six and eight in the morning, two in the afternoon, eight in the evening, and ten at night. His teeth are so rotten that he can no longer chew solid food, so a pain pill is catapulted down his throat every twelve hours. In addition to the pill, a pureed mix of canned cat food, beef-flavored baby mush, and water is served. My family calls this putrid mix “chicken soup,” which really puts me off from eating the real dish.
Why have I taken care of him for two years, and will continue to do so until the day he passes? Because, whenever I see him, trotting down the hall with creaking joints or curled up on the pile of blankets, smirking like he’s king of the mountain, my heart swells with the knowledge that this is the tiny kitten that has been with me my entire life, the one who would wear the baby bonnets I tied around his head and watch Sesame Street with me. He’s the one I cried for the day he ran away and the one I held after he was found. He’s the only being on this earth who can draw out a decidedly immature squeal from my lips as he does even the most mundane of actions. And while Duck acts as if my entire existence is purely for his comfort, I know that my love for him will never fade, like a one-way road where all of the lights are green, all at once.
The final type of love I am familiar with, philautia, is one that I have trouble defining. There are two sides to this coin: hubris and humility. Hubris, given to modern man by the ancient Greeks, is extreme, overbearing cockiness. It’s failing to admit to one’s faults. Humility, on the other hand, is recognizing that one has both strengths and weaknesses; there is always something to be worked toward. Philautia is a moderate amount of self-confidence, taken with a teaspoon of modesty. Multitudes of occasions show me as being both conceited and timid, but no example highlights this occurrence more like the Renaissance project, introduced to me by my Literature and Composition teacher, Mrs. Graves.
On paper, the project seems simple: pick an aspect of Renaissance-era life and formulate a creative, interactive presentation. The day of, however, as I am setting up my model of a Tudor farmstead, my hands shake violently. Did you really think you’d be able to wing this? I demanded to myself, furiously recalling the night before, where I had proudly rejoiced in my complete understanding of the Tudor period of history. At that moment, standing in front of miniature cows and pigs, I have absolutely zero self-love for myself. In fact, I am brimming with self-hatred. But as time goes on and I explain my research and findings to new groups of curious strangers, I grow more confident. I am able to pull lines from previous recounts and stitch together a speech. “It was unlikely for the Tudor farmstead to house horses,” I say, gesturing to the lack of plastic stallions. “They were exceptionally scarce and expensive to maintain.” At the end of the day, as other presenters come up to my booth and gasp in delight at my splendor, congratulating me on a magnificent board, I am full of cockiness, of hubris. In my mind, nothing can go wrong. I had just made up an entire speech, and if I can do that, I can do anything. As time progresses and my philautia rises and falls like chaotic ocean waves, there is still one definite truth: I am in love with myself, and no matter how melancholy I become, there is always an aspect of myself I find beautiful. Usually it’s my hair.
Love is in the eye of the beholder. As someone whose most intimate action has been a high five, it is easily determined that I am not exactly a connoisseur on the art of close affection. But eros isn’t the only love written on rose petals. Found in the dew droplets that stick to the innocent blooms are philia, storge, and philautia. There’s private love and flashy love. Quiet love and loud love.
Turning on the television and hearing the dulcet tones of Jannay Towne recount horrid events with a sort of detached tranquility, listen to her speak of shootings and hate crimes and acts of violence so despicable it hurts my wearied soul to contemplate how twisted someone must be to even think about committing them. It seems as if society has forgotten that love is so much more than chocolate and pink hearts. It is possible to love without receiving it back, and that’s what love is: yelling and shouting and whispering and grinning, laughing and crying so hard our entire bodies tremble and waiting with bated breaths for the next chapter in our lives, tiny puffs of air fogging up the frosted window.
That’s what love is.