If “love conquers all,” I want some evidence. Love couldn’t save my husband from brain cancer. He had love in abundance: the ceaseless prayers of a Carmelite convent at Dachau; the combined petitions of Jesuit and Lutheran seminaries around the world; an impressive network of friends, colleagues and family who plied us with meals and cards and visits, not to mention his wife’s fierce, focused devotion. If the doctors could have distilled love and infused it into his veins, he would be with us still. Did all this love fail him? Does love ever fail us?
Certainly we fail at love. There are the grand failures. Couples break up after pledging “till death do us part.” Parents and children divorce each other in judgmental silences. Wars erupt over boundaries, religious division, ethnic tension. Poverty, prejudice and hunger testify mutely to extraordinary failures of loving.
Then there are the ordinary failings: a harsh word, the rumor whispered into a waiting ear, a shred of gossip woven into false story. Alas—how do I fail to love thee? Let me count the ways!
Given the dismal track record, I understand anew the wail of a locker-room buddy. Suzanne lamented aloud about her teenage daughter who was aggressively trying to be unlovable: “I love her so much it hurts.”
Yet, often against our best efforts, love exists. It stands as a miracle of grace in our midst. We fail at love, but the Spirit picks us up off the ground, dusts us off and sends us back into the fray.
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