THE NEED FOR OF HUMAN LOVE

by

Donald X. Burt, OSA
 

Some years back I read a news-report of an incident that occurred in the New Orleans French quarter. Any of you who have ever been there probably remember it as a vibrant place filled with bright colors and delicious smells and joyous music coming from the open doors of cafes and restaurants. It is usually filled with happy tourists strolling down the crowded streets, stopping now and again to watch the street performers, some of them little kids dancing merrily to the jazz music from the surrounding cafes. In the midst of this frivolity a kind police woman discovered a little boy standing on the corner with a scared and forlorn look on his face. He was not lost. He had been abandoned. He was too frightened to talk at first but finally, back at the police station, in answer to the question "What do you want little boy!" He answered "I want someone to hug me!"

It was a simple and very human request. All of us need someone to love and someone to love us, someone who is willing on occasion to hold us tightly with their arms or at least with their caring affection. We need to be hugged during the good times in our life but even more during those times which are not so good. Augustine once said that the basic challenge of human life is to be detached from the good times and to endure the bad times. What he meant was that we must not hold onto our good times so tightly that we are destroyed when they end and we must endure those times that are not so good lest they destroy our hope. In our good times and bad times it is good to have friends because, in the words of the popular song:

"I can get by with a little help from my friends."

With friends, with human loves beside me, my good times become even more precious; with friends, with human loves beside me, I can endure my bad times.

Humans need love, they need friends, because they are not turtles. Now I like turtles. I am constantly fascinated by the National Geographic specials that depict the creation of new turtles. It is quite different from the propagation of human beings. Turtles do not date. They seem to have no intimate interaction with their peers beyond the passing contact between male and female necessary to insure the continuation of the tribe. Once the father turtle makes his contribution to process, we hear nothing more about him ... nor indeed, I suspect, does the mother. Turtles do not worry about relationships. There never will be a T.V. program called "friends" featuring turtles. If turtles had a sit-com it would be more like "Seinfeld" with turtles that come together briefly but never get involved.

The making of baby turtles is a solitary adventure with the mother doing most of the work. Her labor period involves dragging herself up on a solitary beach, laboriously digging a hole and therein depositing the multitude of her still "egged" offspring. And then she takes off. Having done her duty she crawls back to the sea, never to be seen again, at least by her children. They are left to fend for themselves. Their first challenge is to make it to the sea, not an easy task for a little fellow with short legs. Some, the philosopher turtles, seem to have no sense of direction. As they wander in the wrong direction they seem to cry out (as philosophers do): "Who am I?", "Where am I going?" Some make for the trees perhaps under the mistaken impression that they are hard-shelled birds with short legs. The travails of the infant turtles are further complicated by being surrounded by sea birds who think of the turtle migration as being a sign that Thanksgiving has arrived and the feast has begun. And for the little beasts there is no savior, neither God, man, nor turtle. Once hatched, the baby turtles demonstrate the same indifference to each other that was manifested by their anonymous parents. Tiny turtles emerging from their sandy incubation holes show little or no concern for their fellows as they make their mad dash for survival in the distant ocean. If one poor fellow falls on his back, there is no rush from his brothers and sisters to right him. And as far as getting together to prevent their siblings from being eaten alive, their principle seems to be "EVERY TURTLE FOR HIMSELF!" It is true that they are not especially aggressive towards each other. They do not eat their young or each other, as some other more violent species seem to do. They are just indifferent to each other. But what can you expect? They are just turtles. They are not social animals.

But we humans are, even though we do not always act that way. Augustine once observed: "Nothing is more social by nature or anti-social by sin as the human being." (The City of God, bk. 12, ch. 28) To say that we are social animals means that we fulfill ourselves as human beings only through love, love of God first but also love of our fellow humans. We are driven to search for a friend and to love them; and, when that love is returned we are lifted outside of ourselves ... we become literally ecstatic ... we "jump out" of ourselves. Augustine was so convinced of the need for human love that we once told his people:

In this world two things are essential: a healthy life and friendship.

Sermon 299D, # 1

Augustine worried his whole life about both. He was both a hypochondriac and paranoic about friendship, seeking new ways to acquire health and friends and constantly worried about losing both.

Unfortunately neither health nor friends are completely in our control. Sadly, there are many humans who have neither. Back in the 60's Harvey Cox wrote his famous book "The Secular City" describing the plight of the multitude of humans who live out their lives anonymously in the midst of crowds. They are never alone, but they are forever lonely because they are unknown. They have no one who cares enough about them to become a friend.

The sad fact is that such loneliness in the midst of crowds is not unusual. I have known couples who have lived in the same building for years and were yet strangers to each other, not knowing or caring what was happening to the one next to them. I remember a woman who came to see me about pursuing a degree at Villanova. She was trying to make her own life. Married for 25 years, once the kids had left the homestead was turned into two apartments. She lived downstairs; her husband upstairs and he had made it plain they he was tired of her and intended to live his life without her. They were still married but they were strangers and she was preparing for a career after the inevitable divorce.

Augustine would feel sorry for such a person. He himself could not imagine living such an unfriendly life. For him not having a friend, or having a human love and then losing them, was one of the great tragedies of human life. As an old man, looking back over the joys and sorrows of his life, he mused:

What is there to console us in this human society so full or errors and trials except the truth and mutual love of true and good friends?

The City of God, bk. 19, ch. 8

Writing to one of his own good friends he explains why this is so:

Good friends seem to spread no small comfort about them even in this life. For, if poverty pinches, if grief saddens, if physical pain unnerves us, if exile darkens our lives, if any other misfortune fills us with foreboding, let good people be present to us, people who know how to "rejoice with those who rejoice" as well as to "weep with those who weep" (Romans, 12.15), people who are skilled in helpful words and banter. If such people are with us then in large measure our bitter trials become less bitter, the heavy burdens become lighter, perceived obstacles are faced and overcome.

Letter 130, ch.2, # 4

It is extremely difficult for a human being to be happy in this life without loving and being loved by another human being. Of course, God IS love and his love for each of us is enduring and permanent, and perhaps some great saints could be satisfied with that alone. But for most of us (Augustine included) there is a deep felt need for another human being to care about us and, if the occasion arises, to kiss us and then hold us quietly in a loving embrace. Most of us have known the reality of Augustine's simple statement:

It is hard to laugh when you are by yourself.

Confessions, bk. 2, ch. 9, #17


And most of us have also known the truth that it is quite easy to weep when you are all alone.

Most of us need human loves, human friends, but to find them is a difficult task. Friendship is not a matter of physical proximity. Living with another does not make them a friend. Indeed, the love of friendship can and does exist over vast expanses of space and time. This is so because human love does not depend on a union of bodies. Rather it is found in a union of hearts, what Augustine calls concordia .. being "one in heart." When such a union exists it is possible to be connected with a loved one over great distances. When a love is the last thing you think of at night and the first thing you think of in the morning they are not far away. You can kiss them with your spirit because you hold them in your soul.

Friendship depends more on spiritual "oneness" than physical union (though the former logically wishes the latter whenever possible), but for "oneness of heart" to exist, there are a number of requirements. First of all the love must be reciprocal. We can love in the sense of "desiring" many things without any return of love, but to be a friend to someone demands that they also be friends to us. When love ceases to be reciprocal, friendship ceases. (The Trinity, bk. 9, ch. 4, # 6) We cannot be a friend with someone who does not know us or does not care about us.

Such reciprocal love would seem to demand some sort of equality between the lovers. We love the other as ourselves and neither more nor less than ourselves. The eyes of friendship neither look down nor look up to a friend; they look at the friend. Like a delicate rake caressing soft sand, the love of friendship has a leveling power, smoothing out the differences which come from our being unique individuals. We must love both ourselves and our friends in the same way, not as ends in themselves but as means whereby we can together each achieve our one eternal good: God himself. (On Christian Doctrine, bk. 1, ch. 22, # 20-1)

Friendship must be characterized by a benevolence, literally "wishing well" to the other. True love does not mean that we always agree with each other but we must always care for each other, desiring that only good things will come to our love. The love of a friend must be an altruistic love, a love which values the good that is in the friend rather than the good or the pleasure that the friend can bring to oneself. (The Trinity, bk. 8. ch. 10) It is not a jealous love. It does not stand in the way of our loved one loving others. Indeed, perhaps the greatest sign of friendship is to be happy when the one we love is happy with someone else.

The purest friendship between humans occurs when we love the other because of the good we see in them, the good which is the reflection of the good God who is the exemplar for each of us. Ideally we should love our human loves for the sake of God. In the words of Augustine:

He truly loves a friend who loves God in the friend, either because God is actually present in the friend or in order that God may be so present. This is true love. If we love another for another reason, we hate them more than love them.

Sermon 336, ch. 2, # 2

Augustine's point is that love cannot be present when we cease to respect our friend's place in creation. Only God can be enjoyed in and for himself. We must enjoy our human friends for the sake of God, "loving the love of God in them." (Against Faustus the Manichean, bk. 22, ch. 78) As Augustine says:

To love the neighbor in the right way demands that we act towards them in such a way that they come to love God with all their heart, soul, and mind.

On Christian Doctrine, bk. 1, ch. 22, # 21

To truly love someone, to be their friend means that we must be willing to bear their burdens and (perhaps even more difficult) to allow them to bear ours. In a perfect world friendship would only need to express itself in the enjoyment of the other in unending good times. In such a world we would embrace them not because they needed us but because we rejoiced in them. It would truly be delightful because (as Augustine observes),

Love is more precious when it issues from the richness of beneficence rather than from the burning arid desert of need.

Catechizing the Uninstructed, bk. 1, ch. 4, # 7)

A love based on the richness of our friends is not tempted to subordinate the them because of their need for us. It simply rejoices in being with them because of the good that they contain, most especially the special presence and the image of God found in them alone. In this life, however, the ideal state where friends never "need" each other does not last very long, if it exists at all. Bad things happen and it is then the love of friends is tested. Augustine uses an analogy to make this point:

Nothing so proves friendship as bearing the burden of a friend. Take the example of deer. When deer swim across a river to an island in search of pasture, they line themselves up in such a way that the weight of their heads carried in the antlers is borne by another. The one behind, by extending its neck, places its head on the one in front. By bearing each other's burdens in succession, all of them are able to successfully navigate the raging river.

83 Diverse Questions, ch. 71, # 1

There comes a time in life when each of us needs a place to rest our weary head and there is no better place than in the arms of one who truly loves us. Friends may be delightfully sunny and breezy in good times but if they go away at the first threat of a storm, they are not true friends at all.

Accepting the moments of strength and weakness that we share with our friends is an aspect of another essential quality of friendship. Friendship must be based on truth. Two human beings cannot be brought together as friends without some agreement about the goods they want, the goals that they have in common. At very least their friendship must have some understanding of the reality of the person who is the other. If I do not know the reality that is my friends, if they do not know the real me, there is the danger that the friendship is a fantasy based on a fiction. Friendship cannot be established on ignorance or error. In the words of Augustine:

A person must be a friend of truth before they can be a friend to any human being.

Letter 155, ch. 1, # 1

Augustine believed that there was only one way to create truth in a friendship. We must be frank with each other, feeling free to share each other's passion, fears, hopes, and dreams. A friend is one who is able to hear what we like and dislike. (83 Diverse Questions, ch. 31, # 3) Our knowledge of our human loves will always be less than perfect in this life. We may be able to experience their physical presence but we cannot see that inner spiritual core where friendship has its home. This is not strange. We do not even know ourselves too well, much less others. Each individual is a well of darkness surrounded by thick walls and these walls cannot be pierced completely by love nor can they be scaled by words. As Augustine observes:

In this journey of earthly life, each one carries his own heart and each heart is closed to every other.

Commentary on Psalm 55, 9


Augustine warns that this difficulty in truly knowing another must not make us overly cautious, refusing to give our love to anyone until they prove themselves friendly to us beyond a shadow of a doubt. The paradox is that we can never be completely sure of the heart of another, but the only way to truly know another is by opening our heart to them as a friend. (83 Diverse Questions, ch. 71, # 5)

Since we cannot know what is going on inside others, friendship must be based on trust. Only in heaven will we have perfect knowledge of others. Only there will ...

... we see the thoughts of others which now only God can see. Only there will no one seek to conceal their thoughts because only there will there be no evil thoughts.

Sermon 243, # 5

Just now we must make do, knowing as best we can and trusting for the rest, realizing that our inability to communicate perfectly is no one's fault. In order to have a friend we must first believe in them and in order to keep a friend we must continue to trust them. We must take chances on others and friendship is too important to human life not to take such chances. It is bad enough to betray a trust, but it is worse still to refuse ever to trust again. In Augustine's view such caution, far from being prudent, is hateful. (Faith In Things That Are Not Seen, 2.4)

It is a fact that true friendship is rare and when it occurs it brings its own sort of trials and tribulations. There is the sadness that comes when we offer our love to another and find that they love someone else. And when we have a friend, or (worse still), many friends, there is the sorrow that comes when things go badly for them and we can do nothing about it. Finally, there is the sorrow that comes when our loving friend leaves us ... perhaps to get on with their lives, perhaps through death. Indeed, there are special sorrows in having a loving friend but these are not to be compared with the sadness that comes from having no friend at all. We must still reach out in love to other human beings because only in so doing can we move towards God. Augustine once wrote:

My love is my weight drawing me wheresoever I will go. Confessions, bk. 13, ch. 9)
It is our love that draws us into our future and it is our innocent love of our friends that will draw us eventually into the arms of God.

In heaven the perfection of our love will "glue us to God" just as even now in our imperfect state the objects of our love become glued to us, leaving "footprints" in our mind even when they themselves are absent. (Commentary on Psalm 62, # 17; The Trinity, bk. 10, ch. 8) Indeed, our ultimate union with God and our human loves will be much more than a cold intellectual examination of "footprints" of past experiences. We will not simply recall what our human loves were; we shall embrace what they have become. Finally and forever we shall be at home with our flesh and blood: those human loves which have made our life here bearable and that God who wishes to be our friend for all eternity.

If such a prospect displeases us, we can always go to the beach, dig our hole, and pretend we are turtles. But watch out for the birds!