We can’t learn very much—not much that matters, anyway—about love by gathering information about it. Sure, there are mountains of books about love: elaborate philosophies and theologies of love; thorough psychologies and sociologies of love; moving stories about the search for love; and illuminating memoirs about love’s power to heal. There are seminars, websites, Facebook pages, broadcasts, and podcasts about how to nurture love between spouses, in the hearts of children, and among people divided against each other by hurt and fear. And, no doubt, all this information can help; but, we learn most about love, not by mastering theory or amassing information, but in the everyday experiences of opening ourselves to love and of taking risks to share our love with others. While information can surely help, it is no substitute for the concrete practices of love.
We notice the moist tears beginning to pool in his eyes, see the sag in his shoulders, and hear the slight catch in his voice; and, instead of rushing home to see the next round of American Idol, we sit back down and ask him to tell us about it.
We remember that next week it will have been a year since her mother died, and we write her a card about how we have not forgotten about the lingering grief she carries.
We learn that the floor of their porch has weakened to the point of being dangerous, so we get a friend or two to work with us to repair it.
We hear that her husband is in the hospital, so we cut her grass or drop food by or let her tell us again, for the fifth time at least, what the doctor has said, because she is saying it in an attempt to accept it.
We risk telling him the habit he thinks is a secret is actually written all over his face—the reddened, puffy skin, the lines of worry, the creases of fatigue, the bloodshot eyes, the vacant stare, the rigid jaw, and the constant frown.
We forgive her again, because we know that her sins come not from the heart of her heart but from the scabby scars on its surface—from the wounds that never seem to heal before they are picked open again.
We give up an afternoon a week to tutor a kid who, without someone’s help, will never get out of high school or out of the projects.
We forego a golf game to serve soup to the homeless.
We love through what we do—the practices in which we engage. Loving teaches us about love: how to share it and how to receive it. Before long, our hearts are filled with love as well.