Tag Archives: passion

The Most Versatile Word in the English Language

In these bodies we will live
In these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love, you invest your life
(Mumford and Sons)

Love: What wells up when Dominic flashes a wide, gummy grin of delight when I bend down and speak to him.

Love: How I feel about the chocolate ice cream that AB Bakery has just started making. Yes, folks, we may not have incredibly reliable electricity, but there’s now some good ice cream in town.

Love: The fact that Mike, despite feeling completely exhausted, dragged himself out of bed at 5:15 this morning, took our flapping, squawking child and our whimpering dog away, and let me sleep until 9.

Is there any word in the English language as versatile as the word love?

After I started to get the hang of breastfeeding (read: after I no longer wanted to cry every time the baby started to open and close his mouth like a clam and I could actually concentrate on something other than pain and technique), I started to read during daytime feedings. This is probably why Dominic went from average to above-average weight within three weeks. More than once I picked up the kindle after he was attached and then completely stopped paying attention – leaving my son to gulp until he was absolutely stuffed and then fall off and lie there, happily somnolent and dribbling milk down my stomach.

The first book I read during this time was a young adult novel called Delirium. The premise is fascinating – the 17-year-old narrator, Lena, lives in a society where love is considered a disease, something to be surgically cured when you turn 18. As the booklist review puts it, “[The author’s] masterstroke is making a strong case for love as disease: the anxiety, depression, insomnia, and impulsive behavior of the smitten do smack of infirmity.”

Lena views love as a feeling – a transformative feeling, impossible to resist. “Love,” she says, “is a single word, a wispy thing, a word no bigger or longer than an edge. That’s what it is: an edge, a razor. It draws up through the center of your life, cutting everything in two. Before and after. The rest of the world falls away on either side.” It is that most dangerous of diseases, “the one that can kill you when you have it and kill you when you don’t.”

There is some beautiful writing in this book, but ultimately it didn’t wow me. Love is too narrowly defined as passion, desire, eros. There is little exploration of agape love.

Agape love is a selfless orientation that seeks the best for another without expecting anything in return. This type of love doesn’t transform us in a moment; it transforms us slowly, as hundreds upon thousands of moments pile on top of one another to make up our days, our weeks, our months. This love is not the work of a razor but of sandpaper. Sandpaper that grinds, smooths, and ultimately fashions the very core of us into something more beautiful. It is a love powered by will rather than only by emotion, a love of choice rather than just a love of chance.

A love of choice.

I was reminded recently of the popular misconception that you do nice things for people you like and bad things to people you don’t. But the paradoxical truth of the matter appears to be that you grow to like people for whom you do nice things and hate people you harm.

David McRaney in an article on the Benjamin Franklin effect put it this way:

“It is well known in psychology the cart of behavior often gets before the horse of attitude. Your actions tend to chisel away at the raw marble of your persona, carving into being the self you experience day-to-day. It doesn’t feel that way though. To conscious experience, it feels like you are the one holding the chisel, motivated by existing thoughts and beliefs. It feels as though the person wearing your pants is performing actions consistent with your established character, yet there is plenty of research suggesting otherwise. The things you do often create the things you believe.”

The things you do often create the things you believe.

Mike leaves Monday morning for a week of meetings down near the Cambodian border. He won’t be home until next Saturday night. So Mike has spent this Saturday riding around town on his bicycle stocking up on groceries and cash for me for next week, setting up a mosquito net for Dominic’s cot, finding and filing medical documents.

When I came downstairs ten minutes ago after finally managing to settle Dominic for an afternoon nap, Mike was programming the emergency number for our international health insurance company into my phone.

“What’s next on the list?” I asked.

“Washing the dog,” he said. “I’ll do it. Why don’t you lie down and put your feet up?”

This I know, I am well loved.

This post is part of a series on the fruits of the spirit. The current theme is love.

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The circle of your passion

It’s been a week. For me, it’s been a week of finishing the draft, enjoying a brief high, then falling (temporarily, let’s hope) into a big black woeful hole of not feeling like doing anything at all, and wondering how we can possibly have been in Laos three months already, and whether the rumours are true that we’re staying here for the next couple of years. On that front, it appears so, unless the powers that be mandate otherwise. I’ve had ample time to mull all of this over during a string of nights when sleep eludes me until late – midnight or 1am – and sometimes only arrives after the sort of help that comes in little bottles with child-proof caps on them.

For Mike, it’s been a week of waking up early – in the 3’s or the 4’s, occasionally the 2’s – with his mind jumping ahead to the day. The biggest meetings of the year took place yesterday, and coincided with a week-long delegation of all sorts of people that be all sorts of powerful, and not all of whom arrived on the scene happy. We think they be leaving happier, we think. There was a lot of smiling and nodding at the big partnership dinner last night – then again there was also lots of beerlao, which tends to help with the smiling (but not with the sleep, no, not with that).

A couple of weeks ago Mike and I had dinner with a friend, Gabrielle, who Mike first met in the Vanuatu almost three years ago. In January we had dinner with her in Melbourne. Since then she’s moved to Hanoi. Two weeks ago she swung by our new town.

So we met at Utopia and drank Saffron Robes and cheap Chilean wine and gazed upon the Khan River and talked. We talked of things that humanitarianers often seem to talk about when they cross paths for an evening and drink and look at rivers.

  1. How and why did you decide to make this last move/take this last job?
  2. How are you finding this massive uprooting and replanting of your life?
  3. What about the job itself – where are the rewards and the pressure points?
  4. Is it worth it – this move, this job, this whole field …

There is a lot wrapped up in that last question. I could write a whole series of posts just on the different variables that come into play when trying to calculate the opportunity-cost of this work and of this lifestyle. There are issues of meaning and purpose to be considered. And efficacy, community, motivation, finances, and safety. And, of course, passion.

Gabrielle calls this sort of conversation tumbleweeding, which I think is a delightful word. It brings to mind a tangled ball of wiry stalks all intertwined – dense enough to hang together in a round yet light enough to be moved by the wind. A tumbleweed bounces and spins at the same time as it skips along. A tumbleweed goes places. (Sometimes it just goes in circles, but that too is appropriate.)

I wonder what usually happens to tumbleweeds in the end. Do they pick up so many leaves and twigs on their journey that they eventually stop moving and settle into being just a pile of sticks? Do they get snagged on bushes, never to work themselves free? Or do they break apart – thin pieces of brush skittering and sliding in every which direction?

So, passion. That was our primary focal point that night.

“Are you passionate about writing?” Gabrielle asked me.

“Sometimes I get a great day, or hour,” I said. “Those moments are incandescent. I lose track of time. Afterwards I’m tingling with that happy sort of electricity that comes when you don’t want to be anywhere else, doing anything else. I’m totally buzzed.”

“But,” I continued. “At least as often, probably more often, I sit there and it’s hard, and I struggle, and I want to be almost anywhere else, and I hate it. Except I feel compelled to do it anyway.”

“That’s passion,” Mike said.

“Huh,” I said.

Why do I primarily associate vocational passion with the electric, positive, purposeful, buzz? Wishful thinking, maybe, or is it possible to have those joyous mountaintop moments without trudging through some valleys? Are mountaintop moments over-rated, anyway? Should we really be aiming for a nice picnic blanket halfway up a pretty green slope?

And, if what we were talking about really is passion, how can you live inside the circle of your passion without it consuming you?

That’s what we talked about for most of the evening, sipping our wine, staring at the river, tumbleweeding around. We didn’t come up with the right answer, because there isn’t one. But Mike and I wandered home through the dark streets feeling refreshed and ready to face the windstorms of tomorrow.

After the week we’ve just weathered, maybe that’s what we need this weekend – some tumbleweeding. Or maybe a river. Or friends. Or some wine? Looks like we have options.

What about you: Do you feel like you’re living inside the circle of your passion? How do you keep from being consumed?

P.S. I could practically see the parental eye rolling in Australia when I mentioned wine (again!!). So, my beloved mother, this picture’s for you. It’s Mike, weeks ago now, disposing of the last wine we had at home because it was simply wretched stuff. The bamboo, much to my surprise, has suffered no ill effects.

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