A Love Letter

A Love Letter By Sara Bloom Dear reader, I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately, especially since Hurricane Sandy. In the current vernacular, love seems to be what everybody is feeling about everybody and everything. People don’t like anymore. They don’t regard. They aren’t fond of. They don’t care for. They just love — love her, love him, love that, love when that happens, love to do that. We also love what people are wearing, love where they’re going and how they’re going to get there. We love rich chocolate, fast cars, novels about sticky relationships, art that surprises, music all the time, picnics at the beach, and long weekends in the country. We universally love Derek Jeter, and collectively disdain Alex Rodriguez. And, of course, we “heart” New York and the breeds of our dogs, and advertise our choices on stickers that we paste on the rear windows of our cars so that perfect strangers in passing vehicles can know what’s important to us. So what do we really mean when we profess all this love? Am I some fuddy-duddy from a bygone era? Somebody who thinks those three little words every infatuated teenager wants to hear and every serious romantic reserves for that one true love should be just that — reserved for that one true love? Do we seriously love all that we say we do? Or maybe we’re just tossing out feelings willy-nilly with about as much sincerity as “We should do lunch.” Why am I coming down so hard on the institution of love? Aren’t there more compelling issues to occupy our thoughts these days? Issues of global import — life vs. choice, death with dignity, the specter of war in the Middle East, how the polar bears will survive melting ice floes. Also the high cost of sickness, and the low return on investment? Why strike a blow against something as pleasant and enjoyable as love? Of course I dissolve when the love of my life tells me he loves me. And I suffocate my husband and my children and grandchildren with all the love in my heart, and smother them with mushy kisses when I see them. But that’s my family. And they know I do truly mean it when I tell them I love them. But the other night, I was watching an episode of “NCIS,” and at the end of a particularly perilous case, silly Abby declared to her entire team, “I love you all.” To me, the love got spread so thin it was just blather. A woman I know, who effusively “loves” everything and everybody is more annoying than endearing. And a close friend has taken recently to telling me she loves me, even signing her email messages with abundant X’s and O’s. What am I to make of that? I’m not ungrateful for her warm thoughts about me, and I feel certain her declaration is no more than the fondness I feel for her. But there it is — an “I love you” just hanging out there. Am I expected to return an “I love you, too” with a tight hug and a couple of cheek kisses? I grew up in a loving family atmosphere. I was certain my parents loved each other, and both loved me and my brother equally. My brother always said I was the favorite because I was a girl, but I knew they loved him, too, even though he was always getting into some kind of trouble. I remember the time he took a rowboat out on the Delaware River, and coasted with the tide for miles. They had to send the river patrol to fetch him back. I don’t think he was well loved at that moment. There were other unlovely moments, but all in all, he was their son, and he was a great brother to me. But we didn’t hug a lot in our family and, growing up, the only time I kissed my parents was at bedtime. And even then, the peck on the cheek was more routine than heartfelt. Not that I didn’t love them. I did. There were those few awkward teenage years when I might not have, but as I got older, I appreciated them even more. But I can’t remember saying “I love you” to either of them, until I held my father’s hand and kissed him goodbye on his last day. Was our family so different from others of similar vintage? I don’t remember any of my friends throwing around I-love-yous or a lot of hugging and kissing either, except at teen parties in my friend Lorelei’s finished basement. My father always kissed my mother goodbye when he left the house for work in the morning, and kissed her again when he returned in the evening. And my husband and I kissed and re-kissed at the Metro-North Railroad station when he commuted daily from Scarsdale to New York City. When the children were in the car for drop-off or pick-up, they thought it great sport to watch out the windows to see who else got kissed — and who didn’t. So you see, little in my past experience explains what to make of this huge love-in I’ve been observing. And then, Hurricane Sandy happened. A devastatingly destructive storm, Sandy knocked out power to most of the Northeast, sent coastal floodwaters roaring through the heart of towns and outlying villages, and virtually shut down New York City. There was considerable loss of life all along the east coast. Out here on Eastern Long Island, where I live now, the storm uprooted huge trees and brought down major branches and utility wiring. In all, a million homes on Long Island were dark, many of them flooded in the coastal surge, and some ruined beyond repair. At our house in Southold, the only means of communication with the outside world was a small kitchen radio — no television, no Internet and, for a while, no telephone. The fancy wireless models were dead. Neither my husband’s cell phone nor mine would connect. Then he remembered an old phone he uses at his workbench in the basement. He brought it upstairs, apologized for its paint-spattered shell and especially the duct tape that holds it together, plugged it into the phone jack in the kitchen, and it worked. To us, the sound of the dial tone resonated as powerfully as a performance of Beethoven’s “Ninth.” While still in the throes of ecstasy over the dial tone, the thing rang. Someone was calling us. News of the storm having been reported all over the country, visions of the Bloom family afloat in nearby Southold Bay stirred immediate responses. First one daughter called, then the other. Children checking in anxiously on their aging parents. And the phone kept ringing. Relatives and friends in California, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, upstate New York, Washington State, Arizona, Florida — all calling to see if we were okay, safe. The children called again and again and yet again as the days without power stretched on. The day after after the storm passed — roads still treacherous with tree branches and wires strewn everywhere, and some streets totally blocked — members of our local synagogue, at peril to themselves, zig-zagged through the North Fork villages to check on us and others in our congregation. It was a stressful time, even for those of us with limited generator power, which provided the means for some conveniences and comforts. In all that time, no one said, “I love you.” Or, “I love hearing your voice.” Or “I love knowing that you’re safe.” They didn’t have to. I felt that love in a way I have never experienced love before. Similarly, neighbors helped neighbors, sharing whatever they could. I-love-yous unspoken, but understood. As you can tell, I truly have been thinking a lot about love lately. And these days, I think about it differently than I had considered it only days ago. Yes, I know there are many levels of love — sexual love, romantic love, familial love, love of good friends, and yes, love of those struggling against the prevailing human condition. And why not broadcast that love if it is truly felt? I’ve learned that people can express love in many ways. Some convey it through deeds and favors; others are more vocal about their sentimentalities, their emotional responses. If you love it, or him, or her, let it be known, I say. I’m open to it. Love, in all its many magical forms, truly is a welcome thing. Love, Sara