Two weeks ago I returned from my trip to Florence. It turned out to be wholly different than I expected, and I learned lessons that I hope will be with me for a lifetime. My Crazy Ladies’ book has a new title: The Only Way to Paradise. This title came to me in my sleep, waking me up, and sending me on a hunt for a piece of paper to scribble it on in the middle of the night.
I realized during my lone sojourn among the Italian people on this trip that the wonderful gift of these people is a natural outpouring of love in all its guises. Gradually, I came to understand that the theme of The Only Way to Paradise is that love is the great healer. This comes as no surprise to Latter-day Saints, however we need different types of love to heal different types of wounds.
My four heroines: MacKenzie, Roxie, Georgia, and Sara are all suffering from isolation and the inability to feel love in their lives. McKenzie’s husband has left her and her children are acting out. Roxie is suppressing a horrible memory that must be exorcised before she can feel any love at all. Georgia has recently been widowed and lost her career as a concert violinist, due to the arthritis in her hands. And Sara, because she is an obedient Asian daughter, has sacrificed her own desires to become a doctor, because her immigrant parents have slaved away at minimum wage jobs since she was a toddler in order to give her this opportunity. Though their problems are all different, they can all be made more bearable by the same solution: love. This does not mean that Paradise is an erotic love fest for four women. Rather it is an exploration of all four Greek meanings of the world that have come down to us through Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates:
- Agape is (brotherly love) in modern day Greek. In Ancient Greek, it often refers to a general affection or deeper sense of “true love” rather than the attraction suggested by “eros“. Agape is used in the biblical passage known as the “love chapter”, 1 Corinthians 13, and is described there and throughout the New Testament as sacrificial love. It can be described as the feeling of being content or holding one in high regard. (Wikipedia) By the end of Paradise, all my characters will have discovered this deep and abiding love, having been taught to a large extent by the simple expedient of living in Italy among people who seem to hold “general affection” for all mankind. (See my daily blog posts for my own experiences with this form of love while in Italy) Indeed, if all the world could love as Italians love, it would, indeed be paradise.
- Eros is passionate love, with sensual desire and longing. The Modern Greek word “erotas” means “intimate love;” however, eros does not have to be sexual in nature. Eros can be interpreted as a love for someone whom you love more than the philia, love of friendship. It can also apply to dating relationships as well as marriage. Plato refined his own definition: Although eros is initially felt for a person, with contemplation it becomes an appreciation of the beauty within that person, or even becomes appreciation of beauty itself. Plato also said eros helps the soul recall knowledge of beauty, and contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth. Lovers and philosophers are all inspired to seek truth by eros. (Wikipedia) This is the type of love that some of my characters are seeking as they look for “their other half.” The fulfillment of this wish comes about in ways we often do not expect. The depth of this type of love can many times only be proven when it has been subjected to the fire of affliction.
- Philia means friendship in modern Greek. It is a dispassionate virtuous love, a concept developed by Aristotle. It includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity. In ancient texts, philos denoted a general type of love, used for love between family, between friends, a desire or enjoyment of an activity, as well as between lovers. (Wikipedia) This description of “communal love” defines exactly the type of love that I have found only in my visits to Italy. I know I went to Italy to be immersed in philia as it was to become a strong theme in my novel.
- Storge means “affection” in ancient and modern Greek. It is natural affection, like that felt by parents for offspring. Rarely used in ancient works, and then almost exclusively as a descriptor of relationships within the family. It is also known to express mere acceptance or putting up with situations, as in “loving” the tyrant.
I thought many times during my stay how the world could be changed, within families, communities, countries, and finally the world, if man could retain these kinds of love in their purity. One reason we love little children so much is because they are born with these characteristics. They have a natural tendency towards all these forms of love, except eros. (And even that I’m not sure of, as my five-year-old grandson is certain he has found his “true love” in preschool and has plans to marry her.)
While it seems to come naturally to Italians to express these emotions, for most of us, it does not. I asked myself why, and finally determined that Anglo-Saxon and Northern Europeans and their descendants in general seem to prioritize in terms of achievement. Italians prioritize love (in all its forms) first. Even the street vendors, whose first priority is a sale, promote in terms of endearment. One wonderful vendor said to me, “I feel like you are part of my family, so I am giving you this turquoise ring for free.”
We are told in the scriptures that charity is the most prized and necessary virtue for exaltation. What would happen if we re-prioritized our lives so that the four types of love listed above were our first and primary concern? I am convinced that our lives and the spirit within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would change dramatically for the better. I am trying to do this in my own life, for I am a dyed in the wool Type A personality—always oriented towards task completion.
In the after-life most of those tasks will mean nothing, and will not have shaped me into a person with a heart fit for the Kingdom of God. Only love can do that.