Love is all you need

You get to a certain point in your life when you realize that a lot of the goals you sought were irrelevant: fame, promotions, or supremacy in your surroundings. All those meetings, office politics and impatience with others were just a waste of time. And what about all those worries? A doctor I used to see always said, “Most of the tragedies in my life never happened.”

David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, has written an excellent book on this very topic: what matters in life. In The Road to Character he says there are resume virtues and eulogy virtues. The list of accomplishments you put on your resume are different than what somebody says at your funeral. Brooks wants us all to seek moral success and attain admirable character; he also says he wrote this book to save his own soul.

What he’s created is kind of a “Lives of the Saints” in that he presents chapters on people for the rest of us to follow as we set aside career aspirations for a better inner life. Among the ideal individuals are President Dwight Eisenhower, champion of Catholic social teaching Dorothy Day, and my favourite of all the examples, George Eliot, author of Middlemarch, among other novels. I always assumed Eliot changed her name from Mary Anne Evans because a male writer was more likely to get published in the nineteenth century. In fact, she changed it to save her family from embarrassment after she took up with a married man, George Lewes. It was Lewes who encouraged her to write fiction and then became her agent, editor and publicist.

Buried in the chapter on Eliot are seven pages about their love: intellectual love, romantic love, the love that you feel when you meet someone with what Brooks calls “a thousand-year heart.” Brooks is a wonderful writer but these pages (168-174) soar on such lofty wings that it’s hard to imagine they were written by the same man. “They don’t even think of loving their beloved because they want something back,” he says. “They just naturally offer love as a matter of course. It is gift-love, not reciprocity-love.”

“Faith, hope and love,” sayeth the Bible, “but the greatest of these is love.” This book is a timely reminder of what we already knew, but all too often forget.

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