When you title an article with a question so important to so many people, you run the risk of creating the expectation that you may actually have the answer to that question. To be fair, I am not sure I can answer it accurately having a somewhat questionable track record of my own, but I can say unequivocally that even if I am not successful in conveying in words what love is, I can say that I did have one great advantage. In my life I had the benefit of witnessing true love.
Those of you who have read the book “Jew Face” are well aware that my characterization of the good people in the book only deals with positive aspects of their personality. I do this purposely in order to make a clear distinction between good and evil during a time when good and evil was so pronounced and easily identifiable. Subsequently, in discussing the relationships between people I only show the positive, possibly creating an illusion of perfection. I have always hoped that people reading the book realize my intent and know that although I never discuss it, nothing in life is perfect. This is important when writing this piece, because although I have no intention of documenting specifics, I want to make clear that the relationship between my mother and father was like everything else in life. Not perfect.
However, now that I got that out of the way, let me explain why I am convinced that in my life I did indeed have the opportunity to witness true love. Love means different things to different people. To many it is based in romance and intimacy. Sometimes we know when these things exist between two people but often those are aspects people keep entirely private. Even when we do think we know, we only know what the people allow us to see. There are other things that are far more open and many would say more important, that truly define love. These things are sacrifice, commitment, loyalty and companionship. Many will say that these are the factors that truly matter, because when the excitement fades, the body ages and the looks dwindle, without something deeper, what masqueraded as love reveals itself as nothing more than infatuation and desire.
Spend 64 years with someone and inevitably you will at one time or another disagree, argue, yell, and hurt each other. In fact, there are many who would say that without those things happening you won’t make it to 64 years. My mother and father did. In the wedding vows it says, “for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health”. The greatness in these vows all comes together with the famous words, “until death do us part”. Life is a lot easier when things are better, people are richer, and everyone is healthy. But when presented with life’s difficulties, those who truly stay together until death parts them, being true companions who build something and are committed to their life together, they know a love far more profound and real than what most Hollywood romances portray. In my life, in my parents, I saw this love.
I’ve always enjoyed summing it up this way. During the horrors of the Nazi occupation my father saved my mother’s life. My mother saved my father’s life every day since. And although it was not perfect, it took the death of my father in June of 2007 to part them. Make no mistake, the book “Jew Face” is very much a love story, focusing on the budding romance between my mother and father and building the foundation for a long life together that was filled with the better, the worse, richer, poorer, sickness and health. So on this Valentine’s Day when buying flowers or a fancy gift, or when buying an expensive meal or gift for the one you love, remember the lesson of my parents and strive for a love that lasts, not just one that feels good today, because that is where the ultimate rewards truly can be found. What is love? It’s not easy. But when you see it in action you end up feeling it is worth the effort and something worth believing in.