Originally delivered in ACLC’s Love Mass/Symposium
by Pat Nogoy SJ
What do I mean when I say “I love you?”
From the onset, what seemed to be an over-run expression especially during Valentine’s is actually problematic. There is the subject “I” and the object “You.” What is fundamentally revealed in the structure of the sentence with the addition of the verb “love” is a relation and if we wonder further, we can ask: What happens when a totally different I relate to a totally different You through love?
Verbs as we know are action words. Thus, to love is to act—a deed, something to be performed. This action produces a relation. The I is loving a You. The sentence evokes a complete thought. It makes sense.
This basic wonder shows how love or to love is beyond the categories of concepts and ideas. Love is not just a noun or subject that can easily be talked about, discussed, be written about, or be thematized. It is action and a binding action at that. Out of which a relation is born—a relation, often considered banal and cheesy but is actually miraculous; a relation born between the totally different “I” and “You.” And the “I” initiates it, does it, and creates it. Loving comes from me.
The object of the act, of my loving, is a You. Its presence makes it possible, despite the initiation coming from me, for me to love. Thus, the “You” is more than the object of my love. It is in fact the cause for me to love—the one that calls, invites, and relates. It is an active rather than a passive target or focus. There is the compelling address coming from You. I do not simply look over You or anywhere else. I look at You. Without a You, the I remains a subject onto its own. Without a You, there is no relation to begin with. Without a You, the “I” remains alone.
From wondering about this basic grammatical structure of the sentence, “I love You,” hopefully two important thoughts are beginning to surface: one, to love is to perform an action and it is a binding action at that coming from me and two, that the You, which is the object of my love, completes the birth of relation and further expands or deepens it by receiving in its entire presence my loving. Thus, by saying I love You, I not only acknowledge Your presence but I love it, whether you love me or not. Yes, whether you love me or not.
The You (either the person you are sitting next to, your friend, mother, cousin, street kid, among others) allows for the experience of being-taken out, of being surprised (sur-prise: be taken out). It directs my actions—what I’ll do with my mornings, what books I will read, what breaks my heart (what course I will take, what plans I will make, what vocation I will choose) as the often quoted Fr. Arrupe’s take on love goes. It is my loving relation to the You, my responsibility for You that sustains and defines my loving. It is the You that beckons me, whether he or she does something or loves me back, to improve on my attitude, extend my patience, become more creative—to change. There is truth to the cliché, “I have become a better person because of You.” This cliché points to a posteriori realities—effects of changes remains, the miracle of growth is possible, becoming a better and fuller person is never far-fetched. For even the You teaches me how to love. This is not exclusive in romantic relationships. This beautiful reality pregnant with meaningful implications is found in family, friends, and yes, in organizations.
When you ask me why I cook you breakfast, I answer because I love you. When you ask me why I spend my time and gas money driving you home when you are very capable to drive yourself home, I answer because I love you. When you ask me why I continually stay out in front of your house waiting for you to forgive me, I answer because I love you. When you ask me why I am changing my plans to go overseas with you, I answer because I love you. These I love yous are more than expressions of feelings. These I love yous are more than bargaining statements for reciprocity or response. These I love yous are not just statements of judgment. Beyond I love yous, there is no more reason or answer to be found or said. I simply love you. That is why it said that I love you is spoken from the depths of our hearts—from our kalooban.
These I love yous point to a reality of me going out of myself, of me doing something other than myself, of me addressing a You and in that mysterious experience of an address, leading me to love You. To love is eks-stasis—to be taken out as it were and in this situation of relation, to be taken out in my addressing a You. Whatever reasons I may have, reasons that baffled or even transcend the imagination of the You or Beloved, they do not count as much as the reality of me loving You. They actually fall short. I seem to run out of reasons not because I could not think of one but there just are so many reasons and they are not enough to capture the why behind my loving You. In the end, I go back to the reality of being taken out. I simply say I love you. There is no a priori reality other than me loving You and this highlights the fact that love as a relation of the I to you is primordial, fundamental, and basic. Maybe that is why I love you is unconditional.
The unconditioned is the basic, fundamental, and primordial. It is without bias, motivations, intentions, prejudices, and blemishes. It is the reality before the condition. It comes before me even becoming to be. It is the beginning. Levinas might be correct in saying that peace presupposes war—that before preservation of being, there is being and the Other. I have come to distinguish war because I first knew peace. I have come to struggle with conditional love because I first knew unconditional love. This is the kernel of the Creation story—the reality of the primacy of unconditional love of a God who loved us first even before the beginning of time.
Thus, what Christ is alluding to in the Gospel is for us to love like God. It is to say I love you in its very essence of an I being taken out by the You, of holding on to a relation that always precedes me-ism and egonomy, of a binding act that knows no conditions and spoken from kalooban. This is not exclusive in romantic relationships. This beautiful reality pregnant with meaningful implications is found in family, friends, and yes, in organizations. We wonder about the spectrum of people—from saints to sinners, from heroes to slaves, from leaders to mothers and fathers, from lovers to friends—who miraculously offer their lives and their very beings for us without recompense. These incidents continue to solidify our historical love affair with love and tell us something primordial about who we are. Probably David Pomeranz is right in his song—I was born to love you; we are born to love others. It is cheesy but it is true just like I love you.
How about you? What do you mean when you say “I love you?”