What's Love Got To Do With It?
You know how you will hear a song for the first time - sometimes just a portion of a song - and a melody or a lyric will just burn itself into your brain? Well, that happened to me this week.
The searing lyric went something like this: "What kind of love puts itself in harm's way?"
Sorry, but I don't know the name of the song or even the singer. But I do know what the song was about. It was about the emergency professionals who responded, and are still responding, to the attack on America on 9-11.
There's Just Something About A Uniform
When emergency professionals put on their uniforms, they know the day ahead holds the potential to be their last. Knowing that, what causes them to pursue such a career? As the song suggests, it is love.
Perhaps you think it curious that the word "love" is used to describe a professional choice. What word would you prefer? Duty? Service? Contribution? Fair enough. But when you understand the root of all of these motivations, how far have we wandered from love?
And yes, there is the element of excitement that surely enters into the decision to serve in a dangerous assignment, especially for the young who choose such service. But long after the initial rush wears off, thousands of those who serve others still report for work, put on the uniform, and put themselves in harm's way, again. Why? Not for the money that's for sure.
Three Kinds Of Love
Perhaps the problem is in the word itself - actually, the English word. It's true that the English language tends to overwork the word love, for which most of us in America, and our friends in Great Britain, are guilty.
Indeed, if we were discussing this in Greek there wouldn't be a problem. I'm not sure about today, but the ancient Greeks had at least three words to describe different kinds of love: eros, for romantic love; philo, for love of family and friends, and finally; agape (pronounced agop-a), which pretty much covers everything else.
The first two, eros and philo, have something in common because they typically involve two-way love - you give love and, ideally, it is returned. Agape love is selfless and unconditional. Of course, the same could be said about the other two, but here's where agape love is different: it is given, selflessly and unconditionally, to those who are not even known to the giver.
Humans aren't the only animals that demonstrate love; we see it in nature as a mother bear protects her cub, for example. But we differ from other animals in that we are capable of abstract thought, which allows us to demonstrate love on a number of levels. And in the abstract you find agape.
Agape Is Stipulated
What kind of love puts itself in harm's way? This lyric is beautifully rhetorical, sublimely obvious, and courageously stipulated every time someone puts on a law enforcement, emergency or military uniform. At the moment of first impact on that beautiful Tuesday morning, someone dialed 911 and hundreds of trained professionals - police officers, firefighters, and medical specialists - responded. They charged up those stairs obviously not knowing that the 110-story buildings were going to collapse, but knowing full well that they were going in harm's way on behalf of people they didn't even know. What kind of love? A very special kind.
Acts of courage are something I have often contemplated, and how courage is different from bravery. Bravery, I believe, is when a selfless act is performed in the moment. Courage, in my opinion, is when you perform the same selfless act even after you've had time to think about it.
Hundreds of emergency professionals were very courageous on 9-11. And in their courage, they not only served those who were directly involved in the tragedy, but in truth, served every one of us who would think nothing of dialing 911 whenever the need should arise.
Not to take anything away from acts of bravery, but they are as much instinctual and reactionary as anything. Courageous acts on behalf of others could not happen without a strong sense of agape.
Precious Life Makes Agape Precious
For humans, life is precious. And it becomes even more precious as our life-spans increase and our quality of life improves. What's this got to do with agape? What do YOU call it when a 30-year-old-who-hopes-to-live-to-be-a-hundred firefighter enters a burning building to rescue a victim, any victim?
All animals instinctively fight for survival, but in our abstract capacity, humans fight for life; we don't merely exist, we live. And in that life we work, create, learn, hope, imagine the possibilities, have faith - and we love. Sometimes we love people we don't even know.
Write this on a rock... God bless the law enforcement and emergency professionals who run toward harm when the rest of us are running away from it. God bless the members of our military who are standing a post around the world. Everyday they put on the uniform and prepare to demonstrate love to you and me - people they haven't even met.