Despite the era of my birth, my parents were not hippies. In fact, minus the pearls and high heels, my mom was about the closest thing to a June Cleaver-television-housewife as it got. My mom worked inside the home, and I mean worked. A white glove test would not have produced a single mote of dust. Pot roast simmered on her stove. She stopped the washing machine for a fabric softener rinse. She oversaw the lives of her three children. My dad worked outside the home. With one income, our lifestyle was modest; at times money was a concern, but we were rich with love.
Last week, while attending the virtually-held winter meeting of school superintendents across Massachusetts, I heard the keynote speaker remind us: “Love is a verb.” It got me to thinking about my own simplistic and fortunate childhood...and then this: a little love wouldn’t hurt right now--locally and nationally. And I mean “verb love.” Fabric softener love.
What’s “verb love,” you ask? Verb love involves action--not just saying we care for others. But rather “verb love” constitutes the subtle ways we show we care for one another.
In my years as an English teacher, I so relished teaching “Those Winter Sundays,” a short poem by Robert Hayden. In the poem, the speaker’s dad gets up early--even on Sundays, and “puts his clothes on in the blueblack cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather [he restarts the fire to warm the house.] No one ever thanked him.” That’s “verb love.” The stuff we do, sometimes over and over again, expecting no thanks, out of love for one another. The sacrifices we make. The things that aren’t as easy as a Hallmark card.
“Verb love” means action. Showing, not telling.
The Hopkinton community has endured varying degrees of “shutdown” since March 10, 2020. We’re creeping up on a year of mask-wearing and hand-washing. Standing 6 feet apart--no matter where you go. We have been rewired, resocialized. Working from home is normal. Staying home all weekend--except to go to Price Chopper--has become the routine. Taking walks...standard. House parties. Um, what’s a house party? House parties existed in a previous age. In addition to being resocialized and largely isolated, we’re psychologically altered. Someone sneezes in a Zoom session; we ask, “Have you been tested?” Fear lingers. For many, evolving science does not dismantle fear of contracting the virus. People are weary and tired of being pent up. Emotions are high. Fuses are short.
A vaccination is here. Or is it? Phase I folks have been inoculated, but news outlets report delays in Phase II supplies. It feels like a punch in the gut. We’re not talking about unfulfilled promises of ice cream but rather a dose of a vaccine that purports to save lives and restore life to closer to what it once was.
Hopkinton, not unlike many other American cities and towns right now, might be in need of two inoculations: one to build immunity to the Coronavirus and another to fortify our human compassion.
What would happen if we all started to think about love as a verb, not just at home but in the community. When we think that way, we’re bordering on an inquiry into our familial, civil, and moral obligations. What can we do to exemplify our love, to exhibit our basic human kindness for one another? It sort of means that we go out of our way to do something thoughtful. Maybe it means we do something simply because we know it will bring another person joy or peace. That other person doesn’t have to be your spouse whose coffee you brew every morning. It might be your neighbor, whose driveway you snow blow all winter long. Or a complete stranger, who you let cut in front of you because she has only four items, and your cart is full. You don’t have to do these things. But you can do them--that is, if you wish.
Take the time to stop the washing machine to throw in the fabric softener. Get up early to put coal on the fire. While these are gigglable, last-century examples, I use them to spawn our collective thinking about the stuff we can do out of love for one another, the sacrifices we can make, the times when, out of kindness, we can put others ahead of ourselves.
Now you might not believe this, but it's true. Driving home last night, while turning this blog content over in my mind, I stopped to pick up Chinese take-out. After dinner, I cracked open a fortune cookie. I dusted the crumbs off the tiny strip of paper, which read: “At the end of each day, think, ‘What has this day brought me?’ and ‘What have I given it?’”