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Love is when

In 2018, the Harvard Gazette published an article titled, “What Happens When Love and Science Double Date?”

I recall reading it and was surprised at how many multi-variant studies and clinical trials were going on related to that topic. Who knew?

I do not recall definitive findings. But the title of the article was provocative and seems to have a possible application to these times.

I think the premise has long been that feelings of love cannot be empirically described. That said, a Penn State University study looked into something rather interesting. “It turns out that when it comes to loving feelings “small gestures between people resonate the most.”

Researchers surveyed 495 adults and asked whether 60 hypothetical scenarios accurately described an individual who felt loved by another. The findings: “Small nonverbal behaviors were particularly important — nonromantic simple actions.”

But these are new and different times. A welcoming smile is masked. Handholding or handshaking is, at least for right now, discouraged. Distance rather than connection rules.

In these divisive and sometimes acerbic times, we risk losing that loving feeling — or at least it is it more difficult to integrate into our daily lives. Perhaps the simple observations of young children can help.

Researchers (or perhaps they were just professional people looking for love) posed this question to a group of 4- to 8-year-olds: “What does love mean?” These answers are not scientific, but they are definitely authentic.

  • “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth,” Billy, age 4.
  • “Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired,” Terri, age 4.
  • “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen,” Bobby, age 7.
  • “Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day,” Mary Ann, age 4.

And here is one that may have the most application to our current challenges.

  • “If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate,” Nikka, age 7.

Now, that might be the ultimate challenge. Can we do that? Indeed, where do we start?

John Lennon would have turned 80 this month. He once said, “there are two basic motivating forces in life — fear and love.” He contended that “when we are in love, we are open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement and acceptance.”

Maybe that is where we start — by staying open. Perhaps it’s a simple gesture — a quick salute to someone whose opinion is different than yours but well-stated. Could we try that? Lovely.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.