Often when we refer to love we mean romantic love, love for family… But what is the nature of our wider relationships? Do we need to think about love in a broader sense, looking outwards to relationships beyond family? Does this then require a definition that is potentially more costly than love in a romantic or familial sense?
Returning to London after staying a week with a friend and her family, I was aware of deep loneliness as I walked past the British Library on my way home, but also that my reliance on a network of people is coming into sharper focus. This is generating questions that have been with me for more than a year now, about whether love is a transformative force primarily in the context of romantic love, or family… My sense is that it’s not, which is provoking me to think about the meaning of love as I begin to think about coming alive again and re-entering life. A film I watched at the weekend called Still Alice starring Julianne Moore tells the story of 50-year-old linguistics professor Alice Howland and the impact early onset Alzheimers has on her family life and brilliant career.
Alice clearly suffers as her much-prized intellect disintegrates, which raises questions about what we are left with when the capacities we and our culture prize are gone. At the end when her youngest daughter Lydia, played by Kristen Stewart, recites from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Alice, now barely able to speak, concludes that the play is about love. But apart from a colleague and her students, the only relationships that are even remotely explored are those with her husband and daughters. She did deliver a speech to other Alzheimer’s sufferers, but all we saw of them was their tear-stained faces of her audience.
I also went to with my friend to a tea party that was held for disabled children and their parents. This was a world far away from the celebratory paralympics; here there was struggle, but also great weariness among the other parents, some of whom seemed very much alone. The tea was a charity event run by the former mayor and both children and parents were lavished with presents by Santa Claus. These families obviously do a great deal, but I would prefer to be part of a community where those who are looking after children with disability are supported, not one where they are being stripped of financial support and other resources and services.
If the individualistic, ambitious, atomised world that Alice lived in has so little to offer when we, or our lives disintegrate, then what are the foundations of a better, wider more sustainable life?