The other night I was sitting in a room with colleagues before starting an evening responsibility monitoring students and helping get students to sleep. I work at a boarding school, and I have the good fortune (and sometimes deep annoyance) to live on a dorm with my family rent free, in exchange for weekly night duty and monthly weekend duties.
So we were sitting together, before the formal meetings started, discussing the love life of a colleague in the room. He shared with the group that he and his fiancé are being married in a week at a small ceremony. We all congratulated him, and I went on to say how awesome that was, because we are all here for one reason, right? To make more love in the world.
There was a slight dip in conversation, and then laughter, when I repeated it. I thought this was an easy statement—who could deny that love is the highest good? And then, as I looked around to the bemused faces in the room, looking at me as if I had said something off-color, I heard from one colleague—I don’t think ______ would agree with you. I turned to this colleague and they said, I don’t even know what you mean. I repeated the sentiment, asking, What else are we here for? They looked at me blankly, and I had head enough on my shoulders to say, You have some work to do on love, colleague. And laughed. It was obvious that they were uncomfortable, and somehow I had said something wrong.
The next day, walking by this colleague in the hall at school, they smiled and gave me a peace sign. I laughed and said, How’s the love in your life today?
This series of exchanges struck me on a number of levels.
First, it was amazing how uncomfortable folks got around me! And how quickly I realized I had said something I shouldn’t have. And how, if I made a joke of it, it would be all right.
Second, sharing a couple’s move toward committed relationship is always a moment to re-affirm our own loves in the world. I would no more look blankly at the disclosure of a colleague about this great leap forward than laugh derisively if a student came to me in pain or need. It felt an opening of vulnerability, and I didn’t understand the response I got to moving closer to that openness, saying yes to it and sharing that I thought he was participating in the most important thing in the world!
Throughout my time working at this school, and honestly throughout my life, I have had the term hippie used, primarily as an insult, in my general direction. I want to stress that I have never self-identified as a hippie. Maybe it was because in high school, fellow students would yell Fucking hippie! at me in the halls and cafeteria. Maybe it’s because I grew up thinking that this boat had sailed, that there were no hippies left. Maybe it’s because I never EVER listened to the Grateful Dead.
Obviously, this term carries with it a weight of shame and judgment. And yes, some of the external markers of my life point in the direction of hippie—radical leaning, farmer, feminist, don’t shave, rarely spend money on physical appearance (though I love to get a pedicure and massage, and a fancy haircut), extended nursing/attachment parenting, interested in ending the money economy…..
But that’s really not the point of this post. I am not going to argue myself into calling myself a hippie. I am writing this to talk about how my expression of the highest good of LOVE prompted my colleague to both laugh at me and then flash me the hippie code—the peace sign. And no, they were not being in earnest.
What I want to write is that this conception of love—this stereotyping of love as an escapist fantasy is such a complete hijacking of what love means. It’s appalling.
The title of this post is an homage to bell hooks' book by the same name—All About Love: New Visions. Though it’s been awhile since I read this book, I remember her writing so eloquently about the connections between individual transformative love, love that seeks to be free from oppression, from misogyny and racism, and the transformative power of a world love that is required of us if we are to survive as a species on this planet.
When I speak of love, I am not talking about the avarice spewed in the media, the drug-hazed sentiment of the 1960s, or the lonely pining of the unpopular. I am talking about the power of justice love, where right meets right, where power bursts the bounds of human limitation, human evil. I am not telling my colleague, when he shares he is committing to another—good for you! now your life is perfect! What I am congratulating him on is his commitment to struggle and growth and the potential for transformation in the heat of what happens, when we are brave enough to stay. And this staying is good for us as individuals, and when it is right, it is good for the world, it builds the kin-dom. It changes things. It would do us well if we were more honest about what we do when we love, what we embrace and the power we have together that we do not have when apart.
And love is not simply something we do as couples. We love as neighbors, as friends, as adversaries seeking common ground, as teachers, as students, as children, as parents, as activists confronting injustice, as ministers and musicians and every other thing we can think to do and be, with love.
And it is a religious experience, this love that will change us. The faiths I have engaged hold love at the center of their call and challenge. How does invoking love lead us to think of hippies, instead of Jesus, or Gautama, or Goddess?
Ultimately, I would like to think I could invoke love and not evoke derision from my community. Ultimately, I would like to honor the elders who embraced the hippie label, and know that I stand in a stream deeper than any one moment in time. The threads of liberation that were nurtured in the time of the hippie were not newly born, and love is not a concept that belongs to them. Love belongs to no one, and is available to all of us, when we are willing to say yes, and stay.