Letting go: a bittersweet interview with the family of Sandra Day O'Connor illuminated the former U.S. Supreme Court justice's selfless devotion to her ailing husband - a rare and touching display of true love.
The ancient Greeks had several words to describe the ways people love: eros, a heady, passionate desire; phileo, an amity toward friends, colleagues and neighbors; storge, the natural affection felt for familiar people and things, such as a sibling or pet.
Finally there's agape, considered the highest form of love. Agape is unconditional and sacrificial. It's loving without expecting anything in return, without regard for one's own needs. Agape love requires steeling one's will in addition to sharing one's heart. It's described biblically as the love God felt for His son.
Not surprisingly, it's hard for us mere mortals to muster.
Recently, however, a bittersweet interview with the family of Sandra Day O'Connor illuminated the former U.S. Supreme Court justice's selfless devotion to her ailing husband — a rare and touching display of true love. At 77, John O'Connor suffers from Alzheimer's disease and is living in a senior care facility. Not only does he no longer recognize Sandra, his wife of more than 50 years, he's found romance with another female resident.
"Forty-eight hours after moving in ... he was a teenager in love," their son, Scott O'Connor, told an Arizona TV station. "He was happy."
Such a delicate situation might stretch the best of any spouse's spirit. Many might respond with jealousy or despair. But Justice O'Connor, her son said, has come to happier terms with it. After deciding to leave the bench in 2005 to take care of her ailing husband, and following a few dark, painful years, John's newfound joy with another woman is a welcome development.
"For Mom to visit when he's happy … visiting with his girlfriend, sitting on the porch swing holding hands," he said, is a relief.
Our popular culture is obsessed with love, but it's the lusty kind felt as eros. It's all about the thrill of the chase, about landing the girl or boy. O'Connor's story reminds us of love in its older, wiser years, when learning to let go can be the most loving act of all.