Today’s blog begins my new series of blog posts on Dietrich von Hildebrand’s The Nature of Love. My first few posts will focus on such topics as love as a value-response and love as gift.
Two automatic doors rhythmically slid open and closed as a variety of people made their way in and out of the building. Most of them were women wearing bleached white cotton pants with colorfully patterned tops. As I stepped through the sliding doors, I noticed one woman in particular. She grasped tightly the two rubber handles of a wheelchair while she used all the strength in her legs to push an elderly man back inside after taking him out on a stroll in the sunshine. She spoke gently to the old man asking him where he would like to go. Pretending like he could not hear her, he raised his arm to her long-sleeve and tugged it a couple of times saying with a smirk, “I’m old, I can’t hear out of that ear anymore, come to this side.” Slightly amused, the nurse asked the same question to the other ear in a louder tone. “Oooh,” he responded with a chuckle, “why didn’t you just say that before?” The nurse smiled as he continued, “please take me to the table where my friends are playing cards!”
Seeing the nurses’ example, I was moved to show the same love. I made my way towards the witty old man in the wheelchair who I had seen when I first came in. I said “hello” while smiling at him with a gentle confidence. The dimples on his face framed the giant smile he gave me. Offering his large hand to shake, he introduced himself to me as Bruce. We conversed for a little while. He told me about his wife June who also lived in the home and many other things about his life. During our conversation, he decided to teach me the secret tricks he knew about poker. Eventually, a nurse came to give him his medicine and told me that she would have to take him back to his room. That day, I found a new friend in Bruce.
Dietrich von Hildebrand in his book The Nature of Love, provides us with an understanding of love that is only possible by self-giving. Hildebrand says, “One has to start with the love for other persons; this is the love that possesses all those elements of which we think when we speak of love, such as self-donation, delight in the other person, the happiness of love and so on.”  Love is not something that is only directed towards the self. Instead, love is other-directed and consists most fully in a relationship with another, allowing that love may be returned.
In my experience at the assisted living home, I not only saw love being made known by the nurses’ self-donation in their service to the less capable, by feeding them, washing them, and attending to them. But I also saw the general love of one human being for another, being reciprocated by the elderly back to the nurses. The love encouraged me to love in that way too. I desired to respond to the beauty of the elderly, like the big smile of Bruce. I learned how to love in a new way-in the proper way. I was able to give love to another and by doing that, I received a love back that I had never known before.
Learning how to love other persons teaches us the importance of communion and the beauty of making authentic love known.
Image  Nicholas Maes, “Old Woman Dozing” http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d8/Maes_Old_Woman_Dozing.jpg Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Begium, 1656.
Image  Unknown, “The Garden Arbor” http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5b/Die_Gartenlaube_%281871%29_b_629.jp
Ernst Keil, Leipzig:1871.
 Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Nature of Love (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009) 2.