Today’s blog post is a continuation of my reflections on Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Nature of Love. We will examine the characteristic of self-donation within love.
Love awakens me,
Soul overflowing with joy,
Returned, love must be.
Standing in the kitchen doorway, I watch my aunts, mother, and grandmother as they prepare the food to make the best Easter dinner. It seemed like any other holiday we had at my grandparent’s house. The women were always drawn to the kitchen communing in their chit-chatting while cooking. We always made use of grandma’s famous recipes (which were mostly discovered by accident). As I made my way past my aunts to help in the tiny country kitchen, I decided to make use of my time by drying the dripping dishes. Watching and listening, I could hear various sounds like the hysteric laughter about childhood memories between my aunts, the lettuce being shredded while making a salad, and my grandmother’s “beep-beep” signals when she needed someone to get out of the way to get to the other side of the kitchen. I could never get enough of the happiness that flowed in and out of the kitchen spent with the ones I loved.
All the while, my grandfather decided to sneakily tip-toe into the kitchen to peak on the selections of the menu. Using his big-flat nose he sniffed the air for a spicy flavor and hoped that a jalapeno would be included on his plate that night for him to crunch on indulgently. My grandma spotted him quickly and with a slight smirk said, “Beto, get out the kitchen,” turning back to her cooking. He responded with a chuckle (always implying that he was up to no good). Ignoring the order, he walked up behind her with gentle footsteps. As she turned around, she did not seem surprised by his close presence, her face filled with a smile solely devoted to him. The gaze that had in that moment looked as if they both were lost in eternity. After this intimate moment, he gestured his hand towards her for her to receive it. Placing her dainty fingers into his round palm, he took her away on the kitchen floor staring into her eyes and letting his feet lead every step, turn, and pause of a spontaneous dance.
The love between my aunts cooking together and my grandparents dancing away in the kitchen share one thing in common and that is the giving and receiving of each other. In Dietrich von Hildebrand’s book Nature of Love, he says, “For the specific mark of love is, as we all shall see, its character of self-donation.” (1) Although it is more obvious that my grandparents share a specific mutual self-donation (with my grandfather giving himself first to my grandmother and then her receiving his gift and giving herself back to him), it is also very present between my aunts. As I observed my aunts, they were in a constant self-donation. They opened their hearts to one another, engaging with one another, and joking and laughing. They made a self-donation of entering into each other’s hearts. I could see that in this love exchange joy filled them. The exchange of love continued giving everyone in the kitchen something to rejoice about.
In all love there is a gift given, received, and returned.
Image 1. “Old people in Naples,” http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cc/Costumi_Napoletani_-_Anziani_%28Old_People_of_Naples%29.jpg Old Postcards. 2012.
 Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Nature of Love (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009) 17.