“Remember to separate the colors from your whites.” You hear your mom’s warning repeat in your head while you peer into the laundry room smelling of “Fresh Scent.” Noticing that there is only one washer open (being in a college dorm) you try to rationalize away the need to separate colors in order to satisfy the practical need of the moment. “It’s only one red shirt,” you tell yourself as you move the clothes from the basket to the washer. Holding the red shirt, staring at the label, you read “wash separately.” Yet, surely it will be fine, you think to yourself, to include just one red shirt with all the whites. “It’s one of my favorite shirts though...” still reasoning in your head. Besides, there were no other clothes to wash it with and again, there was only one washer. Taking one more moment to think about what to do, you finally toss the red shirt in with the whites and think, “what could possibly happen?”
Many of us have proceeded to take this risk of mixing our light clothes with our dark clothes. I know I have done this countless of times given the scarcity of time, quarters, or washers. The warning signs do not seem enough to convince us to always separate our clothes. We forget about the consequences of why such minuscule rules are given to us in the first place. I can recall a specific moment when I mixed a red sock with my whites. All my white laundry came out pink! It was a silly mistake, but I learned that it was not one I would want to happen again.
In Dietrich von Hildebrand’s book, The Nature of Love, the purity of a noble love is discussed in contrast to the tainted form that often passes for love. When we think about love as our white laundry and anything else that invades it like dark laundry, we definitely see that love can be easily tainted by things that are contrary to its nature, like that of impatience, jealousy, anger, distrust, etc. We take for granted the purity of love and become sluggish in our decisions that surround it like that of throwing our dark laundry in with our lights. There is a sense of carelessness. When we consider the nature of love, how the lover ought to respond to the beauty of the beloved and rejoice in her goodness, we not only see what is worthy of love, but we too want to respond to beauty. We too desire to participate in authentic love.
When we encounter the beloved with true love, we see the beauty of the beloved so clearly that we do not have to project values into him or her that are not really there. The beauty of the beloved presents before us a value that demands a response of something utterly pure. The response to the beauty and the only response worthy of the beautiful person embodying that value is love.
Granted, one need not always respond to beauty with love. Only consider the painting of such delicate artwork that it demands your admiration. Must you love such a painting? Or think of the virtuous man who is venerable in his own right. Do we need to love the virtue of such of man? It seems not. The case is different when one encounters the beloved. You experience this love as a gift from above. Though not demanded in strict justice, you feel that the only response that you personally can give which is worthy of the other is love. Yet love can be tarnished. If impatience, anger, or jealousy creep in, love can be degraded and even destroyed. The lover loses the dignity of the name and his love fades into the background.
To return to our original analogy, it is as if the starkest blood-red (and smelly) sock has tainted the pure white freshness of one’s laundry load. We assume that love will stand the test of any trial. While this is true of the purest and most authentic love, does it still stand if love becomes complacent? If we increasingly allow anger and jealousy to poison love, how could it remain a healing remedy? If the stain of our sinful weakness pollutes love, how will it remain immaculate? While one must resort to bleach in the case of stained laundry, how is love to overcome this difficulty? It is through a renewal of love. By humbly admitting one’s faults and asking for forgiveness, love can lead the way in overcoming even the worst sins. Thus we come to see the meaning of the phrase: love bears all things.
1. Thank you to Chase Cloutier for his constructive edits.