Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 65 years old. She and Dad would have probably been tooling around in the camper, maybe checking out some hot springs in the wilderness, maybe hitting the outlet malls in Washington State.

But she’s dead, so they’re not. With this in my head, I went forth in my day, and what did I discover? Not sorrow, not anger, but rather love. My own for other people. And you know what? It’s fucking scary. Love leaves you vulnerable as a bug on a tablecloth, but wow, does it ever reward you as well.

After the gym, I turned on the computer to check my email. As I read and replied, I was vaguely aware of the sound of E in his room, watching Battlestar Galactica. All at once, I felt the most intense wash of love come over me, along with a chilling awareness: One day, he or I will be dead first. The other will be left behind. I can no longer imagine what that would even look like, let alone the bone-deep, aching loneliness. I understand how people refuse to love, saying it’s too painful. But what about the joy? Isn’t it worth it? As my wise friend Morgan once said, “It’s the only game in town.” Love sustains us throughout a lot of crap, and let’s face it, life throws us a lot of crap. We need love to navigate the crap. It’s a compass and a lifeboat. Or, (Thanks, Shakespeare), “Love is the star to eve’ry wandering bark”, the North star. Willie said it best in those particular 14 lines (Sonnet 116), and I have to say, he’s right.

With these thoughts brewing in my brain, I went to visit my grandmother. She’s got Alzheimer’s, and is in a care home. A very good one, and I tip my hat to them. We went for a walk in the garden and had lunch together. At her care home, when someone comes for lunch, they and the resident eat in the main dining room, whereas the residents mostly eat in the dining rooms on each floor of the residence.

It took my grandmother almost an hour to eat her lunch, but at least she was working under her own steam. Douglas has to feed his mother. Marilyn has to feed her aunt. Doug’s mom and Marilyn’s aunt are almost incapable of speech at this point. But Doug’s there almost every day. Marilyn, too. So what keeps them coming back? Love. It’ll keep me coming back as well, as long as I can manage the time away from work to do it.

I expected lunch to be purgatory, but I had a pretty good time. I know her condition will only get worse, and it will make me sad. But for now, the simple fact of my presence makes her so happy. Why would I distance myself to spare my own pain when we have fun together even though she has no short-term memory? I’m seizing the moment, because all she has are moments.

I don’t think we’re the only animals who feel love, and therefore I can’t say that it’s what makes us human. But I think it’s what makes us alive to the good stuff in life. And the more people you love, true, the more pain you’ll feel over your lifetime, as they die, or even make negative or self-destructive choices. But the more people you love, the more people love you (generally speaking) and the better supported you’ll be throughout life. Love is like Lembas bread. As long as you have it, you can keep going.

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