I was stunned recently when a group of Books@Work participants zeroed in on love as a core theme in a story. The setting was powerful: a group of police officers, police academy cadets and city residents meeting in an urban day care center to discuss Langston Hughes’ story, “Thank you Ma’am.” The story centers on Luella, a large woman and a “force to be reckoned with”, who overpowers a young boy when he tries to steal her handbag. She drags him home (literally), cleans him up, feeds him, listens to him and sends him home with an experience far greater than the one he bargained for!
In short, the participants said, she showed him love. Tough love. “We have co-opted love to mean only eros,” said one participant, “but love is the most powerful force. Love grabs us by the throat,” but upholds dignity and respect and allows us to retain our voices.
Love has a long and storied history – and it’s complex. The ancient Greeks had at least four distinct words for love: Philia (fraternal love), Storge (familial love), Eros (erotic love but also the love of beauty) and Agape (divine or compassionate love). But what’s love got to do with work?
The parochial elementary school I attended did not approve of Halloween. Instead, on October 31st, they would throw a “Fall Carnival” that featured wholesome fun. My parents were not quite willing to co-sign the view that Halloween was innately evil, so my sister and I usually split our time between a Halloween party at the nearby library and the school event.
In fourth grade, I was near the apex of my once-consuming obsession with Harry Potter. That year, nothing would do but a Dumbledore costume. My mom made dress robes and we found a beard, a wig, a hat and a wand.
The people at the library were most impressed by the costume. Everyone loved having a Dumbledore there and, in fact, the whole party was Hogwarts-themed. I was surrounded by witches and wizards sprouted from J. K. Rowling’s imagination. About an hour later, I followed my sister into the school gym, flowing white hair and beard covering my head, and long robe trailing on the ground behind me. Mrs. West, the third grade teacher, wrapped me in an enormous hug and said, “Tim, what a lovely costume. You make a wonderful Moses.”