A QUEST FOR THE MEANING OF LOVE
by Julia Brizi della Rosa
In a room painted Turkish blue, a very elegant lady sat on an ancient red Persian rug looking out of the window. All around, scattered on the floor, were books and exquisite plump cushions. She was wrapped in a fine silk kimono, and was lying down on her most loyal friend. Emily - for that was her name - and the lion had been inseparable since she was a child and they had always told each other stories.
The house used to be a hotel, a marvellous hidden gem on a sandy beach in the Caribbean. A hotel with art deco balconies, azure-painted shutters and a secret garden.
Emily was immensely curious and adventurous when she was a child and her biggest dream was to travel the world, but she couldn’t as her parents ran the hotel. She grew up there, like a permanent guest.
She loved reading romances and books about love to her cherished lion. She read about Romeo and Juliet, Antonio and Cleopatra and many other tragic, incredible love stories.
Time passed, and she felt an urgent need to truly understand the meaning of the word ‘love'. One day, she had great idea: she would ask all those interesting, colourful guests who visited the hotel if they had found love in their life and how it happened.
The first time, she was playing with another girl; she took her to the secret garden, as she wanted to show her the amazing flowers that grew there. After a few moments Maya, this little girl from India, exclaimed full of joy: “Peepal! Peepal, A peepal tree in your garden!’ She started cuddling and hugging the tree. She picked a heart-shaped leaf from the ground and gave it to Emily. ‘Emily”, Maya explained, ‘the peepal, or ficus religiosa, is a holy tree in my country and when a peepal intertwines with a neem tree, their hug is a good omen and my people celebrate it by holding a symbolic marriage between the two trees.’ ‘I didn’t know you could love trees so much’ said Emily. ‘Love is respect for nature’ smiled Maya.
One evening, as high season was winding down, a family from Europe was dining on the veranda celebrating a birthday. Emily was in charge of bringing in the cake. The family looked delighted and kindly asked Emily to join them for the party. Emily was entranced by all the amazing stories they were telling. The parents had lived for a long time in Africa as they were doctors specializing in tropical diseases. Emily plucked up the courage to ask, ‘When and how did you find love?’. ‘My dear Emily, let me tell you about the one day our family grew from four to five. We had a best friend, Mary. She was a nurse working with us on the Red Cross camp in Somalia, but unfortunately she got very ill. Before she died, she implored us to adopt her son and treat him as our own child. He became our fifth beloved son. For us love means sharing everything we have with others. Love is generosity.’
There wasn’t much to do on the island during low season; there were no guests, no boats on the horizon, no new stories to hear or new friends to meet. Emily took long walks on the shore with her inseparable lion.
Every day, at the same time, she met a fisherman who was always the first to come ashore from the fishing trip. She observed him cleaning the boat and doing his duties and then rushing back home like something very important was waiting for him. ‘Why you are always in a rush?’ Emily asked him one day. The fisherman smiled and invited Emily to sit next to him on the boat. ‘Ten years ago, I was blessed with my second child but I was so blind that I didn’t recognize the gift I’d been given. My wife told me that our child had a syndrome and would never be like his brother or the other kids. She was fine and happy with our baby in her arms. For days, weeks and months I ignored him, as though he had never been born. One day, John, my eldest son came to me, took me by hand and brought me to the baby. He said - ‘Look dad, this is Eric. I don’t care if he is different and can’t speak like me or play football, but he is my brother and he needs even more love than I do.’ That day, I learned the meaning of unconditional love. The old Greeks called it Agape. Now I don’t waste a minute of our time together.’
Emily was overwhelmed by all these different meanings of love. She went to her mum and asked once again: ‘Mum what is love? Can it really have so many different shapes and forms?’
‘Yes Emily, love is not just big, strong, intense, it can also be little, hidden, unseen. It can hide as dew on the grass in the morning, on the chubby feet of a baby taking his first steps, in the first dance of a newly married couple or even on the jam toast which dad prepares for you every morning. You don’t only love people, you can love your country deeply, especially if you are far away and can’t go back. You can love something even if doesn’t exist anymore and only lives on in your memory and your heart. You can even love someone who was never born. Love is able to change something inside your heart; it generates transformation and creation and should never lead to destruction. For me, love is the bond I have with you and your dad’.
Emily understood that all these feeling she knew as respect, compassion, gratitude, generosity, tenderness, intimacy, empathy, forgiveness lived in just one short word.
You can say ‘love', but you could also say Storge, Agape, Philia, Eros, Xenia, Philautia and again Ren, Yuanfen, Mamihlapinatapai, Cafuné, Kama, Bhakti, Mettā, Ishq, Chesed, Amore, Charity, Saudade.
Emily grew into a beautiful, accomplished woman. At last, she could travel the world. Her love for words never faded and she became one of the most acclaimed poets of her time. She never met love in the shape of a life partner, but she had many dear friends and she mastered the very fine art of self-love.
Every time she came back to her family home, she spent the nights talking to the moon, which listened and looked down at her with her silver smile.
And thank you, Julia, for your words and the pleasure you have given us in reading them, and Diederik Pierani for your beautiful illustrations.
Founder and Creative Director
Julia Brizi della Rosa, Italian by birth and English by adoption, is the founder of Atellier. She writes and creates illustrated books on commission as meaningful gifts to be cherished for a lifetime. Atellier is based in London and works with clients around the world to tell their stories.