To love a stranger

Love is reserved for those close to us. Boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, close family, sometimes distant family, close friends, but rarely those we have weak ties with. We treat it like a zero-sum asset, something limited, something which we can spread only so far and only amongst certain people. But is it?

I asked myself a question recently: Could I love a stranger? Someone I’ve never met, who I know nothing about? Something within me raises an objection. How can I love that which I don’t know? Something else within me raises a counterpoint. The people I don’t know are still human. They’re not all that different from me or the people I already give my love to. Which alters the question.

The question of who we love or the circumference of the circle it spreads amongst has nothing to do with the scarcity of love. Like creativity and energy, the constraints on the amount of love we can give is more about our own inhibitions than the danger of emptying the well. So really the question is, How big a risk do I want to take?

Any heartbroken teenager will tell you that love is synonymous with pain. To love someone and have that love rejected is akin to putting the soul in a blender. This is why the first pronunciation of the “L Word” in a relationship is significant. It’s a test of reciprocation. “I love you. But do you also love me?” Love is the greatest risk because it represents the most profound opening of a heart. It is the disarmament and de-shielding of a person’s very being. Such an open heart can be treated with kindness and with cruelty.

This is, in my eyes, why the love we give never goes far from home and never extends to those we don’t know. It’s too much of a risk to love without knowing the probability of reciprocation, or of betrayal. The stranger who exists just beyond the boundary of the camp fire is an Unknown. We don’t know whether he is a liability or an asset, an enemy or an ally. So we refrain from loving him.

Which makes the deeds—not the words—of the great sages—known and unknown—even more magnificent. By loving everyone and everything they took unimaginable risks, and consequently endured unbelievable pain. Their uncompromising and undeniable love represents the most supreme act of humanity that I can think of.