Love in the 21st Century

I’ll be honest- the lead story in this week’s newsletter was going to be a discussion of “The China Project”, a subject I’d been planning to address for quite a while. But on Sunday, while reading the New York Times, I found something that affected me so deeply that I just had to share it.

I hope after you read it you will see why I had to move “The China Project” to the back burner.

“The China Project” will keep. This won’t.

So here’s the background. There’s a column that’s been running in the Sunday Times for years called “Modern Love”, in which different writers contribute personal stories about relationships. There’s no requirement as to what kind of relationship the story has to be about- could be siblings, parents, offspring, community, animals or the old standby, romance- the only requirement is that the article be interesting.

This last Sunday being Valentine’s day, Daniel Jones, the editor of the page for the past five years, decided to write the column himself, addressing what he calls “a series of head scratching questions about love that Americans are asking in 2010”. The part I want to reproduce came at the end, and it went like this:

The question: “What is love, anyway?”

Here’s what Jones wrote.

If I were Spock from “Star Trek”, I would explain that human love is a combination of three emotions or impulses: desire, vulnerability and bravery. Desire makes one feel vulnerable, which then requires one to be brave”.

Jones went on to recount the following true story, which happened to a woman named Elizabeth Fitzsimons. Fitzsimons wrote about it in the “Modern Love” column, published on Mother’s Day a few years ago.

Say you decide to adopt a baby girl in China. You receive her photo, put it on your refrigerator and gaze at it as the months pass, until finally you’re halfway around the world, holding her in your arms, tears of joy streaming down your face.

“But later in your hotel room, after undressing her, you discover worrisome physical signs, in particular a scar on her spine. You call the doctor, then head to the hospital for examinations and CT scans, where you are told the following:

“She suffered botched spinal surgery that caused nerve damage. Soon she will lose all bladder and bowel control. Oh, and she will be paralyzed for life. We’re so sorry.

“But the adoption agency offers you a choice: keep this damaged baby, or trade her in for a healthier one.

“You don’t even know about the trials yet to come, about the alarming diagnoses she’ll receive back home, the terrifying seizures you’ll witness. Nor do you know about the happy ending that is years off, when she comes through it all and is perfectly fine. You have to decide now. This is your test. What do you do?

If you’re Elizabeth Fitzsimons”, writes Jones, “you say : “We don’t want another baby. We want our baby, the one sleeping right over there. She’s our daughter.

“That’s love. Anyone can have it. All it requires is a little bravery. Or a lot

Happy Valentine’s Day.