There is nothing more universal, more powerful, more wholesome, and more sublime than love. Its intensity and gravity could transcend all forces of nature, even disasters and calamities, natural or man-made, including a nuclear devastation of nations or of the world. Indeed, nothing can make our innate love for our country, family, friends, even pets, vanish into oblivion. If anything at all, this exciting and inspiring unselfish emotion, between or among people, is heightened by any counterforce that threatens or stands in its way. Love, as they say, conquers all.
Patriots have sacrificed with their lives for their love of country. Forbidden lovers have committed suicide in the name of love. Saints have been burned alive or beaheaded for refusing to deny their belief, kings have abdicated and given up their throne for love, parents have died shielding their children from bullets, and people have risked their life saving a pet. And there are countless other manifestations of this phenomenon called love. What a colossal might!
What is this love?
Love is to the lover as beauty is to the beholder. Its correct definition is not absolute, precise, and specific, almost illusive. It is actually an all-consuming addiction to or for anyone or anything we truly care about, for which we are willing to give up ourselves or even our life for. While it varies among individuals, the common denominators are selfless adoration and sacrifice. Social love, a form of respect and friendliness, is expressed daily in our life. Mother Teresa once said: “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”
The science of love
While the emotional and physical attributes of this very potent feeling is obvious to everyone, medically speaking, love is chemistry at its best, a concoction of various substances produced by our own built-in pharmaceutical laboratory in our body. Even the magnetic force and interaction between two individuals meeting for the first time , especially the so-called love at first sight (jokingly said to be cured by a second look) is nothing but chemistry. Scientifically, love is the result of an inexplicable great attraction we feel with all our five senses (some people have 6) that stimulates the brain to send electrical messages to the various exocrine and endocrine glands in the body to secrete happy “love” hormones and flood the entire body, supposedly especially the heart (actually the brain) which induce that romantic amorous and exciting joyful sense we call love.
The anatomy where love resides
Love, like fear and other emotions, is carried out by the limbic system in the brain, with the processing center of various emotions is the amygdala. To know the location of the amydala, picture this part of the base of the brain as the head and beak of a bird. The thalamus is where the eyes are, the hypothalamus is the beak and the amygdala is located precisely at the corner of the jaw and the neck of the bird (just above the Adam’s Apple by the jaw in humans).
This wonderful amorous feeling varies in different individuals. Some fall in love fast and others more slowly. Some are more impulsive and daring, and others more careful and guarded. Still, others use their cerebrum (largest part of the brain where intellect and wisdom are processed) more than their heart, as the saying goes.
The desire for another person because of physical (sexual) attraction only is lust not love, not to say that this could evolve and develop to true love. And material love is not love but greed and deception of the worst kind, the very reason why and how pre-nups were invented 2000 years ago and perfected today, thanks to the lawyers. While this form of pre-marital contract is reasonably justified in some cases, having this formal agreement in writing in a general setting makes marriage appear like a business transaction, more material, less sacred, and less romantic.
Famous and infamous lovers
The most famous lovers are Romeo and Juliet, a tragedy written by William Shakespeare between 1591 and 1595. The other popular pairs are Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, Lancelot and Guinevere, Napoleon and Josephine, Paris and Helena, Tristan and Isolde, Orpheus and Eurydice, Odysseus and Penelope, and Tristan and Iseult, ShahJahan and Mumtaz Mahal, Alexander I of Serbia and Draga Masin, King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, Catherine the Great and Grigory Potemkin, Czar Nicholas II and Alexandra Federovna, Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. and Anne Spencer Morrow, Juan Domingo Peron and Maria Eva Duarte (Evita), Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
Till death do us part
The epitome, the incarnation, of loyalty and faithfulness are seen among the prarie voles (Microtus ochrogaster), from the rodent family. They are usually about 4.8 inches and weigh 1.5 ounces. The word vole is an anagram of love, and this cute rodent “has been designated as the unofficial species to study monogamy in lab animal,” since they mate for life and are purely faithful, even sharing child care duties. The extreme bond and crazy-glue behavior is regulated by the neurotransmitters (oxytocin and vasopressin). Guys, we can learn something here, in spite of the jest that says “Herpes infection is always forever, unlike some love.”
Manifestations of love
Being in love rates number one in human emotions. It is a sense of extreme joy, deep-seated happiness, and heavenly sentiment that makes one’s spirit soar above the clouds, when one thinks of or holds the hand of a best friend, when addicted to a person, near or far, when the absence of one makes the heart grow fonder and produces “withdrawal symptoms,” etc. Besides the ethereal, the earthly signs include among others, the feeling of selflessness and intense desire to be together, to dream and plan as a team, to give and share, to protect and provide security in all forms and needs, and the endless dream to grow old together. Indeed, that’s amore!
If all the peoples around the world would only have more understanding, love, and compassion than intolerance, anger, hatred, and vengeance, more love than wars, we might capture the elusive peace on earth that everybody has been talking about for aeons but never achieved. Clearly, this is only wishful thinking, day dreaming. Of course, don’t hold your breath. But I am a hopeless eternal optimist. Naïve, perhaps, but confident and hopeful in the power love.
Here’s wishing you and your loved ones, whoever and wherever you are, a New Year blessed with love, good health, joy, prosperity, and peace…and a long life to enjoy them.
Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org