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January 22, 2009

This Wonderful Life

On Tuesday, poet Elizabeth Alexander stood in front of the country and the world and read these words from the poem she wrote for President Barack Obama’s inauguration:

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,

others by first do no harm or take no more

than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national, love that casts a widening pool of light,

love with no need to pre-empt grievance. In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,

any thing can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

That’s a tall and incredibly radical order.

To place love central to our every activity and call it mighty means checking every decision against it. If the mightiest word is love, the mightiest people are the ones who live into love fully, generously and without self-consciousness or apology. And the poet was not describing just any love. She wasn’t talking about the way you love your spouse, who does nice things for you like cooking dinner or taking the dog out on a particularly icy morning. She wasn’t talking about the way you love your kids, who are knit into the very fabric of your heart. She wasn’t even describing the way you love that dog - the one who smells dawn coming when it’s still half an hour away and wants to go mark the yard so that the sun doesn’t get any big ideas about trespassing. She was talking about a kind of love that trumps all those other kinds of love.

Could you do it? I don’t know if I could.

But what if the mightiest word is love? What if you put it front and center in everything.

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