Dana Jennings on Love

As the Valentine flowers begin to fade and the Valentines cards are filed away, I think it’s important to remember that Cupid has very little to tell us about real love. New York Times editor Dana Jennings, however, does in “Love in the Time of Prostrate Cancer.” I especially like Jennings’ phrase, “Love is in the details.” Precisely.

Such love is not exclusive to Christian homes. Still, as a Christian, when I read Jennings’ description of his wife’s love I think of Christ. This is the kind of love God bestowed on us in Jesus, and the kind of love that he looks for in all those who bear his name.

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As the Valentine flowers begin to fade and the Valentines cards are filed away, I think it’s important to remember that Cupid has very little to tell us about real love. New York Times editor Dana Jennings, however, does. Just before Valentines Day in 2009, Jennings wrote:

These days, I epitomize the “in sickness” part of the wedding vows that Deb and I took back in 1981. Since we learned last April that I have prostate cancer, I’ve had my prostate removed, found out that the cancer was shockingly aggressive, undergone a 33-session course of radiation and am finishing up hormone therapy.

Right now, I’m not quite what you’d call “a catch.” I wear man-pads for intermittent incontinence, I’m a bazaar of scars, and haven’t had a full erection in seven months. Most nights, I’m in bed by 10. The Lupron hormone shots, which suppress the testosterone that can fuel prostate cancer, have sent my sex drive lower than the stock market, shrunken my testicles, and given me hot flashes so fierce that I sweat outdoors when it’s 20 degrees and snowing.

Even so, Deb has taught me that love is in the details. Humid professions of undying love and tear-stained sonnets are all well and good, but they can’t compete with the earthy love of Deb helping me change and drain my catheter pouches each day when I first came home from the hospital.

Yes, in the details. She measured my urine, peered into places I couldn’t (literally and figuratively), and strategically and liberally applied baby powder, ice and Aquaphor to my raw and aching body. She battled our intractable insurer, networked, tracked down the right doctors — and took thorough notes all the while.

I was wounded. She protected me. She chose to do these things.

Deb and I have been married for 27 years, have two sons (22 and 19), and have ridden the usual Ferris wheel that comes with a long marriage. But our love for each other has deepened in this time of prostate cancer.

Time, we are told, will give us our sex life back. As I said, the hormone shots have shut down my sex drive. And my poor penis is still in recovery — from the surgery and the radiation. But as we wait, I’ll tell you this: Love abides. . . . right now, sex seems quaint, old-fashioned. Oddly enough, it can’t compete with the depth and gravity of a light touch, a sly glance. . . . Don’t get me wrong. I really, really like sex. But given a choice between the mere biology of lust and the deep soul of love, I’ll take love.

Love in the Time of Prostate Cancer, February 9, 2009,
Dana Jennings, NY Times

I especially like Jennings’ phrase, “Love is in the details.” Precisely.

Such love is not exclusive to Christian homes. Jennings was raised as a Protestant but converted to Judaism in 2004. His wife and his children are also Jewish. He tells the story of the decades-long journey to his conversion here.

Still, as a Christian, when I read Jennings’ description of his wife’s love I think of Christ. This is the kind of love God bestowed on us in Jesus, and the kind of love that he looks for in all those who bear his name. It’s the kind of love that becomes most real when lived out in long-term, deep relationships like marriage.