When my bachelor uncle came to live with my parents and me, he took it upon himself to share his wisdom. At age 9, I took it upon myself to see that he did not remain a bachelor. At that point he was a Navy veteran in his mid-30s who had moved on from work as a barber to a more secure job as a letter carrier and clerk at the Post Office. I tried to make a match by introducing him to my fourth-grade teacher, Miss Cunningham. I was bold enough to tell him that it would be nice if they were to fall in love and, like in the fairy tales, live happily ever after. My uncle responded by saying, “Thanks, but no, thanks,” and seized the opportunity for a teachable moment. It was time to understand the real meaning of love. Perhaps you could call it, “Love, re-imagined.”
He got out a Bible and we sat down to read 1 Corinthians 13. I listened carefully, from the opening part about speaking in the tongues of men or angels, to the closing thought: “In a word, there are three things that last forever: faith, hope, and love, but greatest of them all is love.” At that age, the part that stuck with me as I tried to be God-like was to be patient, kind, and envy no one. Then and now, it was a tall order.
My uncle conveyed to me a number of things: an illustrated dictionary from his days in college on the G.I. Bill after World War II, a volume of the complete works of Shakespeare, a demonstration of how to use the blade and the rest of the gadgets on a pocketknife, and repeated tips on how to learn to whistle either a tune or a warning.
By the time I was a teenager, he had moved out of our house and married a co-worker at the Post Office who clearly possessed many of the traits that the Apostle Paul described in his letter to the Corinthians. When their baby daughter arrived, I delighted in holding the infant and marveled at the fact that she had been named after her maternal grandmother and me. What greater motivation could there be to try to live up to Paul’s words!
About that time, my uncle acquired a slim paperback with a verse of 1 Corinthians 13 in red on the white cover. He gave it to me. I kept it on my bookshelf, more approachable than the weighty Shakespeare whose plays, too, often dealt with love. My uncle and his family moved far away, to the Rio Grande Valley. I headed in the other direction to Chicago and then, after stops elsewhere, to the mid-Atlantic. Our paths crossed less frequently as decades went by. But whenever I pondered the meaning of love, I knew where to look for answers. As the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 8, “Love will never come to an end.”