Turning on the television, reading the newspaper, or even browsing a news website these days is enough to fill a person with dread. Tensions between countries are escalating. People are increasingly accusing others of things publicly (for better or worse). Making a wrong move these days can result in viral videos and being hunted by a digital mob that has more presence by the hour. In a world filled with darkness and fear, what power does love have, if any? In the third episode of The Story of Us (National Geographic, 9PM/8CT or on demand), Morgan Freeman explored some unique answers to the question that are worthy to be considered.
The episode began with Freeman recreating the Beatles’ famous walk across Abbey Road in England. It made perfect sense, as the Beatles sang their famous tune “All You Need Is Love” to a worldwide audience around the time of Woodstock. But were McCartney and the band correct? Freeman offered a number of vignettes providing challenging perspectives on what love truly is. On a trip to Ethiopia, for example, he watched a tribe’s manhood ritual, one that involved women attempting to acquire the attention of boys by waving thin tree branches at them. When a boy found the woman he wanted, he took the branch from her and hit her, causing potential scars on her back and side. It was brutal to watch, but the reason for it involved love in the form of protection and unity.
Another segment of the episode found Freeman interviewing a Pakistani-born attorney living in England. She thought she found Mr. Right on her own, but ended up divorcing him after a year. Meanwhile, her parents back home attempted to play the role of Yente in Fiddler on the Roof, arranging a suitor and marriage for her with a man she met for thirty minutes while visiting the family in Pakistan. She married him; fifteen years and two kids later, they’re still happily together.
Love does not always have to involve romance, however. The story of Major William Swenson’s determination and sacrifice to save a fellow member of his team in harm’s way during an ambush was powerful. The point here was simple: the bond between members of a group (military or otherwise) can become so strong that the group loves each other enough to stand beside each other in both good times and bad.
Love can even hope to bring dignity to a person’s life who hasn’t seen it in a while. One gentleman in London put his beliefs into action by taking his backpack and a stool into the streets in an attempt to provide homeless individuals haircuts and shaves. Watching the transformation of a haggardly older man was visually eye-opening.
Of course, it’s easy to look at these examples and immediately think of the Apostle Paul’s famous commentary on love in 1 Corinthians 13: love doesn’t boast; it isn’t self-serving; it always protects; it never fails regardless of country or the people involved. However, my biggest takeaway from the third episode came from the initial interview Freeman had with a gentleman in a quiet playground. A few decades ago, Romania had an overglut of kids thanks to laws enacted by former dictator Nikolae Ceausescu requiring all families to have at least five offspring. As a result, orphanges across the country were filled beyond the breaking point, both in number of kids and lack of workers. Conditions were beyond deplorable, with kids never seeing green grass or even the outside of the building. The gentleman being interviewed was able to get out of the orphanage to America through adoption, but when shown true love by his new parents, he simply couldn’t handle it; it was a foreign concept to him. He rebelled and ran away from his family, but later learned that one of his new sisters had been in a bad car accident. And just like the prodigal son in Luke 15, he returned home to find his father with open arms, ready to receive him back with no conditions.
So, does love have power in this day and age? Absolutely! We just have to be willing to slow down and look around a little bit. What we see may amaze us and perhaps transform our lives to be more loving and caring for those we hold dear—or even those we don’t know.