The Knowing Heart

Why is love so important? What is it about love that sets us apart and sets the angels apart?


If, like me, you grew up in the America of the 1970s, you knew it was a lot of things all at once. Practically every song on the Top 40 station I listened to had the word “love” in it somewhere, and in each song it was described in a slightly different way.

For Diana Ross, love was like an itching in her heart that she couldn’t scratch. According to a group called the Ohio Players, love was a roller coaster. “Love hurts,” one song lamented, while another went a step further by announcing: “Love stinks.”

For John Lennon (who both in and out of the Beatles used the word “love” even more often than the average pop songwriter), love was “all you need” and also “the answer.”

Not that love, and discussions of what it was, were confined to my radio. TV shows talked about it almost as much. “Love is all around,” sang the guy on the opening credits to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” each week. Both “The Dating Game” and “The Newlywed Game” turned around the topic, while “Love American Style” reminded me that, whatever else love was, it was also thoroughly American.

The stars-and-stripes heart that introduced that show each week always made me think of a slightly updated version of the most beloved TV heart of all: the puffy black-and-white one that introduced the reruns of “I Love Lucy” I watched each day after school.

Speaking of school, reminders of love’s all-importance were present everywhere there as well. Each year, my home classroom seemed to feature one of those posters (inescapable in elementary and high schools all across America in the seventies) with the letters L O V E stacked two above and two below, with the O just slightly off-kilter like a book that had tipped over on a shelf.

In fourth and fifth grade, when the more accomplished readers in class started investigating genuine grown-up novels, girls could now and then be seen carrying around a copy of Erich Segal’s “Love Story,” the basis for the movie that taught the world the important—if to me puzzling—news that “love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Last but not least, there were the bumper stickers. I grew up in Virginia, and somewhere in the mid-seventies every other car bumper started carrying a sticker announcing that “Virginia is for lovers.” Not only did I live in a world where love was clearly the most important thing going—I lived in a state where that was apparently even more the case than elsewhere.

These details all come from a very specific time and place, but a kid growing up today in New York City—or central Iowa—could provide his or her own equally long list of love-related images and slogans.

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