The task of defining love is one that some of humanity’s greatest minds have wrestled with. Philosophers, theologians and psychologists have all contributed their definitions of the phenomenon. Personally, I found a pretty good definition of love in Italy.
One Sunday, while my family was living in Florence, a young Italian woman who had befriended our family said to me, “Richard, ti voglio bene.”
I had only started learning Italian and didn’t understand her. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“Ti voglio bene,” she repeated more slowly.
“I don’t know what that means,” I replied.
She rolled her eyes then exclaimed in English. “I love you!”
I asked my wife, Keri, “Doesn’t ‘ti amo’ mean ‘I love you’?”
Keri replied, “Ti amo is romantic love. Ti voglio bene, literally means, I want good for you.
What a beautiful definition of love. A few weeks later I saw this pure love demonstrated by my then seven-year-old daughter, Abigail, at a public swimming pool. Abigail knew how to swim but was still terrified by the deep end of the pool so she stayed at the shallow end where her feet could still touch bottom. Her three-year-old brother Michael, who couldn’t swim at all, was wearing water wings, and floating in the deep end.
I was sitting on a lounge chair at the side of the pool reading a book when I heard Abi shouting. I looked up to see her holding onto Michael’s arm, struggling to keep her head above water.
“Abi!” I shouted. “Let go of him!”
She didn’t let go but continued struggling with him.
“Abi!,” I shouted again. “You’re going to drown both of you! Let go of him right now!”
Then the lifeguard did what I should have done, he dove into the pool and pulled the two children out of the water. Only after they were on dry ground did I learn what had happened. Abigail was on the other end of the pool when Michael jumped into the deep end, his arms extended above his head. One of his water wings had come completely off and the other had slid up to his elbow, leaving him underwater. Only Abigail had seen what he’d done and, in spite of her tremendous fear of deep water, had jumped in to save her brother.
I can’t think of a better example of true love–of Ti voglio bene. Unlike “romantic” love, this type of love is not as much to desire a person, as it is to desire their well-being; their mental and spiritual growth. Unfortunately, most vehicles of pop culture extol what psychologists call limerance, a psychological state of deep infatuation that doesn’t last. Real love is not the briefly blooming flower, but the thorny stem–the flower’s protection and source of all nourishment and life. The love my daughter showed that day was something much more real than is found in thousands of romance novels–something much holier.
I try to remember this each day. When I speak to groups, drive in rush hour, interact with my family, I try to remind myself to look at others and say to myself, ti voglio bene. I’ve found that it not only grows peace around me but inside my heart and mind as well. Try it. Think how much better this world would be if everyone did.
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Richard Paul Evans is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 27 novels. If you’re new to Richard’s books we recommend the New York Times bestselling The Walk series, the story of a man who, upon losing his wife, home and business, decides to walk across America. Or his latest novel, a love story, The Mistletoe Promise, available in all formats.