Snapshots of Love
By Lori Sebastianutti
* In 2011, after six years of teaching French as a Second Language to 150 students ranging in ages from 9 to 14, I decided to take a leave of absence to devote myself to becoming a full- time fertility patient. During the last week of June, I allowed my students to chalk on the board during their free time.
* Seven types of love were coined based on the classical readings of Plato and Aristotle. Among them are Pragma, Philia, Agape, Storge, and Philautia.
Pragma: a practical love founded on reason or duty and one’s long-term interests.
Every day for six years of my life, six classes of approximately 25 students would stand in line outside my French room and wait for me to give them the signal to enter. Bonjour Madame, they would say. Twenty-five different pitches of a child’s voice. I would respond with 25 bonjours of my own.
On many occasions I heard “I like French more than gym class.” Did they like conjugating verbs, or looking up words in the French-English dictionary? Probably not. But they liked songs, games, and skits. Whether it was the juniors belting out C’est le weekend to the tune of The Flintstones' theme song every Friday or the seniors bopping their heads to French rap while completing seatwork, my French room was the place to be. They also enjoyed tasting maple treats and playing winter sports outside in honor of Quebec’s annual winter carnival. They loved earning raffle tickets for speaking French in class for the chance to win prizes at the end of each month. I couldn’t make children but I could watch large toothy grins form while they rose to accept their Certificats de Mérite each month to a chorus of cheers and applause. I could channel all the love I could muster into my chosen profession, even while experiencing intense grief, so these beautiful children could experience joy.
Philia: friendship founded on the basis of goodwill. This type of love is associated with companionship, dependability, and trust.
While earning my Bachelor of Education, my associate teacher told me that when building rapport with my future students I should remember the motto “ friendly, not friends.” I thought this wise advice at the time but during my almost eight-year struggle to become a mother my perspective shifted. With each passing year and no pregnancy, my circle of friends dwindled to just a few loyal companions. I wasn’t easy to be around and my fertile peers couldn’t truly understand the sorrow I was experiencing. When conversations shifted from exciting new resources and professional development opportunities to Braxton Hicks contractions and nursing bras, I stopped attending our monthly girls’ nights. Those once vital friendships never recovered. But in the faces of those 150 souls, I found the purest of friendships. We equally depended on and trusted one another. I was there for 40 minutes of their day to teach them French and they were there help fill the empty hole that infertility had carved into my life.
Agape: a universal love such as the love for strangers, nature, or God. It encompasses the modern concept of altruism and is based on the unselfish concern for the welfare of others.
My students were oblivious to my pain. Of course, there were many days taken off for bloodwork and ultrasounds, surgeries and procedures but I wanted them to feel lightness and glee when I was standing in front of them. Beyond my academic expectations of them, all they had to do was exist and allow me a space to spread my gifts. People of faith believe that God is in everyone and everything. If that is the case, then there is no more accurate description of God than in the body and soul of a trusting child.
Storge: familial love; the fondness born out of a familiarity or dependence.
“Thank goodness they go home to their parents at three o’clock,” a colleague of mine once said in the staffroom after a particularly challenging day. She would then leave behind the stress of her day and reunite with her young family. When I was trying to become a mother, I went home to an empty house until my husband got home from work. Vegetables sautéing in the pan, hardwood floors cracking in the heat and the hum of the furnace echoed in the silence. When we sat down to dinner, I would tell him of something cute one of my students had said or show him something one had made me like a card or a plastic cord bracelet. I would return to school the next day, knowing I had the privilege of nurturing someone else’s child. They weren’t mine, but for a brief moment in their lives, they needed me.
Philautia: self-love, appraisal of our own worth. The vehicle through which we think, feel, and act as it relates to our relationship with ourselves.
I didn’t feel a lot of self-love during those six years. I hated my body for failing to achieve a pregnancy month after month. Infertility skewed my views on femininity and womanhood. Who am I if not a mother? In the rare moments that I didn’t question this, society made sure I did. Pregnancy, babies, motherhood; these concepts shouted at me from every corner of my life, at family events, in the media, and online. Everywhere that is, except in this one room with these incredible children. They didn’t care if I was a mother. I was their teacher and that was more than enough.
Lori Sebastianutti is a writer and teacher from Ontario, Canada. She is the former managing editor of the Fertility Matters Canada blog. Her essays have been published in The Hamilton Review of Books and are forthcoming in The Humber Literary Review and The New Quarterly. You can read more of her work at lorisebastianutti.com.