Wednesday, April 6, 2011
The Hierarchy of Love
The movie, I Will Follow is as much a meditation on loving as it is on grieving. We follow Maye as she packs up her recently deceased aunt’s house and prepares to leave and return her own life. A cast of characters pass through and help her to reconcile her aunt’s death and begin life anew.
The aunt, Amanda, an eccentric character and professional drum player who dreamed of playing in a rock band, succumbed to breast cancer. The two had a close, loving relationship that demonstrates the complexity of how we love. As a naïve little girl, I thought love was love, but I grew up to learn that even in loving there is a hierarchy. The greatest love is reserved for mothers, then fathers as evidenced by how much more attention we give to Mother’s Day than we do to Father’s Day. After all, it is mothers who bring us into the world and we should love them the most, right?
After parents then it’s siblings and after that we have to figure out who’s next on the tier for our affection. In the extended family there are grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces nephews and in-laws. Figuring out where everyone fits is tricky. The hierarchy changes when we marry and have children and so we shift and shuffle the ways in which we love and oftentimes things get complicated like they did for Maye when we break rank.
We meet Fran, Amanda’s daughter and the tension between the cousins is immediate. Aunt and niece had the kind of relationship that should have belonged to the mother and daughter, but didn't. Amanda and Maye's relationship went against the hierarchy and Fran resented Maye for that. At one point, Fran asks Maye if she has ever thought that the very qualities that she loved about Amanda didn’t make her the best mother. Fran also demands that Maye give her all of Amanda’s things because they belong to Fran and her children because she’s the daughter. The movie never reveals what happened between mother and daughter nor does it ever tell us anything about Maye’s mother.
Love isn’t the same for everyone; it can complicate, create confusion or cause pain when someone loves out of order. So,I wonder about our capacity to love. Is it limitless and boundless, or are there known but unspoken restrictions? How do we love? Do we do it differently depending on the family pecking order? What happens when relationships change? Or order isn’t followed?
Mae is single with no children. Fran is married with three children. So, did Fran’s sense of obligation to her immediate family prevent her from being there for her mother? Mae loved her aunt so much that she left her boyfriend and moved to another state to be with her aunt. During a phone conversation, Maye asks him why wasn’t he there for her and he said that he couldn’t just pack up his life and move away like she did.
Like Maye, I am also single and childless and I wonder what this means for me on the hierarchy of love. What do I do if my hierachy is missing a tier or two?