What is Love?

It’s a 1993 song by Haddaway, and love is nothing if it does not hurt. But it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. Love must never be forgotten.

This is Love is a podcast series hosted by Phoebe Judge. It’s a touching series striking at various kinds of love, relationships between people, love of art, the bond between an animal and person, finding love, losing love, and ultimately remembering love. But my favorite episode to date is about forgetting love. The episode is number 35, the title My Penny.

The story behind My Penny resembles the 2004 movie “Fifty First Dates”, starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler. It’s a comedy about a man who meets the woman of his dreams, but she suffers from short-term memory loss, and every day he must win her heart. And in some sense, that is love in a relationship: being extraordinary day after day, showing your significant other they deserve more than the status quo. And if the relationship is worthwhile, you make that effort and cherish the reciprocity.

The circumstance of the lovers in My Penny offers a different perspective. Meet Jeff. He suffers from a rare condition triggered by overly stressful or joyous events that cause permanent, long-term amnesia. When an episode strikes, Jeff will disappear for days, weeks, or months at a time, awaking in a new city and unknowing of even his name. His memory is wiped clean. Even his parents are strangers to him.

Meet Penny. She is his anchor. Each time Jeff disappears, Penny searches the hospitals and morgues, works with police to orchestrate search parties, fears the worst but ultimately is forced to wait for his reemergence. And then she must introduce herself to Jeff, the first time as his fiancé, and later as his wife. And each time Jeff must learn to fall in love with Penny. She is nothing less than patent as she shares with him their story, shows him pictures of their life, introduces him to his friends. Every time an episode occurs, Penny is there to teach Jeff who he is. She is his guardian angel.

And that is also love, being there for the other regardless of the difficult, uncontrollable situation.

Penny and Jeff’s love story is told only by Jeff. He and Phoebe only speak of Penny in the past tense, so we know My Penny’s destination from near the start. But it is the context of the end that is so powerful.

Penny becomes ill, stricken with stage four colon cancer. But even while undergoing treatment, she is concerned for Jeff, that he will suffer an episode. But Jeff stays present through medication and stress management to be with Penny until her end.

And it’s in Jeff’s second to the last narrative in My Penny, talking about his fear of having another episode, that offers the perspective of forgetting love. If Jeff has another episode, he will lose her again. His memories of Penny will be gone, those feelings, those intimate moments that no one can replace. His life with Penny would become based upon other people’s memories.

Though Jeff and Penny’s love story is tragic, there are beautiful undertones to it. Every day we should pursue the magic of falling in love with our significant other. And appreciate the love we have lived because even when gone, love will live in our memories.

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