A More Personal Love—How I Met Aland

A photo of Aland receiving an echo screening

When I moved to Iraq a few years ago, I was confident about a lot.

More than confident, I was certain. About my abilities, plans, and—above all—my ability to love. I’d have thought it uncouth or naive to say at the time, but I really thought I loved everyone. Even writing it out now seems silly, but it's true.

But your twenties are filled with lessons in limitations, and this has been one of the most important of them all: to love all is to love none.

We are meant to love deeply, personally.

The first time I encountered this idea was in Dostoevsky’s The Brother’s Karamazov, when someone confesses:

“I love mankind, but I am amazed at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular… I often go so far as to think passionately of serving mankind, and would really have gone to the cross for people if it were somehow suddenly necessary, and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone even for two days, this I know from experience.”

As I reflect on the media's recent Iraq-focused frenzy and the endless opportunities for impersonal generalized responses, I needed to write this out, at least to remind myself and maybe a few of you: general love is easy, it’s sexy, and it’s mostly an illusion.

But personal, blood-and-dirt-love is risky and hard work, even scary. It’s loving a real person with a their own baggage and annoying quirks vs. loving ‘all Iraqis’ or ‘all children’ or 'all the refugees.'

A shot of Aland glancing up during his echo screening
This is Aland, and he’s a little boy I've grown to love personally.

Unlike statistics or pixels on a screen, Aland can be held and hugged. He loves his mother’s cooking, is fiercely protective of his little nephew, and he is so sick that he has to be carried everywhere.

Born with one of the most complicated heart defects in the world, Aland’s parents discovered his heart problem when he was just 40 days old. At age eleven, Aland and his family were still looking for a heart operation, and they were running out of time.

After a phone call from Aland's family friend, we decided to set the boy up to receive a screening from our friend and cardiologist, Dr. Kirk Milhoan. The time was well-spent but discouraging: Aland's operation would be very risky, and Dr. Kirk recommended against an operation.

We've shared a bit of Aland's story with you over the past few days, all from different perspectives. If you missed them, go back and read Alex's, Jessica's, and Danielle's stories, and be sure to come back for the next and final Aland story—an interview with his father.

A photo of Aland's blue hand during his echo screening

About Matthew Willingham

Matt Willingham is Preemptive Love's Senior Field Editor and writes primarily on politics, history, general updates and visual peacemaking through photography and film.

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A More Personal Love—How I Met Aland
A More Personal Love—How I Met Aland
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