WHAT DOES LOVE LOOK LIKE?
This week I will travel to my mother’s memorial service. My mother had been looking forward to dying for the past couple years, and on her 93rd birthday she had a stroke that began her last week of life. Now her family and friends and caretakers will assemble to celebrate her life which was long and full and good. Sometimes it was full of heartbreak and frustration and fear. Sometimes it was full of hope and overflowing with satisfaction. She never stopped striving, leaning forward into the future, imagining the next steps of her path. And until the last week of her life she never stopped criticizing, judging, stirring up old slights or re-examining unsettled emotions, either.
Mom was also a charmer—smart, curious and warm-hearted, observant and wise. Sometimes I fear for how like her I am, sometimes I’m grateful we are so much alike. There was a lot of love between Mom and me and sometimes it took shapes that were surprising or just plain terrible!
Which brings me to this reflection about what love looks like, anyway? The easy answer, of course, is that it has as many faces as there are people. Love looks like each of us, looks like how we care for ourselves and others. Love also looks like how we care for the Earth and the future.
But since I like to get into the weeds that underlie platitudes and theory I must be honest and say that love may have even more faces than we would like to admit. Love as accommodation and generosity—that I understand. There is nothing that more melts my heart and makes me feel strong than when a friend graces me with open listening and confidence in my abilities. But between some friends love looks like challenge, enforcement of an agreement, or a sharp reminder about boundaries. Sometimes love opens unimagined possibilities, sometimes it shuts the door on unwise choices. Sometimes love means sacrificing a current value or preference for the sake of an important future option. Sometimes it means rescuing, sometimes it means turning away.
How do we know how to choose what love should look like right here, right now, this moment? That I can’t say, and sometimes I know I get it all wrong. But one thing about which I’m increasingly certain is that we are called to love the entirety of what is, not just the parts we prefer. On my good days I try to remember the examples the Celts who celebrated all the seasons including winter, and of Jesus who loved all his friends including the one whom he knew would send him to his death. Sometimes in this life we get love right, and offer the wisdom or support or reproof that is needed and those are wonderful moments that bear fruit for days and years into the future. Sometimes we act with the best intentions but scatter untold and unrecognized harm around us.
So how can we be wiser and love better? How can we avoid repeating our loving mistakes more often than is absolutely necessary? How can we look more like my wise and warm mother and less like her defensive and hurtful shadow side? I think getting better at love starts with being aware of our habits and scars as well as our good intentions. For me it will require forgiving myself for what is ugly in my past and my patterns and also endorsing myself for my strengths and vision. What will it take to let love blossom more often and more beautifully in your life? Blessings on the journey,
Eileen J Terry