I read something today that upset me so badly I had to visit my office mate and cry for a few minutes. I don’t know if this story is true or if it’s more of a parable or an urban legend to open our eyes but whatever the origin, it worked on me. I will relive this again for the sake of this post, but know that I am crying while typing. It went something like this:
“A man caught his young son scratching the side of his new car with a rock. In a rage, the man beat his child’s hands with the wrench he was holding. The boy’s hands were so mangled, his fingers had to be amputated. While piling back into the car to go home, the child asked his dad when would his fingers grow back? It was then the man noticed what the boy had scratched into the door – ‘I love you Daddy.’ That man committed suicide the next day.”
This story breaks me on so many levels, not least of which is how easily we lose our tempers with our children (though certainly not to that extent) when they had no ill intention whatsoever. Or how we covet our material things and devalue our loved ones. And of course – that suffocating, sometimes fatal, creature – regret.
When I calmed down and spent some time loving on my daughter I got to thinking deeper about this tale. What is really present for me tonight is that limitless love and adoration that children feel for their mommies and daddies. My girl thinks that I woke up the sun in the morning and brought out the moon in the evening. What did I do other than procreate to deserve such fervent devotion? Why do I feel unworthy or incapable of receiving such unconditional love? A kid doesn’t wonder what she did to deserve such an awesome caregiver so why do we feel like we have to earn love? Aren’t we all entitled to the ability to give and receive love the way a little child does? If I could bottle such worthiness, it’d fetch a higher price than the finest aged scotch.
At some point, someone taught us that we have to earn love – that we weren’t good enough just as we are. No, in order to be lovable we had to become A+ students, star athletes, perfect ballerinas, doctors, stock brokers, attorneys, housewives, organ donors, homeowners, chiropractors, servicemen, politicians… insert your own caveats ad fininitum. We had to become worthy, and we weren’t ok until we achieved a certain level of merit. Some of us are still trying to figure out the magic recipe that will earn us the love we desire.
Do you remember the moment that your parents lost their demigod status and became fallible human beings? I remember asking my mom to french braid my hair. No matter how many times she did it, it was never as pretty as the other girls’. I wondered what could be wrong with my mom? Why weren’t her braids as perfect as she was? It was a crushing blow for a 6 year old, and I wondered what else was wrong that I was missing?
These are just speculations on the places we learned that love was conditional. This is the place where parents look down at their kids and pray that they will stay innocent and unjaded – accepting enough of other people to give love freely and confident enough in themselves to accept the love they deserve.
What have I done today to give love free of conditions, or accept the love that people want to give me? I’m worthy… on some level. We all are. Under the regrets and mistakes and shortcomings and self-doubt we are all still those little kids who believe in love and who deserve nothing but love in return. No matter how cynical and tarnished from past heartbreaks I may become, I have to admit that in the dawn of my darkest moments I still have faith in people’s capacity to love without strings – even if I don’t do it as perfectly as my little girl does.