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Since we lost our cat Bella two weeks ago, the house seems empty. The irony is, we still have three cats. They are elderly, quiet, less active than they used to be. They are also the last three of a “pride” that once numbered eleven. Going from 11 to three is a dramatic decline. We feel like empty nesters.
Two feelings have arisen in me simultaneously: A desire to adopt more cats plus an equal desire to never adopt again. It is difficult for me to not want to help every stray and needy animal that’s out there. On the other hand, every time we lose one, it hurts dreadfully. I don’t want to hurt again, even though I know I will as three becomes two becomes one becomes zero. Each of our adoptees filled a special space in my heart. They taught me about patience, nurturing, joy and love. As they leave the earth, they take that piece of me with them.
I’ve had to analyze why it is I want to reopen what’s left of my heart to another animal. I think it’s because it’s easier to love animals than to love people. Cats appreciate the smallest luxuries, especially after a life on the streets: a warm bed, plentiful food, a clean box. But people? They’re complicated. Jealous. They come with baggage. It’s harder to please them. It’s harder to show them love. There’s no guarantee that they’ll purr in response to your efforts.
I clearly have a lot of love to give or I wouldn’t have adopted so many animals in my lifetime. What makes it so difficult to transfer that loving from animals to people? Maybe it’s because I understand cats. I can communicate with them. People, not so much, even though we do share a species, language and culture. You’d think it would be the other way round.
And it brings up the following question: Why can’t we accept the simplest acts of love from one another? Why do we look into every gesture, every word, for subtext, motive, hidden agendas? Probably because we’ve been hurt by those things before. If we could give and receive love as easily and freely as animals do, we’d probably be a lot better off. If all it took to restore someone’s good mood was a scratch behind the ears, I’d be doing a lot more scratching. And those good moods would be creating a mountain of good will.
So don’t be put off if some lonely looking woman comes up to you and offers you a sardine or rub under the chin. It’s just me, looking for connections in a simpler, stranger language. Take it as a compliment. Or hand me a kitten. Either way, I’m good.
I don’t go around thinking about Original Sin all that much. Who does? It’s like an old stain on a favorite shirt. Who remembers how it got there? But something our friend Lady Calen wrote recently caused me to have what can only be deemed a revelation: What if Original Sin isn’t what we think it is? What if it isn’t disobedience — which, let’s face it, never made much sense (“You can eat from any of the trees in the garden except that one. It’s the best one, by the way.”). What if it’s a little more personal?
Just after the fracas with the apple, God asks Adam and Eve why they’ve donned snappy little outfits made of leaves. Adam says, essentially, “We were naked, so we covered ourselves up.” But who told them that being naked was a bad thing? Who got into their heads with comments like, “Seriously, Eve, those thunder thighs. Put on a skirt”? Not the snake. They did it themselves.
What if Original Sin is a failure to love ourselves properly?
Take a minute to think it through. What if our inability to love ourselves is at the root of sin and hatred toward others? What would happen if we stopped running ourselves down and fully participated in the gifts we were bestowed? Maybe something miraculous.
But Lori, you might say (if you knew me well enough to know my name), plenty of people love themselves. In fact, they love themselves a little too much. Maybe that’s just the other side of the sinful coin. Narcissism is like looking at oneself the wrong way through a telescope. It has no more to do with reality than undermining ourselves constantly. And it can lead to the same failure to love others properly. Only after we are at home in ourselves — neither grossly overvaluing nor undervaluing our beings — can we properly live among others.
Does that sound too easy? Well, contemplate this: How many of us have managed to love ourselves properly, historically speaking? How many of us have got it right? Someone who loves herself does not start a war. He or she does not commit violence. He or she does not hate others, because he/she is secure in him/herself. So the answer to the aforementioned questions is this — practically nobody.
It is our lives’ work to know and love ourselves, to find our place in the world at large. That’s it. And yet we fail at it, over and over again. I’m not excluding myself. Just this morning I wondered why on earth I should love a short-tempered old cow like myself. I haven’t got the answers. I can only pose the questions.
But if loving ourselves is the point — if failure to love is our Original Sin — hadn’t we better get a jump on fixing it? Let’s start now, during this blessed season, by doing one thing for ourselves. Take a nap. Be content with the presents you’ve bought. Stop stressing. And just open your heart up, to yourself and to the world. You know, sometimes I put two and two together and make a pretty good-sounding “four.” I’m gonna rest in that knowledge today.
This week I’m taking a page from Lady Calen’s journal (so to speak) and responding to a writing prompt she shared: Whom do you look down upon?
The very first thing you’d notice about me is my height. I’m six feet tall in bare feet, and have been (within an inch or two) since I was 14. While I was away at college, my brother brought home his new girlfriend (now wife of 25 years) to meet the rest of the family. “She’s so tall!” Jennifer exclaimed of my five foot-five inch sister. My brother just rolled his eyes. “Wait till you meet my other sister,” he said.
This has caused me no shortage of mixed feelings. On the one hand, I can see over people’s heads in a crowded space. On the other, every counter in every kitchen and bathroom in every house I’ve ever lived in is too low for me. I’ve always believed — especially as I proceed into my “sturdy” middle-aged years (“sturdy” being a euphemism my father used for me in my toddler days, before I grew into my protracted “lanky” stage) that my height serves as a deterrent to male wrongdoers. On the other hand — again — I knew at 14 that I would never be cradled like a delicate, cherished object in the arms of a man…unless he was a basketball player or circus freak, that is.
I had an Epley maneuver done yesterday (for the vertigo that periodically plagues me — insert tall joke here) and had to keep my head steady — no looking down — for 24 hours. It made me achingly aware that practically everything is beneath me, physically speaking. All those vendors who temptingly place their items in the grocery store at “eye level,” surprise — my eyes are on the top shelf, thank you. It makes it all too easy for me to miss what’s going on “down there” where everyone else lives.
I realize that this is not what this writing prompt is all about, but I use my height as a metaphor for my interior life: I sometimes don’t see or value the things that a majority of folks find important or valuable. I’m a TV snob, preferring British programming since junior high. I don’t watch sports often. I haven’t listened to “popular” music since high school. I’m a proto-alterna-gal, marching to my own, non-syncopated beat.
It’s a situation ripe for loneliness. Though I look down physically on others, I’ve always felt looked down upon as the “weird girl.” The up-side of this condition is that I try mightily never to look down (metaphorically) on anyone. Of course, I don’t always succeed. Of course, I sometimes judge people on their politics, their seeming ignorance, their small-minded exclusion of others they deem “less” than themselves. On the other hand (there it is again!), I’ve never been socially savvy (“You’re book-smart,” my sister used to tell me, “I’m people-smart.”), and the drubbing I took from that (especially back in high school) has made me, I hope, a better person.
All of this up and down, above and beneath, is really beside the question. The fact of the matter is that God is above us all, and chooses never to look down (in its negative connotation) on anyone. God calls us instead to look toward others — neither up nor down — especially those on the fringes. We need to see people squarely, without judgment, before we can love them. And loving people, tall or short, sturdy or lanky, is what life is all about.
Let’s all vow to meet people where they are. Even if we have to stand on a stepladder to do it.
The zoo was crowded. The weather was unseasonably pleasant — a perfect day for a family outing. As my husband and I watched the antics of the howler monkeys, I couldn’t help overhearing a teenager giggling and repeating to anyone who would listen how stupid and gross the monkeys were; you know, what with their grooming of one another’s fur and all. I rolled my eyes, a gesture my brother once dubbed (in his childhood) “butterflies to the moon.” Man, my butterflies were way over the moon. The whole crowd seemed loud and coarse; weariness swept over me like a misanthropic miasma.
And then I had a revelation. Suppose you were at a party, a noisy and crowded, raucous get-together, and someone told you that God himself were present at the gathering, disguised as one of the guests. No outward sign would betray his identity. How would you behave, knowing this fact? How would you treat the other guests? The thought stopped me dead in my tracks. Would I roll my eyes at God? Of course not! I would treat every guest with the reverence, the devotion I feel for the Almighty. There would be no “butterflies to the moon.” If even one of those guests could potentially be God, it would be my honor to treat each one like gold.
And suddenly, everyone at the zoo took on a new light, a new identity. I was at that party, and God was among us. It was up to me to treat every person as I would treat God if I were to meet him face to face. What a difference this made to my attitude! Suddenly, the running, shouting children were adorable, the giggling teens heartwarming. Everybody was beautiful. The whole day changed.
Every one of us carries God within our souls. Perhaps it is hard to see, but whose fault is that? The eye of the beholder! God is no less present just because we ourselves fail to apprehend him. If only we could be acutely aware, all the time, of this fact! How differently might we treat one another!
Because God isn’t just one guest at the party. God is all of the guests. It’s about time I acted like it.
Today’s post is by guest blogger Alice Sherfick Shelton. Alice and I do a little radio show on BlogTalkRadio (Wed. at 3:30 CST). In her regular life, Alice works at Marian University in Indiana.
And so what does it mean to “catch up” with/to God? We are behind God in our understanding of “things,” and that is necessarily very good because it means we have room to grow, and change, and learn and celebrate all of that! But it also means that we can tend to see life as difficult, glasses as half-full, people as broken — and then we allow our focus to drift into negative and destructive spaces.
We let the eye go away from the prize and forget about the ultimacy and eternal nature of God and God’s goodness! God has created this gap! Let’s be mindful of that — and because we believe that God is all good and all purposeful — let’s know that this means that God has, with pointed intention, created a big space in creation for human life! God has created a wonderland and filled it with people who have varied gifts and talents. God expects us to use the whole package as we move to catch up.
I like the gap — I like the space it creates to be inclusive of people and their various journeys and pathways. The space between the creator and the created is a creative space. Our Creator wants us to play, to paint, to imagine, to dream and soar and be open and be positive…and God wants us to love the heck out of one another! Even the crusty parts of one another. God wants us to use this time and this space to soften down the edges.