“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Recently, I had a conversations with an acquaintance who was going through a difficult break up. She said to me that what she wanted was to stop loving this person, so she wouldn’t feel anymore pain.
I have been mulling over this conversation for a month.
On the one hand, I respect her desire for self-preservation. On the other, I wanted to say to her – “it’s not about ending the love, it’s about moving forward and making room in your heart for a new love.” I felt like she should do something to give herself love – a pedicure, an art class, a puppy, a subscription box. Something that would heal the wounds with love, not bitterness.
To me, love is not something that can stop or end. Love is a spiritual force that we should always nurture in our lives. If I’m heartbroken – maybe it’s over a relationship, a failure, a loss in my life – it doesn’t do anyone any good for me to hate the thing or person that broke my heart. Hate is not a force that heals. Anger does not plant seeds of growth, renewal or any of the things you need to move forward in your life. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Only love can do that.”
What I want out of my life is more love.
Before I had my second child I was so worried. What if I don’t love my second baby as much as my first? What if my first child feels resentful, ignored, unloved, replaced? Did I want to have another baby and risk losing the loving relationship I had with my first daughter?
I read parenting books, mommy blogs, advice columns – the prevailing wisdom was: there’s always more love.
I was skeptical. I knew there was not going to be more time with two kids. There was not going to be more money. There was not going to be more space. So…while there might be more love…would it make up for the other stuff?
When I did have my second child, I found myself second guessing myself. Should I throw myself enthusiastically into loving this new baby or would that make my older daughter jealous or feel less special? I loved my new baby, but I didn’t want to hurt the one I already had.
When my new baby was about 6 weeks old, my grandfather was rushed to the hospital. A stint in his femoral artery had burst. He lost a lot of blood. He was in a tremendous amount of pain. They sedated him while they repaired it, but when tried to bring him out of sedation he was confused and unable to speak. They sedated him again. There was an infection. If he’d been younger or in better health – maybe he could have recovered, but he just didn’t have the strength to come back from this.
I got on a plane with my new baby and flew up to see him and be with my family before they took him off life support. He’d been getting weaker for months. We all knew, but never said, we were losing him. Still, I was not ready to say goodbye.
As he left this life, he gave me two exquisite gifts. Gifts that I will always feel grateful for. The first was a moment in the presence of God. Together, in the ICU at Gwinnett Medical Center, we gathered – my grandmother, my mother, my uncle, my father, my aunt, my great uncle, my great aunt, my sisters, my cousins, my brothers-in-law, my child. We joined hands around his bed and prayed, cried, sang, shared stories, cried, and when it was time, said goodbye. It was one of the few times in my life that I have felt held in the loving presence of God. There was nothing we could do to extend my grandfather’s life, but we could love him and let him leave this life surrounded with that love.
The second gift my grandfather gave me was for the first time in her short life, I spent a few days with just me and my new baby. And I loved her. I had not realized until we were alone how much I had checked my enthusiasm for this small person who had just come into my life, thinking that I was protecting my older daughter. But…I wasn’t really protecting anyone. I was letting myself be guided by fear instead trusting in love. So, in those days of sadness and grief, I let myself love my baby as much as I could. I counted her toes; I listened to her breathe; I played peek-a-boo with wild abandon.
And when my husband drove up with my older daughter for my grandfather’s funeral, I loved her, too.
Because, I realized that the blogs, the forums, the parenting books were all right. There was more than enough love and delight to go around. Sure, my older daughter is jealous of her little sister. And my baby is now old enough to be jealous of her big sister. They fight, cry, and whine. But sometimes, they hug. And they both know that they’re loved: deeply and without restraint. Because there simply cannot be too much love in your life or the lives of you children.
I believe that love is never wasted. It may not be returned. And you may find that a love in your life is complete – either because the person you loved is gone, like my grandfather, or because they choose to be gone, like the woman I met during her painful breakup.
When we are afraid and try to hold back to protect ourselves from loss, from pain, from hurt – we make our lives smaller. Life will certainly give us pain, heartbreak, and failure. There will be plenty of things that don’t work out. But I don’t think that we fail, hurt or even suffer from broken hearts because we chose love. Those things will happen anyway. The question is whether or not we will have fully loved, fully poured ourselves in to the relationships we had while we had them.
I often think of the last line of the Thornton Wilder’s book, The Bridge of San Luis Rey. It is a beautiful story of love and brokenness. Wilder writes:
But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.
So, I leave you, and my acquaintance, with this advice: when in doubt, the answer is love.