Love is a mystery.
Certainly, we can talk about what it feels like to love or be loved. Neuroscience can tell us about our brains in love, poets can expose some of the depths of the emotion, and psychology and mindfulness can awaken us to how it arises in ourselves. Yet relationships touched by love have qualities that go beyond anything we can consciously explain.
My Mom died 12 years ago. Still, every Mother’s Day, I have an urge to do something for her; I feel she is alive and have to remind myself she is not. She so often reminded me to be aware of other people’s feelings, not just my own, that I still search for her within myself.
She didn’t talk about empathy and compassion, but showed it. She was able to take people in, to see who a person was and embrace them for it. When I first brought Linda, who is now my wife, to meet my parents, my Mom accepted her right away. There was no mother-girlfriend conflict. The same was true with my brother and his wife. To this day, she sometimes appears in my dreams and talks to me. Maybe we all have similar experiences, not only with our Moms but also with anyone dearly loved.
One night, as my wife and I were about to enter a restaurant in our hometown to eat dinner, I got a lesson about just how deep a connection can exist between two people. As I grabbed hold of the door to the restaurant, I suddenly felt an intense pain in my chest. I let go of the door and bent over. I stayed there for a few minutes, unsure what to do. In a few minutes, the pain dissipated and we went in to eat our meal, feeling a bit worried and confused.
When we left, I checked my cell phone for messages. I often turn it off. I had only one message; it was from my Dad.
However, as the message played, I didn’t hear my Dad speaking to me. Instead, I heard his voice, sounding upset and at a distance, mixed in with other loud voices. I was at first bewildered. But as I listened, I realized it was a recording of EMTs trying to revive my Mom. It turns out she had had a heart attack just as I was about to enter the restaurant. My Dad found her a few minutes after the attack and called the EMTs. Then he called me and accidentally left his phone on, recording my Mom’s death.
If I didn’t have a witness, many people would doubt that this occurred. I even doubt it myself sometimes. To borrow from Shakespeare, there is more to love than can be dreamt of in any of our philosophies.
My Mom modeled what it is to love. She did this in the way she took care of me. She did this with my Dad in the way they cared for each other.
My parents showed me what relationship was about. They showed me what life could give you. Whatever or whoever I love carries their influence. My Mom and Dad still live in my ability to love.
It’s strange that I must learn and re-learn these basic lessons over and over again. It’s important to appreciate and thank all those people who have shaped and loved me. It’s important to notice how, when I feel pain, I wish that it would be the last pain I would ever face, but fear that it’s just the beginning. I feel joy and don’t want it ever to end. I love and don’t want it ever to end.
And maybe it doesn’t. Only by being open like this can we even begin to understand what love, and life, can be.
Teaching children about love and appreciating others is a basic necessity to creating a good life and a good education for them. And we do this best by example. Even if our own parents were not the most loving, we can do our best to lovingly parent our selves and our actions. We can listen openly to our own hearts in order to train ourselves to listen better to others.
It is out of such feelings and relationships that a society grows and survives. I hope we can all remember this, feel this, on Mother’s Day and beyond.
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