Ruth had a major stroke on her 68th birthday. Her vibrant spirit turned into that of a cucumber’s. The team of doctors recommended her to be left in the hospital to die. That was eight years ago. Today, she is wheeled in and out of my office on her monthly visits, never late, always precisely dressed, sporting only a loving smile covered by drool. She does not speak, nor move. Her daughter has been her angel, her champion, her unconditional lover.
Yet, the biggest lie of love is that of unconditional love. Though the notion romantic, it is illogical. At some level, we wish to be united with the first umbilical cord, but that would make us prisoners of love, symbiotic creatures without free will. Some wish their relationships were like ones with pets, without much responsibility or expectation, without dealing with annoying, demanding people with thoughts.
To those fortunate to live a healthy adult life, love must be earned, a string always attached. Unconditional love belongs to the needy, to the dependent, and has an Eternal Source. Unconditional love cannot be demanded; it is merely given, passing through us from Eternal Love, we its agents. Most of us get a glimpse of unconditional love as children, when we are helpless. As we grow older, that type of love is correctly weaned from us by our parents and replaced by conditional love, love that requires work and maintenance. Those who search for a soulmate to receive unconditional love should prepare for life’s harsh lessons and awakening slaps.
As parents, we learn what real unconditional love means. We love our children as they are, regardless of how challenging, how demanding, even as they lie and cheat. Look around and see the angels who care for children born with physical ailments. I often stay up late at night watching my kids grow, painfully aware that soon they will be different, cherishing the perishing moments. Without children, without dependants, unconditional love is an intangible concept. The challenged child, the dependant parent, the mentally ill friend crystallize the concept into palpable love. Agape love is free of sexual attraction and stronger than any forged friendship.
As soon as lust is over, we swiftly move to change the other to the image of what we want them to be, into an object of love, a golden calf. To love maturely, to truly love, is to extend ourselves at a cost, for love always comes at a cost: to accept, understand and appreciate the other. Remove any of these components, and love’s tripod tips over. If we love someone that looks like us, that is easy love, the reaffirmation of the self. But to understand unconditional love as an adult, we must love our neighbor as ourselves- someone outside our comfort zone. Perhaps a gay son, or a mother whose words of love are silenced with a stroke, or a wife stripped of her sexuality with cancer.
We have moments of deep love, moments of ecstasy, but our love is always conditional. Love, like life, does not have a great revelation of The Truth. Instead, there are daily miracles, bread crumbs, tiny burning bushes, whispers out of silence, and occasional moments of “Aha!” The love that belongs inside our mind is different than the fire that burns deep inside our hearts.
To believers, what we say to God is unconditional: “Nothing that happens will change my trust in you. I yearn for Your Love through all the clues that lead me back to You. I want to discover You.” No circumstance, not even going through hell can turn a believer away from God, for the proof is not based in science, nor logic, nor deduction, but the phantom leg trying to find its Body.
Though romantic love is blind, true love is a bulldozer that breaks all barriers to nourish the needy, and sees far into the distance around every corner to care for a dependant. True love’s crown is compassion. The unconditional lover is a crippled soldier, limping with pain, whose pull toward the potential beauty in the future is greater than the real fear of the past.
As adults, love must be lived forward, but known backward. The proof of love is in that exquisite drooling smile peppered by soothing hugs, salted by the kiss of the tears. Love is a daily choice, its only reward, the veiled recollection of having loved.
In the end, when the lover is ready, The Beloved appears.
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