I turned to my friend. “Something is different with me. I don’t know what happened, but I know I’m not going to be able to keep my feelings inside anymore. I’m afraid I’m going to start screaming, and I don’t know what to do about that.”
She stepped closer. “Well, then, we’ll just have to build a wall to muffle out the sound so the neighbors don’t hear us.”
I searched her face. “Are you saying you’re not only willing to accept my screaming, you’re willing to participate?”
“Well, yes. If that’s who you’re going to be, we’ll just have to figure out a way to make it work.”
In that moment, I felt a love unlike anything I’d ever experienced before and, with it, the freedom to be myself, completely and utterly, warts and all, safe in the knowledge that I was loved and supported and always would be. Safe in the knowledge that someone had made a DECISION to take the good along with the bad, come what may. It was one of the most powerful moments of my life.
Then I woke up.
When I woke, the feeling of being unconditionally loved stuck with me. And yet, as I thought about the dream in the days that followed, I saw clearly that my friend’s love had come at a cost: Her love was contingent upon her being able to accept something about me she would not otherwise have accepted.
I am learning that unconditional love requires this kind of acceptance—even for those things I ordinarily would not want to accept. It requires sacrifice and support and, at times, even participation as the need arises. To be honest, there’s a part of me that has a hard time with that, because I have many hopes and dreams and definite preferences regarding what I want my life, and especially my future, to be like. When I think of that kind of acceptance, I realize it might mean laying down some of those desires for the good of another, and there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to do that.*
But I’m learning that we don’t live in “the future,” we live in NOW. And when I focus on what ought to be, I forget to be grateful for what is. I forget that life is meant to be lived one step at a time, and I don’t allow for the possibility that what I want now might not be what I want in the future, and that the things I see as problems now may not remain so once I learn to accept them.*
I often feel as if I have to figure out what I want and what type of future I’m working toward, because I don’t want to waste time walking a path that can’t take me where I think I want to go. But I am learning that if I can learn to love with a self-sacrificing love, the years spent walking will have been FAR from wasted, regardless of where the path leads.
Through the dream, I realized that being loved for exactly who I am, and having someone create a safe place for me to be myself in, was among the greatest blessings I could ever experience—far beyond anything else I think I might want in life. I realized I not only want to have that kind of love in my life, I want to give that kind of love. And I realized that if I can focus on the present, if I can make a commitment to love, moment by moment, and give those around me a safe place in which to be themselves without condition, then I’ll reach the end of my life having learned more about love than I know now, and having given those around me the gift of my love, to the greatest extent possible. And whatever it took to get there will have been worth it.
*Some clarifying thoughts:
I think it’s important to note that unconditional love does not—and should not—always require participation, and acceptance is not the same as encouragement. There are very real things people deal with that should not be participated in or encouraged (some forms of addition, physical or mental abuse, etc.) In these instances, acceptance for where they are, while at the same time working toward change for their betterment, is a good thing, and love from a distance may be necessary.
Also, when I speak of laying down my own desires, I speak of this in the context of sacrifice by choice, not obligation (I’ve written more about this HERE.) I think that involves getting very truthful with ourselves about what we want and what we’re willing to tolerate. I think it’s also important to recognize that a failed relationship does not necessarily equal a failure to love.
“Not everyone in life is meant to be a beautiful story. Not every person we feel something deep and moving with is meant to make a home within us, is meant to be forever. Sometimes, people come into our lives to teach us how to love; and sometimes people come into our lives to teach us how NOT to love… How NOT to settle, how NOT to shrink ourselves ever again. Yes, sometimes people leave—but that’s okay, because their lessons always stay, and that is what matters. That is what remains.”
“Self respect is the act of paying attention and giving myself a voice. It’s the act of respecting myself – my own thoughts and feelings, wants and desires, just as much as I respect others and being just as willing to meet my own needs as I am to meet theirs”…
“Where religion gives a map, The Spirit gives the next step, and only the next step. Should I choose to take it, there will be no one on the other side to cheer me, no one to tell me it’s all going to be okay. Religion gives a picture of the journey. The Spirit extends an empty canvas”…