Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Essence of Life

One day I kept my [then] two-month old granddaughter, Piper, while her mom was at work and her dad ran some errands. She arrived snugly tucked into her car seat, eyes wide, not sure where she was or how she had gotten there. She'd been asleep in the car and apparently woke up while her dad was carrying her in. I've often thought about how it must seem to babies that they're continually traveling to Oz, because so often the people, places and things have completely changed when they wake up from a catnap. They're put in their car seat at home, they sleep on the road, and then they wake up in an entirely unfamiliar place. The looks on their faces seem to be saying that they're not ruling out munchkins or flying monkeys.

That day I stood over Piper and caught her eye, telling her softly that I was so glad she had come to see me. She smiled widely. And then the second after her father left, she decided to exercise her lungs. Big time. I reached to get her out of the car seat but I couldn't figure out how to unhook one major piece of the harness. The harder I tried, the harder she cried. I finally had to locate my glasses so I could see the blasted thing, but by the time I figured it out and sprung her she was inconsolable. She screamed. She cried. She stiffened her legs and clenched her fists. She pulled her own hair (which she had a head full of.) She sputtered and gasped and pushed so much air through those tiny baby lungs it could've inflated a moonwalk. Usually I was able get her quieted down within a few minutes, but this time she was not even remotely responding to my tricks. Five minutes passed. Then 10. Then 20. By that time I was afraid the neighbors might call Child Protective Services. Finally, after 25 minutes of non-stop shrieking her eyelids began to flutter closed, as if Tinkerbell had laid fairy-sized bags of sand on each lid. I rocked her from side to side while she was doing what my mother calls snubbing: sucking in tiny involuntary breaths that echoed the wails that preceded them. Piper finally succumbed to her siesta, and as I turned her over to lay her on a blanket I noticed the onesie she was wearing. It was decorated with colorful embroidery that spelled out two words:

"Love Me."

I stopped and stared. Amidst all the howling I hadn't even noticed it, and for some reason it hit me hard, as though someone had pounded me once with a blunt object. I stopped what I was doing and within a matter of seconds it occurred to me that we all arrive on this planet with those two words indelibly tattooed on our being. "Love me!" We crave it, so much so that as we get older it often drives what we do, what we reach for, what we demand. In America we are bombarded with messages - spiritually, materially, emotionally - that tell us we can be whole, we can be satisfied, we can be loved "if." In many church circles, it's if you follow the rules. According to advertisers, it's if you drive this car, if you wear this cologne, if you lose the weight, if you drink this beer. Sometimes our parents or family members tell us if we're "good" we're worthy of love, but if we dissent from the family "status quo," we deserve to be castigated and abandoned. Love is often conditional at work, at school and in various types of relationships, whether they're friends, colleagues, or lovers. No matter where it's coming from, the message is the same: If you'll jump through the hoop that's being held in front of you, you'll finally get what you came for. It's no wonder that we often get tangled up in things that promise to supply that precious commodity, but profoundly fail to deliver it.

Today my husband and I were in a crowded airport and I started looking at everyone I passed as though they were wearing a sign around their neck that said, "Love Me." And it was a pretty eye-opening experience. Among other things it left me feeling a little more compassionate and tolerant. Could it be that the people who are the most difficult are those who've not known much love? Might their unkind actions and obstinate ways be nothing more than their version of a 25-minute screaming fit? Certainly it's not healthy to tolerate abuse or to stay in close relationship with someone who is rude or obnoxious. And I don't think that our happiness should depend on how people treat us. But I wonder how often I would put my dukes down if I could just recognize that some people are simply angry and hurt because they're not loved well.

Image Credit: SharonaGott on Flickr
Licensed under Creative Commons

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