Here’s something I’ve been thinking about: The people I love are pretty much normal.
Yeah. I know.
Anyone who’s ever heard me talk about someone I love—not least of all my kid—is reading this with a certain amount of skepticism. The amount of skepticism that usually involves saying something like “bullshit.” But it’s true.
They are my normal. Sometimes I forget that not everyone is that warm, or that compassionate, or that funny. That not everyone has that kind of presence, or depth of insight. That not everyone laughs that way, or smiles that way, is that talented. So when I meet someone and mention that I’m my sister’s brother, or my brother’s brother, or my friend’s friend, or my son’s dad and that person lights up (and this happens a fair amount), I am delighted. But I’m also a little confused. Because those people whom I love are also just normal.
They are just people like everyone else. They are moving through this life just like everyone else. Subject to the same emotional spectrum as everyone else. Just as crazy, fussy, annoying, angry, stubborn, distant, full of bad habits and self-defeating behaviors as everyone else. As me. And I love them. And I think they love me too. We share that love. Not despite the fact that we are normal. We share that love because of the fact that we are normal.
Love is a normal part of being human. It’s there for the taking. Because we are human. It’s there for us. Love. And I know. There are some people who don’t feel loved. And there are people who are abused by the people who they want to love them. And human beings do detestable things to each other.
But I think the horrendous things human beings do to each other, to animals, to the planet, are not arguments against love being a normal part of being human. I think they are arguments in its favor. Those acts, those hate-filled acts, come from fear. From distortions and complete misunderstanding of the nature of love. And none of us is immune to that kind of misunderstanding. It happens in degrees; thank God not all of us are damaged enough to act out on that misunderstanding in violent, hideous ways, but sometimes we just don’t get it.
Being human is hard.
I just re-read Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, one of my favorite books. Here’s what the main character says about love:
There is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality. It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal. So how could it subordinate itself to cause or consequence? (238)
I love that quote. This has been a really shitty year. A lonely year. Sometimes a violent year. It’s sucked so far. But those three sentences remind me, again and again, that I don’t get to control things. I don’t get to choose how people love me, and I don’t have to subject myself to other’s demands on how I love them. I get to be who I am and accept the love that’s there for me. And I get to send some love to myself. Because I’m human. And that’s hard.
But there’s a way to do it. It’s not easy, but there’s a way. I have to remember that we are all just people. Just normal people. The people I love and the people I don’t. And me. And you. We are all just moving through this life.
Gilead takes the form of a very long letter written by John Ames, a 76-year-old Congregationalist Minister to his son, who is not yet seven. He married late in life, and his love for his wife and son is the slow, deeply burning love that comes with age and comfort. Though, when he first meets his wife his love is the awkward, embarrassing, self-doubting love that shows up at the beginning of things—he writes sermons hoping to impress her and then feels foolish when he delivers them looking at her. He takes his hat off in her presence and then feels stupid for having done it.
Here’s how he describes how he feels:
I can tell you this, that if I had married some rosy dame and she had given me ten children and they had given me ten grandchildren, I’d leave them all on Christmas Eve, on the coldest night of the world, and walk a thousand miles just for the sight of your face, your mother’s face. And if I never found you, my comfort would be in that hope, my lonely and singular hope, which would not exist in the whole of Creation except in my heart and in the heart of the Lord. That is just a way of saying I could never thank God sufficiently for the splendor he has hidden from the world – your mother excepted of course – and revealed to me in your sweetly ordinary face. (237)
He loves them so much that, had he never met them, he would still love them. He would still love them because he understands that the love he has for them is a reflection of Love. “An embracing, incomprehensible reality.” And he loves them simply because they are who they are.
I get that. That’s how I love my son. For his ordinariness. Not because he’s smart or funny, or because he is a fantastic baseball player. Not even because he moves through the world with a startling ability to accept Love. Without naming it, without demanding it, and without being ignorant of the fact that being human is hard.
I know. I can see your skeptical face. And I can hear you laughing and saying “bullshit.”
But it’s true.