I’ve always felt love toward the animals in my life (though it’s a bit more difficult with my current dog, but that’s potentially another post; I’m sure she’s here to teach me something) and maybe toward the people in my life. Loving people, though, has often had a dangerous aspect of one kind or another that probably prevented me from loving as much or as well as I might have.
A lot of people feel this way about their animals, I think, especially when the posts on Facebook are taken into account. From cat photos to snarky pictures of “I like animals better than people,” it seems I’m not alone in the way I feel about animals.
For most of my life I felt guilty about that. I mean, people are the top of the line, right? We’re supposed to care about them more than anything else. Well, I care about people but more in the abstract than in the particular. I support charities that help the unfortunate and that feed hungry children and that protest bombings of civilian homes, etc. I open my pocketbook and at least a part of my heart.
But it’s a lot more difficult for me to open my heart, if not my pocketbook, for specific people in my life. I’m not sure when this sense of danger in loving people came into my life but it was very, very early. I can remember times when I was preverbal – yes, I can remember that far back – and the sense of danger was already there. But not toward the dog and cat and horses that were a part of my life on the farm. We moved from there when I was just past three years old. Only the cat came with us and then because he sneaked into the trailer. The dog was gone, the horses sold. And there went my opportunities to learn to love. Too painful.
We grow up looking for love, being told that we all look for love, believe that we need love, believing that we can’t live without it. All of this is more or less true. But sometime in the past decade or decade and a half I had an AHA moment. It may have been forestalled as a result of the pain and rejection I felt with the divorce, or it may have been held off as a result of being too busy to think about things like love, or maybe it held off just because I wasn’t ready. But it happened and it was an epiphany.
I realized it wasn’t to get love that I was hoping for, it was to give love. I didn’t feel it was safe to give my love to the people I should have most wanted to give it to, like parents. And, of course, the divorce just verified that, so it took me a lot longer to understand love than it might otherwise have. My love was rejected and thrown back at me and me being me, I didn’t have enough courage to say, “Well, it’s his loss,” and go on with my life of finding someone to love. I found someone in spite of myself, though,and it’s challenging.
But I never had to be concerned about giving love to my animals, whether dogs, cats, or horses. They all received it without judgment or complaint and, of course, gave it back. You haven’t been hugged until you find yourself being hugged by a horse, by the way. We’re told that we love animals because they love us unconditionally. That’s probably true. But they also accept love unconditionally. How many people can we say that about? Not me, for one. I don’t easily let love into my life. It’s painful to let yourself be loved and then have that love ripped away.
So now I’m trying to learn how to give and receive love unconditionally. I’m like most people, darn it, in that I don’t do a very good job of that, I’m afraid. I am afraid. Literally. I’m still afraid that if I give my love it will be rejected and thrown back at me. That if I accept love wholeheartedly my heart will be torn out. But that doesn’t mean I should give up. It takes courage to give love even if it’s not recognized or returned but that’s what we’re here for. To learn to give love. Getting love is nice, is important; giving love is imperative.
It’s difficult in these times to give unconditional love even in the abstract, what with polarizing politics and judgmental attitudes about any subject you can think of. It makes me want to be a hermit. I can’t do that, of course, and still make an effort to love unconditionally. It’s not likely that I’ll be loved, either, then.
And maybe I don’t have to do it perfectly all at once, though that’s my default position. Maybe if I just keep on trying, keep on stretching, keep on learning, it will be enough. At my age I’m still a baby at learning this stuff.
Ancaro Imparo. It’s a phrase allegedly attributed to Michaelangelo that means “I am still learning.”