My younger daughter turned 20 in Australia today. Tomorrow she turns 20 here, which, as she pointed out to me at 9:30 this morning (or around 1:30 tomorrow morning her time), is the more accurate marker. But it’s Valentine’s Day in Sydney right now, which means my middle child has just escaped her teens by some reckoning or other. How beautiful and strange. But isn’t that life? And isn’t that love?
I learned about love from my parents. I’ve written before about my mother’s commitment to my father, whose many years of dementia — probably brain damage — following his suicide attempt in 1974 meant that he wasn’t all there. No short-term memory, no way to help support the family, nothing to give besides his innate loving-kindness and his beaming, charming warmth. He was a loving presence, and that was it. That’s all he had. That’s all Mama required of him. She accepted it, and gave her love back with fidelity and strength.
I learned about love from my sister, who loved with all of her being. As broken as she was, as tortured by the unremitting urge to kill herself, she beamed a light around her that splashed and awakened joy. Anything she had to give, she gave. Everything she could reveal, she did. She was transparent in her compassion, and in her pain. It was all there, all out in the open, all part of who she was and how she hurt and loved. Nothing was hidden by her, or from her; she saw all. She saw inside my own brokenness and loved me, accepted me, still.
I learned from Lucy that love can’t fix anyone. All it can do is accept and give. We love not despite our brokenness, but because of it, — because we’re all broken, because we all wish we weren’t, because we all long to warm and be warmed, hold and be held. Because we have no other choice. Until we reach perfection in this life — and when will that be? — we need to make peace with each other, and ourselves.
I learned about love from my three children, who showed me why I’m alive. Giving birth means satisfying, finally, the age-old quest for meaning in this world: I no longer wonder why I was put here. It’s obvious. To bring them into being. To love them into adults. To help them as they grow. Brokenness, mine or theirs, is moot in the face of such a mission. Parental love is a window into God’s love, for it’s love without judgment, condition, fear of divorce or demand for reciprocity.
I learned about love from my late husband — who gave and gave and loved and loved until his brokenness stopped him — and from all who’ve blessed my life, friends, family, beloveds in every sense, everyone who’s entered my orbit and filled it with their gifts and their loving, broken selves. I haven’t met anyone yet who isn’t broken somehow. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t love regardless.
We all are. We all do. It’s Valentine’s Day in Australia. Love.