Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Work of Love

(This is somewhat a continuation of thought from a recent blog on "How full is your Cup"...)

A common thread of human nature is that we want to love and be loved.  The ideal love is a mutual two way street of emotion, support, admiration, friendship and companionship.  Love is a wonderful thing when everyone is healthy, wealthy, happy and wise...but it becomes very hard work when one or the other or both fall on "hard times".  That is when the "work of love" begins.

I have seen the challenge of this more in the last few years than I did in my youth.  When we are young we tend to be very full of "ourselves".  We are running at full speed pursuing ambitions, chasing dreams and or acting on our primordial drives of mating and reproducing.  Lets start with the fact that it doesn't take "love" to mate and reproduce.  The work of love starts when we suddenly find ourselves in the middle of responsibility to support wives and/or raise children, sacrificing our personal freedom in deference to a new program of give and take that marriage or child rearing demands.

Some recent observations of love's work bear mentioning.  The last number of months at a monthly men's lunch I attend, there is only one woman in attendance. She has been accepted into this "club" if you will because her husband was an honored member until a number of years ago when he had a stroke which robbed him of his ability to talk or hardly walk.  I did not know them back then, but it is my understanding for 8 years this woman has been attending to her husbands every need, including bringing him to events like ours where he knew everyone and they knew him.  He obviously still enjoys being with us and observing what is going on, but she has to do most of the talking for him, drive everywhere for him...and she never seems bitter or unhappy about her plight.  While our friend is unlucky from a health standpoint, he obviously made a good choice in a mate, and she is honoring his love and their previous commitment with devotion and charity.

I have also seen this in my "mothers". I swear to God women are the stronger sex.  In the past decade I have lost both my "fathers", father and stepfather. In the case of my stepfather, while typically a healthy athletic type who lived good and clean, he had to take early retirement at 55 because of a heart condition.  Fortunately he had lived responsibly and frugally to where he could afford that option...and together he and my mom had some wonderful years in retirement together, traveling and being involved in various causes from church to nature conservancy to mentoring elementary students who were struggling academically or with tough circumstances in growing up on the "wrong side of the tracks".  While he valiantly struggled against various health issues for most of his retirement years, we lost him way too early at 68 years of age to an aggressive form of cancer.  During those last months of his life, mom had to do most things for or with him.  Here was a proud, independent man who suddenly was totally dependent on his wife.  I am quite sure it was tougher for him to accept support in some ways than it was for my mom to give. Yet, many things that are said and done in these final stages of life represent the core of the meaning and work of love...and many of those moments are the most memorable and illustrative of true love.

Most recently was the loss of my father to a very rare brain infection.  This condition happened abruptly and quickly, calling for total support and sacrifice on the part of my step-mom who spent much of the last two months of dad's life at his bedside, often sleeping all night at the hospital, changing his bedpan between nurse visits, plus handling hordes of paperwork and financial obligations that these situations demand.  Sure, others of us tried to help as we could...but it seems to always fall on the spouse to take charge and have the most weight to bear.  This is the "work" of love in action.  It's not fun, romantic or happy.  It is tedious, stressful and emotionally devastating.  Yet, it is my observation that these are some of the most meaningful experiences in our "love life".

I have seen so many other examples of this in my life. Parents who sacrifice everything for their kids to get a better education than they had.  Grandparents who have to be surrogate parents for their grand-kids just when they thought their child rearing days were behind them.  Friends of mine who have had children with huge drug problems or imprisoned literally and/or in their own minds.  It is probably impossible to know the love and devotion it takes to handle that, never having had children of my own.

There are many types of love that demand work. To take this to another level, it takes a whole lot of "love" to care about large groups of poor, ill or troubled people and sacrifice your own interests, time and energy to help those less fortunate.  Its easier to care about close family or friends than it is to care about the poor or people of different cultures or races. Yet this melting pot of a world daily challenges us with opportunities and decisions of how we are going to handle the growing needs of this troubled world. Its going to take a lot of love and caring to overcome the hate and selfishness of the majority, especially when those with full cups are dwindling in number compared to those demanding their cups be filled. If we don't find a way to overcome these inequalities with some form of love and charity, the hate and selfishness will overcome and potentially destroy humanity.

I have friends who have devoted their lives to working with troubled teenagers.  I have other friends who work as nurses or in old people's homes dealing with elderly or sick people all the time.  It baffles me sometimes what drives a person to accept such underpaid, under appreciated jobs...but I know in most cases it is about heart and soul with which these esteemed friends or acquaintances are trying to make a difference in peoples lives...even though they are strangers and from all walks of life.  I have tried to do some of these things from time to time in my life...but never on the scale of some of these life heroes I am honored to know. It is sometimes a mystery where this strength and impetus comes from to CHOOSE care-taking as a profession, but its a good thing this goodness and love of humanity exists in this chaotic world.

These obvious works of love are the masterpieces in life. These situations are like a candle in a dark room. Just when you think humanity is totally lost in its depravity and darkness...these miracles of love come along to give us hope.  In the end, I think there is tremendous reward for those who love like this. The reward is that they can look in the mirror and know that the value of their life has not been just about them...but about every life they have touched with hope, and yes in many cases, unconditional love and acceptance. That is something worth living for and aspiring to.

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