I’ve learned a lot this year, about myself and especially about my incredible wife. A woman who has gone through more stife and pain than I understand and yet wakes each day to continue. Even through her occasional sadness, even through her occasional fury. She still tries every day. Even when trying feels impossible.
Some time ago, we were embroiled in many discussions with friends and family centered around the concept that we both believe that we should try to do all things in love. We struggle with this daily, as everyone does. It is difficult to show love to difficult people. I’ve got my list of names and she has hers and we both fight to make that list smaller as often as possible. Still, as we debated the periphery of this concept with our friends and family it got me wondering, if our definition of love is different than yours how can we be sure that you are feeling the love that we are trying to represent.
This makes me think of our pets, versus all of our friends pets. No two couples in our group of friends raise their animals the same way. We all wind up with pretty good pets and for the most part I can safely assume that we each think our own training method is the correct one. I think love can be like that sometimes.
People are downright hard to love.
As a group we are pretty wretched, as things go. Still, I see so much good in who we are. Every day lately I see people I know and love dearly fighting for things that they believe. Some battle tooth and nail and lose sleep and fret over the fact that there are injustices at all and I admire those people. I tried this year to be that person, to be the guy who cares deeply about every problem or issue that we face as a society but I learned quickly that I don’t have the capacity for that. I need to first focus on what I can control. If I get too far out there I get panicked and anxious and I fall apart.
It feels like I fall apart at the drop of a hat nowadays. But you know what?
Regular breakdowns are fine for a while, as long as you fight to make them less regular. It’s like training our new pup. With Molly, our girl, potty training was relatively simple. We suffered the same rough patches everyone else does but I had so much love for her that I worked tirelessly to train and train and train her to be good. I made sure to teach her what was acceptable and what wasn’t. With our boy Dox, he’s still a puppy, but he didn’t receive the same attention. He knows he’s not supposed to go potty inside so when he starts peeing he runs to the door. Today he took three poops inside and ate two of them before I noticed.
What I’m getting at here is that pacing is everything. We wanted to do all things in love, but quickly turned to gossiping and comparing ourselves to others which is normal, sure, but it isn’t what we wanted. We wanted to do things with love and I gossip is a pretty far way away from love, even if we are spreading things to make others aware. When social injustices started becoming the focus of our attention earlier this year, I took to scripture to see what I should do and got a pretty general answer.
Well? How do I love them? Do people who have been abused need tough love? Or should I go easy on them? Are either of those really loving? This post isn’t going to be a biblical study, but that was where I started to put together what I think is the “general rule” for doing all things in love. Us Christians are given a pretty broad list of things that love is, you hear it at most weddings. See, different people in my life have given me so many definitions of love. I’ll provide some that I’ve kept close below:
- Wanting the absolute best for them, even when it isn’t you.
- Helping them, all the time, with anything they ask for.
- Being kind to them, especially on hard days.
- Punishing them for doing wrong.
- Giving them something to reach for.
- Protecting them as if they are your own child.
- Assuring them that their doubts are simply doubts.
- Reminding them that if they don’t believe they are fit for something, that means it may not be something for them to do.
You get the picture, I’m sure. Every individual has a different expression of love from the broad strokes and subliminal messages to the specific, idyllic examples presented by their teachers. Across that spectrum we have thousands if not millions of interpretations of what it means to do all things in love.
I wish I came here with a concrete answer for anyone who is looking, because I don’t have one myself. I’ve been trying especially lately to follow the biblical guidelines for love, which to be honest, covers a lot of what people say. The interesting thing though, is the ever present reminder that what we say on social media and what we do in our real lives are seldom mirrored. I realized this some time ago and now mostly use my social media for this blog and my other writing or business ventures. I’ve all but evaporated online because I realized in the chaos I wasn’t representing the person I really wanted to be.
It’s like Dox, when we got him, I had a full on mental breakdown. He was loud and shrill and needy and he had to pee every three hours and he needed to be fed and bathed and trained and at the time it was so much that I couldn’t bear the weight. That’s when my wife stepped in. Now, I’m not going to sit on the blog and lie to you and say she’s perfect because she’s not. She openly admits that she has made mistakes with Dox just like I have, he still needs potty training despite coming up on seven or eight months old. He barely knows any tricks, he still screams when we have guests that don’t give him pets immediately.
Still, Meryl loves that boy with her whole heart. It may not always seem like it given how many names we call our dogs. (Molly’s nickname is Bitch, if you need an example.) She spends time with him, she prioritizes him, sometimes over me, and she makes sure that he knows that she is there for him whenever he wants her. It’s a remarkable thing to watch most days, because that same love she gives our lil’ peckerhead she shows me in spades. I can’t define it. I can’t exemplify it, because it just is. She’s not perfect, she’s had her share of breaks from the kid but I’ll be damned if she doesn’t try her hardest to love him as much as she can. It’s a lot like how I was with Molly, but it’s different.
It’s different with people too.
Most of the time, we try so hard to train them to accept our form of love because its all we know how to give. We offer encouraging words, or hugs, or a shoulder to cry on when they really need help with practical things like painting their house or moving furniture. Maybe they need someone else to cook for them. Maybe they need someone to tell them they are spiraling gout of control and are going down a dark road.
How do you say that with love?
My wager is that it doesn’t involve a group of their close friends and a big intervention, but that’s my take. I think some peopl eare more like Molly, and some are more like Dox. Meryl wants the physical affection. She wants me to listen instead of aid. She wants to vent and she wants to vent without interruption. I need alone time. I need space and things done when I’m overwhelmed. When I’m mad I especially need space. Don’t come at me with “it’s not that bad” if I’m red in the face. It is that bad. You’re just making it worse.
So what then, do we do about all of these people and their desired form of love? We can’t surely cover every form of attention their hearts need and we undoubtedly can’t do it alone so what then?
We do what Meryl does, and we do what Dox does, and we try anyway.
We try to give our loved ones the love they need. Even if it isn’t our forte. I’ll be the first to admit I really like my space. I’m not a cuddler, unless I’m asleep. Still, I cuddle Meryl because I know that is what fills her cup. I do dishes (except for this month, goodness.) because she hates them. My dad does the same thing for mom. He picks up the things she hates doing around the house because he loves her. If you think that’s big, think about Dox. My boy, the mess that he is, knows I hate cleaning up his accidents, so he tries really hard to make sure he takes care of it the best way he can. He runs to the door and accidentally leaves a great big river of piss through the house, but at least he tried. When he poops and I’m not immediately on it, he tries to clean up like he’s telling me he’s sorry. He knows he didn’t do well enough and he wants to fix it.
I think that’s all we can ask for.
When I sat down to write this I wanted to talk about the great hypocrisy of wanting to be “all love all the time” and showing people these great levels of affection, but as I started my mind was overcome with Dox and Meryl and I realized that I am just as much of a hypocrite as the people I was going to point my finger at, and I realized that sometimes, if you really want to show someone you love them you’ve gotta do the dirty work. That means cleaning their nasty toilets when they’re in the middle of depression. It means changing their tire in Lamoille on the day of their Rehearsal Dinner even though you aren’t feeling well. It means getting groceries for them when they’re laid up with the plague.
Sometimes, loving people is easy.
Other times, loving people means eating your own poop.
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I hope something I’ve said made a difference in your life, and please always remember…
Life is not meant to be awful.
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