I sometimes walk at a park near our house. It’s a fairly chaotic place. There are toddlers screaming at their parents in the playground area, parents screaming at their children on the soccer and little league fields, coaches screaming at anyone who will listen to them, teenagers (and young adults) screaming (and cursing) at one another on the pick-up basketball courts and cars racing in and out of the parking lot like their owners are on their way to a house fire. In short, it’s a microcosm of the world we live in – the one in which we’re expected to maintain our sanity at all times! Maybe that’s why what I saw in the midst of that insanity several months ago struck me the way that it did, even though it was a sight I’m sure I’d seen a thousand times before.
It was a young mother, standing on the fringes of the chaos, tenderly holding her nearly newborn infant close against her chest. That was it! “It” was the purest, most innocent, most powerful and most beautiful expression of unconditional love and acceptance I may have ever seen and, interestingly, “it” didn’t require a single word. In fact, one of the two participants was wholly incapable of communicating with words. “It” also didn’t require any action – save for the delicate way mom was cradling her child and her willingness to allow her chest to serve as a pillow for a moment’s rest. And yet, there is no doubt in my mind that as their hearts beat together, mom and infant child were fully engaged in unconditionally loving and accepting love from one another.
“It’s” the way all true love begins, the way love is intended to be. “It” was starkly uncomplicated, uncluttered, non-judgmental – free of drama (and needless baggage). And yet, it occurred to me, as I passed by mom and infant, that very few of us are wise enough to understand that it’s meant to be that simple, particularly when we’re young and relatively new to the whole idea of love. Instead, often without realizing what we’re doing or intending any harm, we start to pile a bunch of “life stuff” on top of it. We over think it, unnecessarily complicate it, take it for granted or, worse yet, try to change it to make it look and feel different (usually the way we think it should look and feel to suit our own selfish needs and desires) – and, more often than not, in the process, we distort or lose it.
Unfortunately, that’s true of lovers and parents, which is why when I passed by a second time, I thought about stopping to tell that “mom” how overwhelmed I was by the sight of her and her child, but I was scared and didn’t want to intrude on the moment. If I could’ve found the courage, however, I would have urged her to dedicate her life to preserving and trying to replicate that moment, not only with her child, but with everyone she holds dear. As I continued on my way, I remembered once holding my own children like that, wondering how it was possible to love someone you barely even knew so completely, feeling an almost suffocating sense of responsibility to protect them from harm and guide them, and already beginning to envision what their life and our life together would “look like.”
But, in the end, unbeknownst to me at the time, what I was most responsible for was keeping the picture of what love looked like when it was new fresh in my mind at all times and finding creative ways to communicate to my son and daughter that same sense of unconditional love and support that I shared with them in our own “parking lot moments” innumerable times, when they couldn’t say a word – or understand a word I said. The truth is: At one time or another, all of us have experienced the love that I saw in the parking lot that night. Our challenge, not only as moms and dads, but as human beings who profess to care for one another is to find our way back to it, to restore it if necessary, and then to get out of our own way and allow it to take up permanent residence in our soul.
*With special thanks to Ron James of Ron James Photography (Boulder, CO) for granting me permission to share his remarkable photograph.