“Love is not exactly my favorite subject,” complained Fear.”
“Yes, I know, but let’s talk about it anyway. After all, you introduced me to Love in our first conversation—the day I formally met you.”
“So I did, didn’t I. I’ll tell you what, you’ve gotten to know me so well, I imagine you’ve also gotten to know something about Love. So, you explain Love to me, and I’ll kibitz if I feel so inclined.”
“I guess that’s fair,” I said hesitantly, not knowing what I was getting myself into and feeling vaguely uncomfortable about it.
“Love has many definitions, but none of them definitive because Love is wisdom and wisdom cannot be put into words. I can, for example, talk around Love and perhaps give you a glimpse it, but I cannot define it because words are only symbols for that which I cannot directly approach, for that which is beyond the realm of language to touch.
“Perhaps I can best explain what I mean by Love in a story.
“I remember a cat I named ‘Rebecca.’ Rebecca was a slender, gray cat with a scattering of yellowish blotches. She lived somewhere in the hay loft of the big horse barn in which I slept during the days I worked as a ranch hand in northwestern Colorado many years ago.”
“Is this a story of Love?” butted in Fear with naked exasperation.
“Yes,” I responded with some irritation, “it’s a story of Love.”
“I hope it won’t be too mushy,” said Fear. “Can’t you just give me the ‘bottom line?'”
“I could, but won’t. I’ve listened to your unwanted stories conjured in you disaster mentality for most of my life,” I retorted. “Now you’re going to listen to one of my stories. Remember, you said you wanted me to tell you about Love and that you would kibitz if, that is, you had anything worth while to say.”
“That’s not quite the way I put it,” snapped Fear, “but go ahead, if you must.”
“According to Jim, the rancher I was working for at the time, Rebecca, referred to as ‘the barn cat,’ had a specific job to do. She was to keep the mice and rats out of the barns, grain house, and feed shed. She was, therefore, deliberately not fed by anyone to keep her hungry enough to dispatch her assigned duty.
“I noticed Rebecca for the first time a day or two after she had kittens. She was creeping over bare ground from the corner of the horse corrals toward the hay wagon, keeping an ever-watchful eye on her intended prey—one of three house sparrows sitting atop the wagon searching for seeds. The wagon was parked in the open, too far from the barn door to afford Rebecca a place to hide, stalk, and ambush the birds, if in fact she was fast enough to leap the three or four feet from the ground to the wagon’s bed.
“It was a bright sunny morning with crisply defined lights and shadows, making open-ground stalking difficult at best. From my vantage, assessing what she had do to even get within striking distance of her intended prey made me wonder how she proposed to catch a sparrow atop the wagon on its far side. She, on the other hand, was so absolutely focused on what she was doing, that I quietly sat down and watched.
“Rebecca’s stealth and patience were incredible. When the birds were head-down eating, she crept forward, freezing the instant one raised its head. Inch by inch, she seemed to float over the ground as she crept closer and closer until she was almost within the wagon’s shadow, out of sight of the sparrows. Here she remained, motionless, for several minutes listening. Then, having received some invisible cue, she moved quickly under the wagon and stopped just below the far edge, exactly under the spot where the birds were feeding.
“Again she crouched, motionless, that’s with the exception of her flicking tail. Suddenly, faster than my eyes could follow, she leapt upward toward the underside of the wagon. Just as she seemed about to collide with it, she stretched out her right paw and, reaching to the outside and just above the wagon’s bed, grabbed a sparrow with her sharply curved, outstretched claws. Pulling the sparrow beneath the wagon, she dispatched it with a crunch. I was dumbfounded at what I’d just witnessed. I’d seen many a cat hunt, but never anything like that.
“Her focus, stealth, poise, and grace were indescribable, and I know I’ve done poorly in my attempt to portray the beauty of her bid for life. But then, as I’m so oft’ reminded, language lacks the words with which I can convey to you even an infinitesimal glimpse into my senses and feelings, let along translate them into yours. I cannot, therefore, captured for you with either the spoken or written word the sheer awe I felt in witnessing the grace with which Rebecca caught the sparrow. I’m sorry.
“The next day Jim asked me if I knew where in the barn Rebecca lived. ‘No,’ I answered. ‘Why do you want to know?’
“‘She’s just had kittens,’ he replied, ‘and there’re too damn many cats around here now. Besides, she catches more birds than mice, so I want to drown the kittens ’cause they’ll be worthless as mousers anyway, taking after their damn mother as they’re bound to.’
“Not liking what I heard, I committed an act of silence. But search as I might, I found no sign of the kittens. So I began to wonder if the Jim was even correct about Rebecca’s kittens being in the barn. Regardless, I hoped he wouldn’t find them.
“It was a few days after I first encountered Rebecca that she came to investigate me as I lay in my sleeping bag in the hay loft. At first she just looked at me. She then sat down and looked some more. Finally, she came over and sniffed my face. Although Jim had told me that no one could get close to her, she seemed to have little or no fear of me. I didn’t try to pet her, however; I only talked to her.
“For us, the hay loft was an ideal place. It was warm and had the wonderful odor of summer embodied in the fragrances given off by the sun-cured hay. It was also private; no one bothered us. And there was a peacefulness in the sound of the horses munching hay from their mangers immediately below the loft.
“Another two or three days passed, and Rebecca’s nightly visits become bolder. On the sixth or seventh night, she rubbed against me and curled up by my neck, allowing me to pet her. Thereafter, she spent part of each night curled up next to me so I could pet her—that is until her kittens were old enough to play.
“I went to bed early one night, and although Rebecca came to me as usual, she kept pacing back and forth all the while uttering a funny little meow. She then started walking toward the large pile of loose hay. When I didn’t move, she came back and repeated her performance. I still didn’t move, so she disappeared somewhere behind the pile, only to emerge with a kitten in her mouth, which she deposited in the crook of my neck as I lay on my side watching her. She disappeared again, and returned with another kitten. In the end, I had five kittens snuggled in and on my neck, with Rebecca purring contentedly as she lay about a foot from my face.
“I felt a delicious, warm sense of acceptance and love as though I had a family because I was now part of the kittens’ growing up. This gave me a sense of responsibility and a feeling of parental pride in the kittens’ achievements. As they became more comfortable around me, they came and went as they chose and played all around and over me. Occasionally, they even wiggled their way into my sleeping bag.
“Rebecca still came almost every night to be loved, even if only for a few minutes. Most times, she still curled up next to me for a while, but she occasionally had pressing business elsewhere.
“As time passed, the kittens started going their own ways. But we still got together when I was in bed and shared our love and had fun playing in the hay. And best of all, Rebecca’s kittens were fully grown by the time I left, and Jim had long since given up looking for them.
“Being included in Rebecca’s family was very important to me at a time when I was struggling for meaning. With Rebecca’s family I had a sense of belonging, something I’d almost never known in my life.”
“Damn you’re long winded! So? What’s the point of this drawn-out story,” quipped Fear with obvious disdain, “animals—other than you humans—are given to Love. It’s simple for them. They love with their hearts, not with their eyes, which makes their love unconditional and therefore perfect. Your notion of Love, on the other hand, is conditional because you’re into control and therefore place visual, emotional, physiological, moralistic, legalistic, and monetary conditions on Love. It’s down-right pitiful to watch—and I love it! Did you catch the humor?”
“Oh, is that what it was,” I countered. “Tell me, Fear, what do you mean when you say that animals Love with their hearts instead of their eyes?”
“It’s just like you to ask such a question. I can’t believe you’re so blind. Animals love for the sake of Love; they don’t care whether you are beautiful or ugly, rich or poor, sane or insane, smart or dumb as a post. They simply accept you as you are and Love you without strings attached.
“Your Love, however, is ‘conditioned’ by how you perceive someone, meaning your notion of Love often depends on how attractive you perceive someone to be. In other words, you find it easier to love a beautiful person who is wealthy, obviously sane, and intelligent—all of which you perceive visually. Therefore, you love with your eyes in that you select against—withhold your love from—someone you perceive to be ugly, poor, insane, and dumb.”
“Unfortunately, I have to agree with you,” I said somewhat softly and uncomfortable, knowing Fear was correct in its observation.
“I think we too often also choose animals to love by how they appear to us. But now, do you mind if I finish my story?
“With the coming of Spring, I got ready to leave the ranch, so I then went to the barn to say good-bye to Rebecca and her family—a difficult task at best. It was like a bit of me died that day. Although I meant to, I never got back to the ranch.”
“There you have it!” butted in Fear. “That’s how it always is with Love! Damn it! Love hurts! That’s why people come to me and my kingdom; I counsel them to flee such pain and thoughts of responsibility. It’s every person for himself—or, if you insist, for herself. How can you, of all people, abide Love’s authoritarian demands? Tell me.”
“That’s an easy question to answer,” I said. “Love gives purpose, reason, and meaning to my pain and suffering by opening me to the travails of others that I might grow in compassion, that I might gain in wisdom, that I might dare to offer a helping hand. But you, all you do is revel in other people’s agonies. Yours is merely self-indulgent pleasure in another’s pain.”
“Precisely,” agreed Fear. “So, now tell me about Love and humans, which is not so easy, I’ll wager.”
“Well, Gandhi saw love as ‘the subtlest force in the world’ in that Love, like water, overcomes all obstacles in time, and being expansive, it ripples ever wider to include not only myself and you but also anyone and anything that comes under its influence—even mine enemy unto the center of the Universe.”
“Wait a minute! Wait just one damn minute! What do you mean that Love includes me?” demanded Fear. “You know how I feel about Love.”
“Of course I know,” I replied. “That’s the beauty of it. If I love you, then I can’t be afraid of you, and you’re powerless to affect me. And because you’re only a figment of my imagination and therefore perfectly predictable, I find it easy to love you, just as I find it easy to love an animal. Loving humans, including my wife, Zane, is a different story, however, because we humans are predictable in the aggregate, but not as individuals. The reason for that is we hold as many different points of view as there are different individuals and each individual is ‘right’ in his or her mind from his or her point of view—and that point of view is constantly changing as we age. It can’t be otherwise, which is the underlying cause of our difficulty in being able to hold unconditional Love for an individual in our hearts.
“I learned this the hard way though my iniquities and their attendant failures. Giving continual Love that is truly unconditional is perhaps the hardest lesson with which I daily struggle. That I frequently fail in my aspiration to proffer unconditional Love to all of life is the constant test of my soul. Nevertheless, in striving to do so, I am following the path of Love, which in its rockiest, most difficult places is still infinitely more beautiful than your wide, easy, gold-plated pavement.
“So perhaps it’s not necessary in the long run to define Love; it’s only necessary to act out of love. As Mother Teresa said, ‘Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand. Anyone may gather it, and no limit is set.’
“There may be times, for example, when I can’t find someone to help me when I’m in need, but there is never a time when I can’t give Love through the act of helping someone else. If, therefore, I want to change the world, I must serve life, because all problems are produced by a lack of Love, which represents a loss of Love—or, put differently, the apparent lack of Love heralds the presence of your unsavory self. To solve that problem, Love must be restored.
“By analogy, if I want to drain a swamp, I dig a ditch and allow the water to run out of the area. If at some time, however, I discover a magnificent orchid growing in a tiny remnant of the swamp, and I want to protect it from extinction, I will need to recreate the habitat in which the orchid grows. All I have to do to recreate the habitat is to fill in the ditch with the missing soil, and lo, I once again have the orchid’s swamp.
“There’s another part to Love, however, and that is forgiveness.”
“First you insist on talking about Love—and now forgiveness. Is there no end to the boredom with which you delight in torturing me?” moaned Fear.
“Well, you told me to discuss Love because you didn’t want to. So, I guess you’ll just have to put up with in until I’m done.
“Some years ago, I came across a statement about forgiveness but neglected record the source and have now forgotten where it came from. ‘Forgiveness is the perfume the trampled flower casts back on the foot that crushed it.’ This is but saying that one must forgive the actor, but not the act. Put differently, I can easily forgive my father for abusing me, but I will never forgive the acts of abuse.”
“How perfectly charming,” sighed Fear with great drama. “Pray, do proceed.”
“Okay, I will. Forgiveness is perhaps one of the thorniest tests of Love, to let go of an injury one feels has been unjustly caused. To forgive, one must understand the root of Love, which is to be in the present moment with the other person in mind. I remember a story, that took place some years ago, a story about an act of forgiveness, the Love that both inspired the act, and the Love that came from the act:
“Given the chance to put a man behind bars for shoplifting, the owner of an athletic footwear store decided instead to put the robber in his shoes.
“The owner not only forgave the young man, but offered him a job, gave him a pair of socks to go with the stolen shoes, and drove him home from the police station.
“‘I didn’t think he would want to make a mess out of his life for one pair of shoes,’ the owner said.
“‘He said he needed them so I gave him a chance to earn them. If he went to jail, it wouldn’t do any good. He’d just come out and steal more.’
“The above story reminds me of a butterfly I found some years ago. It was a swallowtail freshly out of its chrysalis, with wings still wrinkled and wet. I put it on the sunny limb of a tree. As its wings unfolded, I marveled at its small size and fragility compared with the grandeur of its color, form, and function. With wings dried, it floated lightly on the warm, summer air—a magnificent gift of life.
“It helped me to see that a thistle appearing drab with little beauty becomes more beautiful when visited by a butterfly. And I realized there are times in most people’s lives when they feel like a prickly, unapproachable thistle growing unwanted in a wasteland. These are the times when the gentle touch of Love, like the brush of a butterfly’s wing, makes beautiful the thistle no matter where it grows, for Love also is a gift from the Eternal—a gift bestowed on us to bestow on one another.”
“Are you quite through?” asked Fear with unmistakable discomfort and irritation.
“Yes,” I replied, “I’m through.”
“What you’ve clearly missed in all of this,” snarled Fear, “is that Love demands you face the pain, which seems always to be in some way the pain of loss. You hear what I’m saying? Love is inescapable pain!
“I, on the other hand, offer you a perpetual and perfect way out of such pain through the art of denial or the opiate of escape. I have an escape route down which you can flee.”
“That may be true,” I said, “but you charge an awfully high price for your fakery.”
“What do you mean by ‘fakery,'” challenged Fear.
“I mean that the pain I feel at the loss of someone or something I cared about is the measure of the Love I felt. The greater my love, the greater my pain, the brighter my memories, the richer my life. The pain is a measure of the joy, and the joy is a measure of the pain, which together are the totality of Love. In other words, Love is all principle with no interest, whereas you are all interest with no principle. Need I go on?”
“No,” said Fear, “you don’t need to continue. But, in my opinion, you’re thinking is still fuzzy and vague.”
“Well, Fear, then look at it this way. With Love I know that I must consciously accept the pain as the measure of the joy I felt, but as I work my way through the pain; it abates and disappears. There is no psychological hangover, no ‘interest,’ if you will, that I must pay in order to heal from my sense of loss.
“With you, on the other hand, I can for a time seem to avoid consciously facing the pain of Love’s loss, but I’m forever in your debt, in your torture chamber—excuse me, your ‘kingdom’—within which there is no healing and from which there is no escaping the hidden pain you inflict by the perpetual interest you charge for my being there without ever reducing the principle, which is the pain I would be trying to avoid.”
“I grow weary of this conversation,” said Fear. “Let’s talk about something else.”
“Why am I not surprise?” I asked rhetorically. “Of course you pretend weariness when your vulnerability is showing. What do you want to talk about?”
“I’m not sure,” came Fear’s reply “I need to think about it.”