I read a book recently – Enslaved by Ducks by Bob Tarte. In one part of this humorous memoir of a life with many and sundry pets, he talks about his actual feelings for the animals. One rabbit that he carried downstairs daily always scratched him. But at some point in his pet ownership, Tarte actually opened his heart to the animal and truly loved him. Nothing else changed – he still carried him down the stairs the same way. But he never got scratched again. The rabbit just….knew.
I heard recently of a worker in a church infant nursery who makes a point every time she’s with the babies to pick them up one by one, look them in the eye, and tell them, “I love you.” And she means it. The person telling me was so moved by it, the simple observation of it brought her nearly to tears.
Remember Mr. Rogers? When my youngsters were truly youngsters, that was one of the shows that was on frequently. And, ahem, the children were not always in the room. Who doesn’t want to hear how important and special they are? How loved they are?
But hearing it is not enough. I recently spoke to a wife who confessed that her husband’s professions of love fall on deaf ears. She simply doesn’t believe him. Why? “I don’t see it.” In other words, his words are not enough. A demonstration of love would speak volumes for her. Actions prove sincerity.
But what about Tarte and the scratchy bunny? His actions didn’t change. I would argue that they did indeed change. When he changed his heart, he became different. That difference shows. He may have been going through the same motions, but they were being conducted by, in essence, a different person, and that, therefore, is a change in actions.
This is the kind of love that doesn’t depend on the recipient’s actions or reactions. Tarte knew that rabbit was still going to scratch him, yet he loved him anyway. That nursery worker knows those babies are incapable of returning her love, yet she loves them anyway. That wife feels her husband’s love retreat with his negative feelings toward her. But, she realized, even knowing that, she loves him. She’s hoping that love will bring him around. But even if it doesn’t, her love is sure.
They call that unconditional.
My eldest once asked me how I could say I loved her after she’d gotten in trouble for something. I told her my love didn’t depend on what she did. She couldn’t quite grasp that. Now that confused girl has a child of her own. She gets it now.