Unconditional Love

Response to, “Spirituality in a Love Relationship” Philosopher’s Cafe at Or Shalom

When I was a kid, I once tried to express to my best friend that I loved her unconditionally. I told her that she was a wonderful person, that she had a strong intellect, a beautiful mind. She shot back at me, “What would you do if I lost my mind?” Initially I was stumped, but after I saw, “What Dreams May Come?” with her, I had an answer: “I’d do whatever it took to help you regain it.”

That conversation turned out to be prophetic. In high school she developed both anorexia nervosa and bulimia (she was indiscriminate – if it was easier to not eat, she wouldn’t eat. If it was easier to pretend to eat, and throw up afterwards, she’d do that.). For several years I watched the disease take over, degrade and defile her body, suppress her intellect, disguise her wit, bury her beautiful mind. I watched the disease lie to me about the progress she was making, about when she had and hadn’t eaten. I watched her hoard and consume food, and caught her throwing it up afterwards. I watched her, somehow, miraculously, come back from three suicide attempts – none of which she told me about until after the fact. I gave her all the help I knew how to give – I bought her food, I enrolled her in welfare, I helped her find jobs she never stayed in for long.

Gradually, I came to realize that I couldn’t help her, that I needed to let her find her own way back. I began to see that my childhood pledge to help her regain her own mind was naive. That unconditional love is as much about self-care as it is about caring for the other. To preserve my own mind, to heal and nurture my own strength and soul, I had to let her go.

She met a boy. He has his own troubles and is sick a lot, but they depend on each other. They live together now, and they’re both slowly finishing their education and getting back into the job market while living on disability.

Unconditional love doesn’t have much to do with the blind adoration of puppies, “We’re going for a walk – my favourite thing!” “You gave me kibbles – my favourite thing!” “I’m going to eat your slipper now – my favourite thing!” It has the same problems as the word, ‘equality’. Equality doesn’t mean treating everyone equally, it means ensuring each person has their needs addressed and supported. Unconditional love means knowing when to step in, and when to let go. When to give of your own resources, and when to take time for yourself. That goes for every love relationship as well – sometimes the people we love the most, are the people we’re least suited to live with. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we find the ones we can live with, and with them create a family and a home.

2 thoughts on “Unconditional Love

  1. It’s true, that sometimes we realize sooner or later that someone needs a different help than we can provide. Everyone has their own charisms (gifts, superpowers). That’s why Family Physicians refer patients to Specialists.

    I’m glad to hear your friend might be doing better. It was a sad story.

    I once heard a talk from a priest who looks after troubled youth. He told us that, sometimes, after having tried other things and demostrated his good intentions, the most effective thing he could tell a problem kid was “I don’t know what to do anymore”. It often shocked the kid into a more adult perspective, and to come up with his own solutions.

    Did this come up at the café? While painful, certainly thought-provoking! I hope all went well.

  2. miriamdoba says:

    She’s…stable now, I think. Slowly gaining ground.

    I didn’t talk about the story in the session. Reb. Laura was saying that in her darkest times, if she can just remember and hold onto a moment in which she was [aware of being] unconditionally loved, (by parent, spouse or God) she regains the strength to pull herself through it.

    Someone else questioned whether we can really be, or even desire to be, unconditionally loved by (or to unconditionally love) a partner. (If your child murders someone, they’re still your child. If your partner betrays you?) It made me think of this example. All I said in session was the bit about looking at Unconditional Love from the same perspective as ‘equality’. As with the hypothetical child – sometimes the best thing I can do for them is let them work through their own consequences, but that doesn’t mean you love them any less. Nor make the reality any easier.

Nu? So, what did you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s