And above all else…Love

It’s a simple thought really. One that I could end on before I started writing. But so many times recently I got myself thinking about what Love really is. Why there is so much to say about it. And why we often fear it, and accuse it of being too “soft” most of the time.

I opened up a folding chair and put it next to Helen as her daughter Carolyn was feeding her lunch. The Tuesday routine is simple. The sectioned plate full of pureed chicken or turkey or whatever it is that day. Mashed potatoes or mac and cheese. Also pureed. And veggies of course. Like baby food. We have to read the slip attached to the tray to know what they are.
And then there’s dessert. Always dessert. No resident skips that part. Like the child inside who couldn’t wait for the end of the meal, the dessert is the best part. Helen looked bright-eyed and awake last Tuesday. She made a satisfactory noise every spoonful of Jello she swallowed. It was easily the highlight of her day.

I sat and smiled as both she and my mom ate their red jello. When Carolyn came back from throwing something away, Helen was still eating. She smiled with red teeth and lips and reached out to grab my arm. As she did, she looked at Carolyn and said, “this is my friend and I love her.”

For some reason, a rush of emotion came over me and I had to choke back the tears.

So simple. So sweet and real. Helen knows nothing about me, doesn’t even really know who I am there visiting or who I am. She just knows that I am her friend. She recognizes me as someone who smiles and laughs with her. And that seems to be enough.

Love. That honest and true feeling of connection. A self-giving emotion that creates more of it as it moves through itself.
Love creates more love. I don’t know what my first memory of it is or how it came to be a very real part of my existence, but I know of it well.

Growing up as a preacher’s kid, I equated a lot of what I learned about love to church services and family. I remember when I was in middle school, one of my favorite church services was Maundy (Holy) Thursday. It was the night before Good Friday. The service started rather normally, but ended in a way that has always intrigued me. In the middle of the service, my dad would get on his knees with a bowl of water and invite anyone who wanted to, to come up and sit in the chair and get their “feet washed.” It was a very symbolic way of cleansing; stripping away all of the impurities, getting ready for Good Friday. It was also a way for others to come and take my dad’s place in a servant role, kneeling in front of those who wanted to be cleansed. I always wanted to go up front and participate. It seemed to simple. So loving. Such a symbolic way of serving others and allowing them to serve in my healing.

I always regretted not doing it. I wasn’t sure I was worthy. I think back now and it almost seems silly to think I wasn’t old enough. I knew love. That is all that mattered really. I guess I didn’t realize then how much I really understood it.

After that part of the service, slowly and quietly, the altar would be stripped by the older women in the church who would take away the flowers and the candles and the silver. The draped cloths and decorative pieces were removed, one by one. The church would get darker throughout  and would become perfectly quiet and still. In the darkness, you could make out a barren altar where there once was life. The cross was even covered with black mesh draping. Death was moving in as Good Friday was upon us. This was a very moving service, as it would always find tears in my mom’s eyes as we slipped out to make our way to the back room where we would soon greet everyone after the service.

This would be what we called “Agape”… our representation of the last supper. The table would be lined with cups of red wine in the shape of a fish, the tail lined with grape juice for those of us who weren’t old enough to partake in the wine. In the middle of the fish was a long, braided piece of bread. As people came into the room, we would break bread with them as a sign of love, or agape. We shared bread with each other, also sharing a love that seemed so simple. The funny thing is I never really knew what “agape” meant until one night, on our walk down the hill to our house from the church, I asked my dad. We were carrying the leftover bread and bottles of grape juice and wine. The darkness surrounded me with emotion again that night.
He told me it meant love. A selfless kind of love that is shown when we give of ourselves. When we serve others without thinking of what we may get back.  It meant loving all of humanity, regardless of their place in our lives or their status in society. That sparked a conversation as we walked in the door and put down the bags. We stood in the kitchen talking about how deep that love could go. We talked about what it meant to love unselfishly, unconditionally. I told him I knew. He and my mom gave that to me everyday. I was 13 and felt like I understood. Easily and simply. Love just was. There was never a question.

I feel the simple love of a woman who doesn’t really know her own name, as she touched my arm last Tuesday and called me her friend.
And the deep love of my parents who taught me the simple act of Agape.
And the love that stretches in between from those I don’t know and smile at as I pass, to the homeless man I gave $20 to so he could have a roof over his head for a night.
And the love I feel when I look at the cherry blossom tree in my front yard today to the love I see in my dogs eyes as he falls asleep on the couch next to me as I write this.

Love is simple and deep. It’s strong and true. It is scary and soft and difficult to understand all in the same breath.

It is all I know.
It is all I am and all I ever want to be.
Unselfish and strong.
Simple and true.

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