I am constantly amazed by the participants in this blog.
When I received Rosemary’s deeply moving story last week I wondered, how can anyone respond, except by marveling at it? And then Rhonda came forward with her important and provocative question, “Can you say in very concrete terms what you mean when you say the only way to help people stuck in poverty is to love them?”
I think Rhonda has nailed the question many of us, especially those in the helping professions, are asking. We know the dangers of love as a sentimental but ineffectual thing. I remember my sister Cathy as a teenager, infuriated by a TV advertisement for people with developmental disabilities. The ad consisted of photos of disabled children while the soundtrack ran, “Love is all I have to give to you.” My sister turned to me and said, “That is so ridiculous. Love is not the only thing. How about education? How about a job? How about financial independence?”
On the other hand, I know people who work tirelessly for social justice, but do not have a single homeless friend; who love the working classes in principle, but in practice scorn everything working class people enjoy or value.
The love that transforms
My question is, “how does one truly love, not in the sentimental, ineffectual sense, but in the way that transforms lives?” How does one love in the way John Deacon suggests, when we “begin to experience the truth that ‘blessed are the poor?’”
I don’t know the answer to this question. Instead, I have questions of my own. Is it love when I go home to my beautiful house at 5 pm, while you go back to squalour? Is it love when the relationship ends when I’m assigned another project? Is it love when you pour out your life to me, while I reveal nothing of mine? And is it love when you are my work, my “project?” Is it love when my feelings of self-worth – of doing a good job – depend on your success?
And yet, if we put upon ourselves the obligation to truly love everyone we worked with and for, wouldn’t we be completely swallowed up? Traditional professional boundaries may chafe us sometimes, but they also protect us.
Inching towards an answer
I’m hoping many of you will jump in with your own answers to Rhonda’s question. To start us off, I’d like to offer one clue inspired by the writer Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Lindbergh writes,
“We all wish to be loved alone. . . . Perhaps, as Auden says in his poem, this is a fundamental error in mankind.
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.
Is it such a sin?” And then Morrow notes, “There is no one-and-only . . . there are just one-and-only moments.”
Isn’t that exactly it? I know I don’t want anyone to love me because they believe, in principal, that it’s the right thing to do. I want to be loved alone, for my real self.
I believe members of the helping professions can offer that sort of “one and only moment” because I have experienced such moments myself – not just from doctors, pastors or teachers, but also from people who were too popular or busy to be my real friends. I’m thinking of the CEO who focused her attention entirely on our conversation, without looking at her watch or hurrying to the next item in her daytimer. I’m thinking of the politician who sought me out after a meeting to discuss a question I’d raised. I’m thinking of the most-popular-girl-in-the-school who stopped abruptly during a distance run together and said, “Joy, you could do anything you wanted to do.” These are all fleeting moments. But the made me feel special, encouraged and energized. They have, in fact, been life-changing.
Last year I saw a documentary called Inside. Outside., made by and about people with serious mental illness. They had all been hospitalized, sometimes for decades, but were now living independently, working, raising children, and living lives they would have thought impossible while in hospital. Many of them attributed their recovery to fleeting moments – moments as simple as a nurse asking “How are you?” and really meaning it.
Friends, it’s your turn. How would you answer Rhonda’s question?