Thursday, April 23, 2009

Is Unconditional Love Reality or Just an Ideal

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend about unconditional love and whether external circumstances could turn that love into hate, disgust, or regret? I had always believed that the real thing couldn’t be swayed by infidelity, abuse, or lying. My sentiments were of the opinion that if it was real nothing or no one could ever make it disappear.

Lately, I’ve been noticing how my ideas and thoughts are a progression of an extended ideology, and that this extended ideology could easily be traced back a few hundred years. I had been thinking that unconditional love was an altruistic experience that only the few could achieve. And such ideas left me feeling more powerful when I was able to forgive or turn the other cheek.

However, my experience has taught me that people are unpredictable, sad, and fascinating. The harm that is often done toward another human being can at times seem unforgivable and unforgettable. Just maybe… some people don’t need or want to be forgiven.

The conversation with my friend left me pondering whether or not unconditional love was a realistic response to people who chose to behave in an unkind fashion. Was turning the other cheek just a way of not responding in kind to violence, or abuse but not quite the same as saying that no matter what I will continue to love you.

I suppose that turning the other cheek when your husband has knowingly infected you with the HIV virus is admirable and to many, the right thing to do. My friend says that you can turn your cheek until your head does a 360 degree turn but unconditional love is a myth in certain circumstances.

What about the stranger who has managed to destroy your world of peace? How do you forgive the person who killed your child, raped your daughter, or murdered your husband? But even more so, how do you forgive the person who claims to love you but instead hurts you beyond measure?

If you can’t do the unconditional thing, does that make you somehow less of an evolved human being? If you can only turn the other cheek but refuse to forgive or love someone who has hurt you beyond repair, does that make you wrong or put you in the same class as them?

I suppose my friend had a valid point. I tried to think of the worse thing that could be done unto me and to determine whether or not I could continue with a loving feeling and attitude despite circumstances. I reflected on how my own life had been changed and marked by tragedy. Horrific things had been done unto me. I have seen and felt and know to this day that evil spreads through the actions and thoughts of people.

My life has been a consistent turning of the cheek. Not so much due to Godliness as it has been to powerlessness. Living as a woman in a man’s world diminishes my worth and value as an equal human being in the eyes of not only men but women as well. A world in which my body continues to define me, gives little relevance to my thoughts and opinions as a whole.

Yes. I’ve been turning my cheek, it seems, all of my life but I can’t say that I love you despite what you have done unto me … girls … and other women. I can choose to walk a different path, be a different kind of person. I can even choose to forgive you, but love is a rather big ideal for such a small reality as yours.


Briefcase said...

I'd like to reflect on your wise entry, but I can't say anything on a general plane. I can talk about my own experience, though. My woman is willful and has a mean temper, but she loves me and has done so for near on 40 years. The ups and downs have been spectacular. She seems to have no trouble loving me even when she hates my guts; I'm the one who has had to learn.

What provided a turning point for me, close on 26 years ago, was one day when I was sobbing to the Lord, full of self-pity. Eventually, it came to me that if I wanted an answer to my prayer, I'd better shut up sometime. As soon as I did, I heard--not with my ears but in my mind--the words: Trust Me. Only two words. But they changed my life.

What I think I can say now, is that my experience of being offended is the least important thing going on when things are going on. To the normal mind, that offense is easily taken and hard to let go. But the idea of loving no matter what, is much bigger than my self-centered experience of hurt feelings, and it represents permanence where feelings fade.

Forgiveness seems so hard because it's like losing something in the bargain: I have this right to pout and pity myself, and if I forgive you, I'm giving up some of my well-earned self-righteousness. I think it's possible to put oneself above this pettiness in actual fact, not just as a piece of lip-service to good manners. But it takes trust in the idea that God can use all things for the good of those who love him--even this piece of misery for my edification. We should understand every disagreement as our mutual misfortune that even I as the offended party need to work on whole-heartedly to resolve.

I hope that doesn't sound too hypocritical--God knows that I've had a mountain of hypocrisy to overcome in my soul. I don't know how you forgive somebody who has killed your child or something like that. Maybe you need to be a saint? But in a relationship, I think the key thing is to be able to put the relationship before one's own hurt feelings.

In my old age, I've written a book that elaborates somewhat on unconditional love, while dabbling in a lot of other issues, as well. You might want to take a look at it; it's on the Web as a free e-book, Walkabout: The History of a Brief century.

Felecia said...

Thank you for such a heartfelt response to my article. Your tenderness and humility speak louder than your words. And I hope that there are thousands, even millions of other women and men like yourself, living and loving the ones they love the most through the good times and the bad, with such sweet compassion.