Life is divided into three terms – that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future. – William Wordsworth
It seems that when your mind is on a certain topic, you can see connections to the idea everywhere. Lately, life seems to be presenting the subject of love… and what is gained, and lost, by its presence.
About 6 weeks ago, our very old dog passed away. We had known for some time that she was coming to the end, but that didn’t make things any easier when she finally died. I cried on and off for days, partly from my own sadness, and partly from watching my family suffer through losing her. I still tear up over it at times.
There are people who would scoff at that level of grief over a dog, but I know I’m not alone. I’ve since spoken to one friend that said it took her over a year to get over the loss of a dog, and another who said she’ll never have another dog after having lost one several years ago.
I’m not saying all love, or loss, is the same. Those things vary by degrees, but sorrow seems to be an inevitable consequence of caring, and that’s what’s difficult about love. We must hold the things we love very gently- not to keep them from breaking or ending, but because we know that eventually, they will.
This idea holds true
across a variety of relationships; a friend recently found out that someone she
holds very dear had plans to move to another part of the country for a work
opportunity. He is like a brother to her, and holds a special place in her
heart because of his unique ties to her family and their shared memories. I
asked her to describe her emotions in one word, and her reply was
And yet, she hosted his “going away” celebration. What else could she do? Unconditional love requires sacrifice, and we pay with our hearts.
Another friend is
involved in foster care and had two children placed in her home for an extended
amount of time. She knew on an intellectual and spiritual level that the best
thing that could happen was that the biological parents would take steps toward
the healing and growth that would allow those children to return to their home.
My friend prayed for that to happen. Still, when the day finally came that they
left her custody, it was devastating.
But she found a way to let them go. What else could she do?
Let’s be honest: love is scary. You can only appreciate how scary it is once you’re neck-deep, and by that time your heart is well and truly at stake. It’s terrifying to know that any moment could bring a crushing, catastrophic end; there is so much at risk, and we could lose it at any time. There are no guarantees, and it takes courage to love fully, because on the other side of that gift, there is inevitable hurt, pain and suffering. That’s part of the human experience.
It’s easy to think that if we just don’t invest emotionally, we can prevent the grief that comes along with loss. Maybe that’s true, but think of all that would be lost if we refused to take a leap of faith.
My family would have missed out on 13 years of affection, of playtime, of snuggles and laughter. We would have missed out on a dog that bossily barked directions, danced with excitement, and raced along the beach with her ears flying like sails as the sand churned beneath her running feet. We would have missed her doggie smiles and her absolute joy every time we came home after being gone.
We would have missed out on love. And if there is anything worth risking in life, it is to risk loving with your whole heart.
What else can we do?