Hard wired to love

Right now the snow is falling in thick, lazy flakes outside my window. All is hushed. That’s what snow does. Quiets a restless world. Invites us to a deeper peace when the distractions of this time of year or our personal lives pull us elsewhere.

Snow gives us permission to catch our breath, do nothing. Nap. Write. Read.

Now I sit with the dog and the companionship of a friend. I am in wonder at this snowfall, even though I have seen many. And in awe how this world unfolds in its own natural timing and beauty if we allow it.

Yet, it seems anything but this. Read or see the news, travel the threads on Facebook and we discover a world in turmoil.

While this snow descends peacefully, in other parts of the globe — and in this country — we find political strife, women being abused, the potential for a nuclear war and countless refugees fleeing their homelands to find security, survival and hope.

Has it always been this way? Will it always be?

We were given a great gift as humans — free will — and I often ask myself: When we will use this gift to create peace? Lasting peace. True love of each other so that we will live on the planet as was intended. An earth ripe with blessings, that provides all that we need if we only consent to partnership with each other to do what is right and good.

And yet. I have hope.

The other day, I was at the grocery store and bought about five items. No express lane in this store. The woman ahead of me also had a few purchases in her cart. But the woman in front of us had enough groceries in her cart to last a month.

She looked at the African-American woman ahead of me, then at me.

“Why don’t you both go ahead?”

“Really?” I asked. “Thank you,” we both said in unison.

When I got back home, a package was waiting for me from a family friend. She had said to be on the look out for it and I had no idea what it might be. A book on caregiving arrived and I was extremely touched by her act of thoughtfulness. She took time out of her day, to buy it, mail it.

On Facebook, more videos are being posted of the extreme good being done in the world. The woman who was so moved by the homeless man who gave her his last $20 after she ran out of gas that she started a fundraiser for him, collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars. He is taking that money in turn and helping others.

Or the man who ordered online items — socks, coats, food — for the homeless. He had the products delivered to those in need right there, on the streets.

Small gestures? Perhaps. But how can we ever measure how this good ripples out and multiplies in myriad ways we may never see or understand?

Yes, we hear much today about divisiveness and hatred in our world. But that’s not who we are. I believe we are hard wired to be kind and loving. In other words, it’s in our DNA to be good.

God, or the Divine or whatever name you wish to give the great source of love, is in our genes.

When we don’t allow that good to express, we short circuit. Humanity goes awry and we lose our way home. To each other. To love.

The late author and spiritual teacher Henri Nouwen encourages us that “we become beautiful people when we give whatever we can give: a smile, a handshake, a kiss, an embrace, a word of love, a present, a part of our life… all our life.”

As the snow falls, I am reminded that each snowflake is unique in design. And beautiful. So are we. We each have a special gift to give the world.

In most instances, that gift will not be grandiose, but a small, simple offering of our presence to one another in our daily lives — with a smile, a kind word.

When we share those gifts, we are like the gentle snowfall outside, quieting our world into peace. We become beautiful. We become what we are hard wired to be. Love.

 

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How, then, should we love?

Many years ago, when I was in my 20s, I had an encounter that made an impression on me. One that changed me and made me realize the power of presence and how we are each part of a larger, spiritual family. Here is that story.

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The day-long conference had been uplifting. Spiritual speakers. Healing energies. Positive thoughts. I walked from the hotel into the dark of the city. And into a relentless, monsoon-like rain. I had blocks to go before reaching the parking garage.

As I scurried down the dimly-lit street, wind and rain buffeting my umbrella, a bundle heaped against the wall snagged the corner of my vision. What was it? I hesitated and glanced. It wasn’t a “what” but a “who” — a person, hunched in the downpour. A woman.

Homeless-womanShe was one of the many homeless in the city and my heart dropped to my knees. Should I help her? What should I do? What could I do? She was drenched. But I had just left a workshop about loving others, about helping the world become a better place. Shouldn’t I do something?

I stood there, momentarily paralyzed, the urge pulling me to ask her how I could help against my own better sense to keep moving. And then, as I stood there, a car pulled up to the curb. A couple got out. They asked the woman if she was OK. They had sandwiches and hot coffee. Could they take her somewhere, to a shelter where she would be dry and safe?

I watched for a few minutes as the woman shook her head. She seemed to want to stay there, although they kept pleading with her to come with them. But she took the food. And they gave her blankets and an umbrella.

I turned and continued walking to my car, a mix of deep emotions. I was touched by the compassion and courage of the couple who had stopped and asked this woman if she needed help, and I was ashamed that I had not. These many years later, I regret not acting.

What stopped me? In hindsight and all honesty — fear. Fear of the unknown, of my safety, of what I might be called on to do. Decades later, this particular woman has stayed with me and hopefully I have gained some wisdom since that experience.

As a journalist, I went on to write articles about the homeless and after interviewing them I discovered this: They feel invisible and they want to be seen. They want their presence to be acknowledged, even if it is a simple “Hello. How are you today?” Instead, they have watched many of us walk by in discomfort. When we see them on city streets we rush by because it dredges up many issues — judgment, guilt for not doing more, not wanting to become involved and also the frightening reality, “This could be me.”

The truth is, it is you. And me.

That rainy night I indeed could have acted. I could have offered not money — not even my umbrella — but something even more powerful, the gift of acknowledging that woman’s presence as another human being, as a sister made in the image of the Divine, as I am.

Life will always give those moments that will test our spiritual center. It’s never an easy call. I’m sure each of us has had this inner struggle, seeing someone in need and gauging it against our safety. Or wondering how much we should HANDSTOUCHINGS-33_000extend ourselves. Sometimes common sense should and will prevail. And sometimes we will act with courage, no matter the cost.

But those moments — however they present themselves — will draw from the deepest parts of our being as to how we are living our lives. They will help us see our rough edges and where we need to soften. Those moments will help us grow. And deepen.

Most of us all, if we are open, they help us see ourselves in one another. And witness the presence of love in the face of another. No matter the guise.