Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them, ‘Love me.’
Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye that is
always saying, with that sweet moon language,
what every other eye in this world is dying to hear? ~ Hafiz
Love at Lassens
I have a strange affection for the checkers at the health food store. The clerks wear plaid flannel shirts, green aprons and sandals with organic hemp socks. They look at me with sincere eyes and ask meaningful questions like, “paper or plastic,” secretly hoping I have brought my canvas bags from home. They await my response like it’s the most important thing in the world.
When I shamefully reply “paper,” confessing that once again I forgot my socially responsible bags, they grimace with me in solidarity: “Oh, nice try, better luck next time,” they seem to say. Their forgiveness makes them all the more appealing.
Sometimes a leap of kindness in an ordinary place brings forth waves of something spacious in me. It feels like love. It feels like Thomas Merton “waking from a dream of separateness” in “Louisville at the corner of Fourth and Walnut.” He writes, “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people; that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers….”
That’s me in the health food store. I frequently fall into love. I have choked back many a blurted “I love you,” when a young clerk, barely twenty-one, has been especially kind. I leave the store and shuffle to my car thinking, “Who are you, Bonnie – Mrs. Robinson?”
As I get older, my affection expands. Perhaps it’s one of the hazards of an accumulation of prayer and meditation. Or maybe it’s the realization that time is short and life is precious.
Whatever it is, I fall into love like it’s the Grand Canyon.
It happens with the waitress at Denny’s who delivers my free birthday Grand Slam. She’s got ketchup on her apron, but she smiles and offers to sing to me…. It happens with my Asian optometrist with spiky hair and wire-rimmed glasses. He spreads his legs and hitches his chair close to mine to examine my post-cataract eyes. With my new 20/20 vision I see that his pants might split and I feel the vulnerability of being human. “Careful, big fella,” I want to say…. I fall into love with the graduate student at the Verizon Kiosk. He is full of life and plans – he wants to be a scientist – yet he patiently teaches my husband and me about our new Smart phones as I silently wonder if I might adopt him like a stray dog.
I am filled with ridiculous love in their presence. I can barely hold it in. I want to leak vast “I love yous,” to total strangers….
Held and Heard
What inspires this outpouring of love? Certainly, it’s a vague recognition that we’re all one. But on a more personal, visceral level, I think it’s because these people give the illusion of caring about me. For a few moments, I feel held in devout attention. They connect with me in the present moment. What I say matters deeply. I care about them too. I want them to know their kindness means something to me.
But here’s a thought – it’s easy to feel a surge of love for strangers. It requires little of me in terms of vulnerability and consequences.
Sometimes it’s harder to feel the surge with the people closest to me…
My husband listens to me each Sunday as I weave mystery and metaphor in my sermons. He sits in the front row and cries visibly. Yet how many times have I kept him at bay in ordinary moments when he wants devout attention from me? He approaches me and I continue typing, trying to balance a budget or write next week’s sermon. He tries in vain to tell me about the latest discovery in his garden and I pretend it’s not important.
“A rat ate the red-worms in the compost bin, Bon,” he says.
I nod absently.
I feel the keyboard pull at my hands like a magnet.
For a moment, I mistake my husband for an extra in my miniseries.
Listening is Love
But seriously, is my husband less important than the guy at the health food store who asks me about paper or plastic?
And am I the only one caught in this predicament? Do you allow life’s turbulence to collide with the inertia of the ordinary? Do you fail to listen to the divine beings in your life, the one’s you take for granted? Do you sacrifice what matters most to rivet yourself to what matters least?
Here’s what I hope. First of all, I’d like to come up with a subtler alternative to flinging “I love yous” to grocery clerks and the like. The urge gets pretty overwhelming and as Hafiz says “somebody might call the cops.” Perhaps I’ll just say “I REALLY appreciate you,” and leave it at that. If my eyes don’t fill with tears, if I don’t cling to their leg, I’ll be okay.
But more importantly, I hope I can find God and love and spaciousness at home and with the people I often take for granted. I yearn to connect with the ordinary-extraordinary souls that have become the well-worn furniture of my life. I will choose to see “the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach the core of their reality.” (Thomas Merton). I will cultivate the earnest question, and strain at the seams to listen, yes really listen to the answer, like it’s as important as paper or plastic, like it could change my world.
Believe it or not listening does change the world. So today, let us empower the quality of devout listening, which is listening with love. Let us trust that listening with love changes everything. Why? Because God is love and when we listen with love, Love is listening.
Questions to Ponder:
- Where is it easy for you to love and listen? Where is it difficult?
- What are your personal barriers to listening with love?
- What is one simple inner or outer action you can take to bring more love to your listening?