Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now. –Mister Rogers
I find it relatively easy to love the children who walk through the doors of our school. I’m with them for a short time. My agenda for them is simply that they each find a way to be constructively engaged. Then they go home.
School is my church. It’s the one place in my life where it’s relatively easy to accept each person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now. I often say that the time I spend in the classroom with the children simultaneously stands still and passes in a flash. It’s because young children are born to live in the moment and if I’m going to be their teacher I either have to rip them out of that, or strive to meet them there. I choose their world in which the past is easily forgotten and the future exists only in theory.
It’s in that ever-present gap between past and future that love exists.
Love is much more of a struggle during the rest of my life. The moment I’m left alone in the classroom at the end of the day, time returns with its regrets and worries. I torture myself with my own failings, and grumble about those of others. As I rush through my afternoon of errands, I interact with cashiers who are slow, drivers who are rude, and baristas who are phony. At home my child should clean up her room and my wife should stop working so hard.
But every now and then, if I really concentrate, I remember to look the other people in the eye, smile, and accept them without any agenda of my own. It may only last for a second, but that’s long enough. Sometimes, that moment fills me to overflowing and I bounce along the sidewalk, making eye contact with every stranger I pass, smiling and saying, “Hi.” Some are startled and suspicious, wondering, I suppose, about my agenda, but that doesn’t change the fact that I love them. Others are too distracted by the past and future to do more than flash me a distracted smile, but that doesn’t change the fact that I love them. And once in awhile, I get full-on eye contact, a real smile, and a return “Hi,” that says I love you, too.
Of course, there are those special times when I dress as my alter-ego, Captain Superhugger, as depicted at the top of this blog. That’s when I get to walk down the street hugging the strangers, looking them in the eye, and actually saying the words, “I love you” -- and mean it. And they almost always say it back to me. I can float on that experience for weeks.
As summer winds down, I’m eager to get back to “church.” I got a taste of it a couple weeks ago, but a lot has happened this summer (e.g., politics, selling a house, car problems) that has forced me into a pattern of regret and worry. I need the kids to pull me into the present, and support me in my ongoing struggle to love.