Saturday, June 29, 2013

I Love You

It was an epiphany, an Aha moment as Oprah might say. I was driving to a class where for a week we had been seriously studying twelve abilities that exist in every person, learning how to develop them in ourselves. As happens in many small classes, an intimacy and closeness had developed among the 15 or so students. These twelve abilities include things such as understanding, zeal, the capacity to organize, faith, and love.

It was love that caught my attention that morning. It's a universal emotion, practiced by people the world over. Love one another, the Bible says. Even love your enemies, Jesus added. But why is it so hard for us to tell people that we love them? Is it because the word has been so misused, has so many levels of meaning, can be so easily misunderstood, that we are afraid to use it? I've never told anyone I love them, with the exception of close family members. What would happen if I simply said to people whom I have learned to trust and who trust me, I love you?

After reaching the class I told the person sitting next to me what I'd been thinking about and then added, I love you. Her response was, Thank you. I love you too.

This is great! I thought. I turned to the person on the other side of me and said, I love you. Again the response was, Thank you. I love you too.

A few hours later the class was finished and the students were all saying good-bye to each other. As I shook the hand or embraced each one I repeated the same phrase.  I love you. The reply was always the same. Thank you. I love you too.

The thought came to me strong, like a river. You should tell the teacher that you love him. And I suddenly felt a strange resistance, a lack of comfort.

The teacher is gay. I'm a 65-year old straight guy. What was going to happen when I walked up to him and told him I loved him? And why was I suddenly feeling so uncomfortable?

I realized that his response no matter what was beyond my control, not my responsibility, but I needed to do what I was feeling an urge to do. I walked up to him, waited until he finished the text he was sending and looked up to me, and then said, Thank you. I love you.

I'm not always good at reading emotions on people's faces, but something came across his. He stood up and said to me, Is that worth a hug? And we exchanged a warm embrace.

At lunch a few minutes later, he came up and sat next to me at the picnic table where we were eating our sandwiches. With the other people sitting there, we had a good conversation.

Would he have felt as welcome to sit next to me at the table if I hadn't told him I loved him? I'm not sure, but I'm sure glad he did. 

Snap! Crackle! Pop!

Where does your mind go when it's not in the present? To the future, or the past?

Some friends recently discussed that question in a small group setting. Most people said their minds went to the future. I was the lone dissenter, saying that mine wanders to events or conversations of the recent past. Here's a recent example:

It's a few minutes after six when I roll out of bed, pull on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, and go downstairs to make a cup of coffee. Jake is waiting for me, tail wagging expectantly. He knows it is his favorite time of the day.

Ready to go for a walk, Jake? I ask. He literally leaps in the air, all feet off the ground, in anticipation.

A few minutes later we are on the trail, ready for our four mile walk. I slow my pace, take a few deep breaths, and listen to the birds chirping. A few weeks ago I hadn't even realized the variety in the sound of a bird. Some have a high shrill tone, and others are melodious. Some have just a short single sound, repeated again and again, while others seem to carry out a melody. Some seem to sing only to themselves, while others are carrying on a conversation.

So what's this Unitarian church you visited? 

It's not Unitarian, I replied, it's called Unity.

Is it a denomination or what?


How is it different than other denominations?

Well, I think most denominations limit themselves to Jesus and the Bible. This church sees spirituality as having a wider range than that.

So they think that Buddha is just the same as Jesus?

I didn't say that. I just meant they might quote Buddha as well as Jesus. You don't hear Buddha mentioned in most churches.

That's not true.

Well, I've never heard a pastor mention him before, at least not positively.

So basically you are putting people like Eckhart Tolle on the same level as Jesus. 

No, I'm just saying that all truth is God's truth, no matter who says it. I mean, if Eckhart Tolle says two plus two equals four, and Jesus says two plus two equals four, they are both true.

So you don't believe Jesus is the only way to God? Do you believe he died for our sins and rose from the dead?

I'm not sure what I believe about Jesus right now. But I don't want to argue about it.

I'm not arguing. I just want to understand.

I wanted to say that if you really wanted to understand, you would read the books yourself, or visit the church, and then draw your own conclusions. But I knew that conversation wouldn't go anywhere, and I felt myself becoming frustrated. I didn't respond.


I take a few deep breaths, and notice the green surrounding me. I'd never realized there were so many shades of green in the woods. Each tree, each bush, each clump of grass, seems to be a different color. Some are a deep green, others light and glossy, and some seem almost translucent.

Not only that, there are so many shapes. Each tree, bush, and flower has leaves of different shapes.

A beautiful woman is jogging on the path towards me, shoulders back, head high, and chest out. We smile and nod as she passes.

There are so many stories of women who get attacked and raped as they are jogging in the woods. What should we do to someone who does that? Kill him? No, that seems a little extreme. Put him in jail for 20 years costing taxpayers millions of dollars? At least he won't be raping while he's in jail, but who knows what he'll do as soon as he gets out. Maybe we should castrate rapists. No, that's probably not a good idea. There are sociopathic and vindictive women out there. It's easy to imagine an angry woman accusing a former boyfriend of rape just to see his balls cut off. 


Jake stops, totally focused on the deer standing less than 20 feet away. They glare at each other. Jake lifts his front paw. The deer lifts his right foot, stamps it on the ground, and does the same with his left. 

The beautiful jogger passes again, this time on her way back. Looks like your dog and that deer are having a real staredown, she says.

I give a tug on Jake's leash, and we continue down the path. A minute later, I hear a rustling and turn around. The deer is following us. She and Jake repeat their same routine, with the deer stamping her feet, and I again pull at his leash. A minute later I turn around, to see the deer still following us. She and Jake seem to be infatuated with each other.

Do you know what Obama did today?

I replied that I didn't, knowing I was going to hear it now. A 60-minute commute on the Beltway listening to Fox News complain about the President is enough to put anyone in a combative mood. I wonder how to say that I actually like and respect him and his administration, and don't appreciate hearing an unending stream of negativity about him.  But I don't say anything. I just listen, trying to pretend I'm interested.


I notice the chaos of the woods. Dead trees and branches are lying everywhere in the midst of beautiful live trees and bushes. Sprouts are pushing their way upward from the ground. Birds that were alive yesterday are now dead, with Jake rustling in the bushes for their bones. The cycle continues of birth and death, chaos and beauty.

I think of the phone call I received from my daughter yesterday. One of her friends was married last August. This weekend her husband of only a few months was hit and killed while riding his bicycle.

What do you say in a situation like that? How do you try to explain that the universe - or God or whatever you call it - just pushes us into the world and then takes us back again? Some people get to live 90 good years. Others are taken at the beginning of a new, joyous life.

Jake's tongue is hanging out now - it's been almost two hours on the trail - so we stop at our favorite watering hole and he drinks from the fresh flowing stream. We come back to the house. He collapses on his bed, and I make a fresh fruit breakfast smoothie. 

Judge Not

I was recently at the funeral of a relative. It's a family where an ancient incident has resulted in a complete estrangement between two sets of siblings. Neither side has spoken to the other for years.

I was never party to the conflict, and after the memorial service greeted one of the excommunicated brothers who had come with his girlfriend. I thought it was courageous and generous of him to attend a service where his own siblings completely ignored his presence.

As we were talking I looked over at my daughter, hoping she would join us. To my surprise, she didn't even glance in our direction.

I was heartbroken. I expected more of her. I couldn't believe she had been so influenced by the hostility and hatred in the family she wouldn't even come over for a greeting. But I took a deep breath, and chose to accept the reality of the situation. I won't judge her, I thought. This is where she is right now, and that's OK.

Easier said than done. As we were leaving the church a few minutes later I blurted out, "Honey, couldn't you even say hello to your uncle?"

Her response was immediate. "But I did, Daddy," she said. "You just didn't see me. I went over to him, gave him a big hug and told him I loved him." The relief I felt was palpable.

We discussed the incident the following morning. When I told her I had made the decision not to judge her, her response was again immediate but higher-pitched this time. "NOT JUDGE ME?! Daddy, the first thing you said was, 'Couldn't you even say hello to your uncle?'"

Judge not, lest ye be judged. I think Jesus said that. And as I learned that evening, it's easier said than done.