I often think of one of my neighbors who spent years caring for her wheelchair bound mother-in-law. My friend was a model of patience and kindness, tied to her house unless someone came to relieve her of her duties of watching over her very ill guest. She once asked me to stay with her mother-in-law for a very short time. It was not an easy task. The old lady was anxious and angry and let it be known that she did not like the idea that I was substituting for her long-suffering daughter-in-law. I found myself glancing often at my watch and hoping that I would soon be free to leave. I felt quite guilty as I thought of my neighbor doing this every single day for years, always with a saintly smile. Not once did I ever hear her utter a complaint. She was a model of love.
I have known many such souls who literally dedicated years to the care of a family member and did so with the most amazing calm. They certainly encountered frustrations and became weary, but somehow they were driven by a sense of great devotion. Regardless of how many years of their lives passed as they sacrificed the kind of freedoms that most of us enjoy, they shouldered their responsibilities with grace and inspiring determination. There really is no greater love than this.
We bandy about phrases like “true love,” but all too often when real life rears its head the relationships built on fantasies fall apart. It is in the toughest of times that we find our real friends and soulmates. These are the persons who are willing to walk through fire with us and more often that not, they are rare.
A friend from high school recently celebrated her wedding anniversary. She spoke of meeting her husband and falling in love with him. God was at the center of their relationship. Little did they know when they pledged their fealty to each other that she would encounter multiple health problems in the ensuing years. Their fun together was sorely tested in those times but her husband proved to be the real deal. He cared for her with great love and patience. They found joy in the small victories over her illnesses. They understood their calling to honor one another in both sickness and health.
Love can certainly be passionate but it is so much more than just a physical attraction to someone. Its greatest moments are found in the times when life throws challenges our way. Things all too often fall apart if the connections between people are only skin deep. The man who lovingly watches over his brain injured wife for decades is the incarnation of love. The woman who patiently nurtures her husband with dementia is a treasure. Such people are rare angels in our midst who tirelessly give of themselves in the truest sense of love.
Philosophers and theologians speak of love. The Christian faith looks to Jesus to demonstrate what love is. He showed us that love is sacrifice for the sake of others, no matter how painful that may be. Love is the greatest gift that we might give to the people we encounter and we are told that it is always patient, never jealous. Love is also forgiving, a trait that can be very difficult to muster when someone hurts us.
I have observed that true love requires effort. There is a give and take, an up and down to the flow of love. We often find love in the most unexpected places. Over and over again I have seen powerful examples of love that may have seemed quiet and unremarkable, but were in fact profound. My grandfather adored my grandmother and they enjoyed a life filled with fun and laughter. They were rocking along enjoying their dream of owning a farm when my grandmother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The next many months were crushing for my grandfather as my grandmother slowly slipped away.
They were both in their late eighties and there was no Medicare at the time. My grandfather watched his life savings dwindle until the money evaporated in a pile of medical bills. She spent her final months at home because no hospital would take her. My grandfather dutifully nursed her and never once complained even though he was drowning in debts from her illness. He loved and cherished her until she took her last breath and then he sold everything he had ever owned to pay off his bills. He would spend the next twenty years of his very long life speaking of the joy that she had brought him and wishing that they had been able to squeeze out a bit more time together. He often boasted that she had been his best buddy, a title that told of the deep friendship.that brought had brought so much joy into their days.
Love is all around us but we often misrepresent it. It is not just between a man and a woman or a married couple. It is a deep relationships between two people who are willing to walk with one another through life’s sometimes fiery journey. It is a parent’s love for children. It is the love exchanged between friends. It is an adventure that can be as smooth as a sail on a quiet lake or as rocky as a hike up a steep mountain. Love is human, often imperfect, but always concerned with the well being of others. We know it when we see it, and it is a beautiful thing even in its more ordinary forms. It is what we all seek and dream of finding even as we know it must begin with each of us. It need not be reciprocated to be real, but when it is, the world becomes a better place for everyone.