I had a nasty neighbor who regularly picked fights over all kinds of issues. People drove too fast past her rural home; her neighbors partied too loud; vandals were supposedly stealing from her water line; trees encroached on her property line; and on and on. She took in tenants, most of whom lasted no more than a month. Most people cringed when they saw her.
Yet over time as I got to know Maude, I discovered something quite beautiful about her. She took in stray animals and cared for them with impeccable love. Dogs, cats, deer, goats, birds, and a turtle that would have otherwise suffered or died in abusive homes or the wilderness found a healing sanctuary on Maude’s property. I watched her feed her critters, cuddle them, talk to them sweetly, and carefully tend to their wounds. She was like a saint—a true inspiration to behold.
Dean Martin sang "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime." People who otherwise live in psychic darkness find a ray of light in loving one person or one population. Many people who have difficulty loving people love animals. I led a seminar in which a fascinating theme emerged as participants revealed themselves. Nearly everyone in the group was wounded in human love, but they all had deep love relationships with their pets. Everybody needs to love somebody sometime.
One of my heroes is the great scientist Nikola Tesla. Like many geniuses, Tesla had certain eccentricities. Rather than being involved with a relationship partner, he was a loner and channeled his creative energies into his inventions and service to humanity. Yet Tesla did have a love relationship with a pigeon. In his Manhattan hotel room, Tesla daily welcomed a flock of pigeons to his window ledge, fed them, and made them his confidants. He was particularly fond of one of the pigeons. He nurtured and petted her and, I imagine, told her things that he did not tell people. He needed someone to love.
Most people are on a lifetime quest to be loved. We seek love from anyone who might stimulate within us that wonderful feeling. We go from relationship to relationship, marriage to marriage, job to job, home to home, ardently seeking the experience of love. We believe that if someone would love us enough, we would feel safe and worthy. But for most people the quest for love remains just that—a quest, rarely or never fulfilled.
Marianne Williamson made a brilliant statement based on her understanding of A Course in Miracles. She said, “It is not the love we do not receive that hurts us. It is the love we do not give.”
Her point cannot be overstated. The best way to receive the love we yearn for is to give it. Giving love rewards us more richly than receiving it. The love we give fulfills us as it passes through us, regardless of if or how it is received. As the famous St. Francis prayer affirms, “It is in giving that we receive.”
As we move through the holiday season, we have many opportunities to practice giving love. I don’t mean simply putting a dollar in the Salvation Army basket. I mean with family members who irk us, annoying coworkers at the Christmas party, and with sales reps who tell us that the gift we ordered is delayed. Those are the real opportunities of the holidays.
This holiday season we can evolve from being love seekers to love expressers. D.H. Lawrence wrote, “Those that go searching for love only make manifest their own lovelessness, and the loveless never find love, only the loving find love, and they never have to seek for it.” You cannot simultaneously be a love seeker and a love finder. Even if you have been a love seeker for many years, you can instantly become a love finder. Then you will find everything you have sought inside yourself.
I had an annoying neighbor like Maude. Just out of college, I was living with several guys, and Mrs. Ryan did not cotton to us. She complained constantly and clearly did not want us next door. Then one evening I went to a lecture on positive thinking. The teacher asked us to take one person who irked us, and send that person love. Mrs. Ryan came to mind, and I was able for a few brief moments to tap into the place inside me that thought fondly of her.
The next morning Mrs. Ryan approached me in my garden. “I just want to apologize for giving you boys a hard time, “ she said. “I know I have been an irksome neighbor. I’m sure you’re really nice guys, so I’d like to get along with you from now on.” And so we did.
I was stunned. The only difference in our relationship was that I had sent Mrs. Ryan genuine love for a few moments. Behold the power of true love. We all need to get it, but, more important, we all need to give it.