22 December 2015
It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving. ~Mother Teresa
When we were going through my mother’s things after her death, an old, wobbly Christmas decoration surfaced from a box she hadn’t opened in years. I had only the vaguest memory of the object from my childhood years and no conscious attachment to it, but my hand reached out, as if by instinct, and the little angel choir went home with me. I put it into another box of holiday stuff where it stayed for the next couple of Christmases. Then, one year, those angels seemed to spring to life, jumping into my hands of their own accord once again. So, for the last few years, I’ve been putting them where I would notice them regularly and I find myself touched by their small forms, their simple faces, the humility of their bowed heads and the community of their song.
This year, I finally actually noticed what they hold in their hands. Some carry instruments; a trumpet, a guitar, a concertina, and a bell. Others have seasonal trimmings; a tree, a candle. And then there is the one, the brightest angel of them all, who carries a heart.
There is a general rule of thumb about how long a person can survive without essential elements. For food, it is generally considered to be about 3 weeks. For water, that number shrinks to about three days. For air, the number sheers off to a mere 3 minutes.
These three things, food, water and air, are foundational elements for survival. Perhaps because it is the element needed most frequently, and also because I have been working to be more aware of my breath, I have come to think of air as the primary nutrient.
But now that little angel holding a heart between her hands reminds me that love is also an important, front-row instrument in the choir.
Technically, we can survive without love, but babies lacking it do not do well. Without touch and cuddling, they suffer even if provided adequate food, water and air. Their brain development is hindered, their immune systems falter, their social skills to care and empathize wither. They fail to thrive.
We have a basic need to be loved. I don’t think we ever outgrow this. Which makes love another primary nutrient.
Love is a lot like air. Like air, love is present around us nearly everywhere. Like air, it is available most the time. It is invisible and yet affects everything. The desire to connect, to see and be seen, is a pulse beating in any moment. It’s present in the opportunity to pull in a breath, see what is claiming my attention, and place my focus on kindness. It’s in the splitting open of a pomegranate and marveling at the beauty of nature spilling garnet jewels on my countertop. It’s in that place of spritiual calm within that expands out infinitely beyond.
I constantly forget all this. I forget and think that people need to be lovable, when it is I needing to love. I forget and judge myself harshly, making myself or others out to be unworthy. I forget and think of caring as more of a commodity of exchange in which give and take need parity.
But that little angel, despite her years of being stuffed away in a dark box, keeps singing her song, reminding me that the melody of life asks us to hold our hearts in our hands and offer them to others. In doing so, I nourish myself at the identical moment that I am giving of myself.
Love is all around. I’m dipping in, ladling this nutrient over everyone and everything I can. It’s an amazing celebration.
The first time I heard Love is All Around was the edited version in one of my all-time favorite movies, Love Actually. Here’s the original, time-capsule rendition by the Troggs.