Sunday, April 11, 2010

Love, Love, Love

My wife and I recently learned that we are moving to Victoria, BC. She is a musician in the military and is being transferred. As you can imagine, we are both excited at the prospect of moving and sad at the thought of leaving. We've begun telling all of our friends and are now receiving the variety of responses you would expect: tears, joy, "it's about time", "oh no", and so on and so forth. OK, I'm only kidding about that third one. Nobody has said that. At least not yet.

As the different responses have come in, we have begun to realize a few things about our dear friends, things that we feel give some insight into the nature of our relationships.

To start, we have begun to understand that a number of our friends come from cultures that have a very difficult time expressing their love. It is these friends, we have noticed, that really need to feel that they are loved. When we compliment them, praise them, or sometimes just tell them that they are loved, they drink it in like a thirsty wanderer in the desert.

I'd like to share a few stories of our friends, and our thoughts about them as we prepare to move our household and our lives.

There is one dear lady, an elderly Catholic nun (but don't call her elderly to her face because she'll chase you down and tackle you until you take it back), who exemplifies this need for feeling loved. Whenever we pass a compliment her way, she seems to look at us in disbelief, asking "You really think so?" We have to repeat it four or five times before she accepts it. She is so distraught that we are leaving, that she is "losing her best friend", Marielle, that we are going to make sure to take her out for dinner before we go.

This is the woman whom we asked to study a prayer with when we were doing the practices from Ruhi Book 1. She was so stunned to have been asked, and so appreciative that we had thought of her, that our relationship has never been the same. She treats our son as a loved grandchild and is swift to lavish gifts upon him, especially books and candy.

She is also a choir director. Her voice is remarkable, and her demand upon her singers is professional in quality. This demand for excellence, although well-intended, has often led her to forget the joy of singing with a group of friends. Marielle has been key in helping her remember.

As a woman who has dedicated her life to Jesus, we do all we can to support her and encourage her in her work. We often refer to Biblical teachings in our conversations, while sprinkling the words of Baha'u'llah throughout. I am certain that our last few months here will be spent really encouraging her in her love for her community, and the need to demonstrate it in both her words and her actions.

In fact, we will probably talk about how Jesus taught this, and how this demonstration of love is the root of Christianity. Come to think of it, it is the foundation of all religions. 'Abdu'l-Baha said it so well when He said, "Love ye all religions and all races with a love that is true and sincere and show that love through deeds and not through the tongue; for the latter hath no importance, as the majority of men are, in speech, well-wishers, while action is the best."

While we all know the importance of action, my wife and I had to wonder why so many cultures suppress the demonstration of this love. My guess is that by not demonstrating it, they don't necessarily acknowledge it, and this means that they won't be as hurt if that love is lost.

You see, when you love someone, you open your heart to them. When your heart is open to someone, it allows them to reach in and touch you with that love, but it also means that they can hurt you more, as you are vulnerable there.

There is another dear soul in our neighbourhood who we met quite by accident. Marielle was driving home late from work one night, when these two Aboriginal ladies approached her when she was at a stop sign. They asked for a ride home, explaining that they were lost and couldn't walk much further. Marielle was only a block away from our home, and nervous about giving two people a ride in our neighbourhood. We don't live in the safest of places. She said that she didn't know where their street was and was going to pick me up to have me give directions.

A few minutes later, all four of us were in the car and on our way to their home. When we got there, one of them said that she didn't know how they could repay us. Not one to pass up an obvious opportunity, I asked them to say a prayer for us, as she had earlier made a religious reference which escapes me right now. Surprised at so simple and sincere a request, they asked if we could say prayers right then and there, in the car. So we did.

Needless to say, a deep friendship developed between us and their whole family. Almost every day now, either one of them, or their brother, or one of their cousins, stops by to chat, or get a ride somewhere, or have a cup of tea with us.

In the few months that we have known them, we have really come to learn that family is extremely important to them. Dorothy, one of those first two ladies we met, has lost a lot of extended family members in the past few weeks and she weeps long and hard for each one of them. Every time she hears of someone passing, she comes over and asks for prayers with us. We are all too happy to supply them.

I have to mention that there is a lot of alcoholism and drug use in her family. Some of them even have gang involvement, which, as you can imagine, causes a lot of pain amongst them. One afternoon, one of the family members commented, "We're a lot of trouble", referring to some habits that are rife within her community. Marielle replied, "No, you're not. You've just suffered a lot, but it hasn't affected your heart."

Finally, there is another friend I'd like to mention. This woman had a very troubled youth, involved in drugs, gangs and on and on.

One day, the first time I met her, she phoned me in my studio and asked me how much a dress would cost. You see, I used to be a fashion designer working in chain-mail. When I told her, she choked, and in a quiet voice asked if I would teach her how to make it.

"Sure," I replied, "come on by."

The next few months I spent deepening our friendship and teaching her my craft. She came in one afternoon and handed me a bracelet she had made, asking me if was acceptable for sale. I glanced at it and said, "No", handing it back to her.

She took it away with her and came back the next day. "How's this?" "Nope." I showed her where her closings were sloppy or her rings bent.

The next day the same thing occurred again, but this time she was getting frustrated. The following day, visibly upset, she handed me another bracelet, practically growling, "How's this?"

I looked at the piece and, without a word, grabbed three identical bracelets from my box. I tossed all four on the counter and asked, "Which one is yours?"

Steaming now, she grabbed hers and stormed off.

The next day she came back and, without a word, walked to my stockbox and took out a bracelet. She tossed it on the counter with three of hers. "Alright, which one is yours?"

I couldn't tell. That was when I knew she understood the need for excellence. Every time we did a show together after that, she outsold me.

I cannot tell you how proud I am of her, and how much I love her. She is truly one of my dearest friends, and there is very little that I wouldn't do for her or her family.

Now, you may be wondering why I am sharing all of this. Me, too.

Actually, it's because I feel that it demonstrates something very important. All three stories talk about love, friendship and the love expressed in action. All three of these people are very dear to me, and I have made it a conscious point to let them know.

Some people think that Marielle and I are doing something unique, or that we are somehow beyond the norm in the way that we care for people, but I don't think that's it at all. Or at least it shouldn't be.

These friends, each in their way, with their own peculiar background, love us, too. And they show it in the way that they are able. They each have told us that they don't know how they will survive without us, and we have told them that they'll do just fine. We'll miss each other, but we'll still be there, in their hearts.

Their love for us is not a reflection of us, but more a reflection of something that is missing in society. We all need this love, and many of us don't know how to find it.

I tell people that we will miss our friends terribly when we go, but I believe this to be a lie. I don't think I'll miss them terribly at all. I bet that I will be nearly professional in my ability to miss them. In fact, I am certain that I'll be quite excellent at it.

Another helpful hint, while I'm at it: When you plant your garden, you can plant alternating rows of spinach and mixed herbs. This way the spinach will adopt the flavour of the various herbs. Tastes amazing.

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