The way to love (a tribute to dad on his birthday)

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Today would have been dad’s 84th birthday.

I know exactly what I would have given him as a gift: a package of fancy tobacco for his pipe, and a Nook or Kindle with some nice game apps, especially chess. He would have really, really liked that.

I’ve been thinking all afternoon about something to write to and about him today. Yet all that came up was the subject of misunderstandings and arguments people have. Probably because we had a lifetime of those. But I didn’t want to write about that.

And then I realized that I needed to write about this from the perspective of a lesson I learned pretty late in life, one I believe we must all absolutely learn and put into practice with those we love. It’s a lesson I wish I would have understood so much earlier: the way to love.

It starts with this:

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

I remember when I first read this, I thought it was very unfair. When we hurt someone we love, we are doing something wrong and should not only be told as much, but face some consequences, otherwise we’ll just keep doing it.

Same goes for when someone hurts us. We need to stand up to them, tell them exactly how wrong they are, and slam a door or something.

Right?

Wrong.

Everyone makes so many mistakes all the time. We can’t always guess what others want or need, we often mess up the timing and the choice of words or actions when reaching out, we each have our own temperaments and expectations whose influence on others we can’t possibly always guess.

And so when we really love someone, and we come to a moment of disagreement or worse, if we’re dealing with true love, then we should never fall into the trap of seeking to create harmony and balance as if we were in a court of law.

There should always be the understanding that regardless of who is right or wrong in principle, we are two people always looking to each other for help in better understanding ourselves and each other.

How many arguments I’ve had throughout my life where what I really meant to say was “listen, I’m confused and hurting, and I need your help with understanding how I can be a better partner, friend, child…please help me understand how I am upsetting you, what your needs are, and listen to mine…because I see you and love you.”

What came out instead was me telling the other person how wrong and unreasonable they were, how right I was. And I also issued a list of demands about how the other person needs to change, what they had to do, give, say, and how.

Not only was this so not what I meant, but it so doesn’t create anything but further misunderstanding and frustration.

Even if the conflict gets resolved in the moment, if one person walks away feeling like they won, the relationship suffers. Keep doing this, and all we end up with is a list of each other’s mistakes and corrections instead of with two people who are growing through, and towards, complete trust in both themselves and each other.

Of course it’s silly to imagine we’re not going to ever get angry or hurt, express frustration or simply retreat to tame our tempers and lick our wounds for a while. But if we can just keep in mind that when it comes to those we love truly and deeply, what we each ultimately look for and need is help from the other, we will be able to create so much more love and trust.

And this also works with those we don’t exactly love but simply recognize as human beings just like us, who simply have different ‘imperfections’ than our own, but ultimately the same need for compassion.

“Rub your eyes, and look again at Love, with LOVE.” ~Rumi

Happy birthday dad! I hope this makes you smile.

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