(As seen published in River Valley Woman Magazine)

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only love can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” MLK

I don’t send out an annual Christmas card summarizing my family’s antics for the year. I do, however, send out a Valentine’s Day card doing basically the same thing. Though, after I indulge everyone with cute stories about Eve sticking Cheerios in the dog’s ear, I usually launch into some lofty sermon on the meaning of love. It’s not because I’m a sap; I loathe romance, in fact. I just authentically enjoy a holiday, themed around the universal value of love. OK, fine. It’s actually because one year I forgot to do a Christmas card, and by the time I got around to it, Valentine’s Day had arrived, and Shutterfly had 15% off the cards with hearts and doves. Now, it’s just become tradition. Regardless, I would still think Valentine’s Day is the best holiday for one important reason: chocolate! I will trade turkey, mashed potatoes, ham, cranberries, all of it, for chocolate. Oops, you’re still committed to your New Year’s resolution? Sorry, my bad.

Hallmark holiday aside, if there’s one thing we can always use more of in our world, it’s definitely love. I’m absolutely positive it’s not tinsel, so it must be love. As I sat down to reflect on the subject of love for my column today, a fateful thing befell me: my dad broke his ankle. I realize this probably sounds a little arrogant. Shouldn’t I say a fateful thing befell my dad? Certainly I must realize that his fate is worse than my own? But, it’s my column, so suck it up, Dad! You should be more careful on the ice.

I kid, I kid. Let me illustrate my point for you.

When something bad happens to someone you love, and they need you, your time is required. And for many of us, the only thing more valuable than our money, is our time. My dad’s broken ankle will require much time of me. It requires that I set aside my column, but also the rest of my to-do list for the day.

We have all experienced this: when we are suddenly needed by a loved one. The routines of everyday life such as work, children, and supper are put on hold to rush to the aid of the person you love. Menial tasks like grocery shopping, navigating stairs, filling out paperwork, and going to the bathroom are all things that at some point in your life, you will have to help someone do. (Paperwork is the worst! I would rather help someone go to the bathroom any day over filling out Medicare paperwork!) What we perceive to be “important” gets redefined. So-called “important” jobs that make our ego beam are traded for scrubbing floors.

When I was younger, I used to think I should strive to love as Jesus loved: “agape”, or “unconditional love”, as the Christian traditions put it. As I grow older, I think I am both ashamed and also liberated to realize that this is nearly impossible. My love is conditional. It just is. My love is based on the condition that you love me back, that you treat me with respect, and that you reach out to me in my own times of need. I don’t love for free. Or maybe I should say: I love more powerfully when my own passion is met equally and matched with the same level of commitment that I myself put into a relationship. Still, this doesn’t mean I write a person off when they hurt me. I’m human, and I make my own mistakes. Those times that I’ve owned up to mistakes and been forgiven are the most powerful experiences of love I have had. Sometimes it’s hard to love. If it’s not hard, it’s probably not love. Martin Luther King Jr. really says it best: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

What a loving response looks like and what qualifies as loving behavior, may vary wildly, however. Turning off the television in the middle of Lily’s favorite show because it is bed time may not seem very loving to her (admittedly, I could probably do so more lovingly and less naggy sometimes). I, however, know my intention is actually a loving one; though she may not see it that way until she’s 42.

In times of uncertainty, when we’re asked to sacrifice of ourselves for someone else, are we supposed to put our own lives on the back burner every single time? The answer may not always be clear. But I think that the best way to discern that answer is to ask oneself, “Is it loving?” Love is the one truth; the only thing we know for certain it is always right to say “yes” to. Love is the universal response we can always look to as the compass that points true North. And its opposite, hate, is the universal response that we can always be sure will end in violence. In our inner lives and in our world.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, I’ll be helping my dad navigate the icy sidewalk to physical therapy for the next 8 weeks. I won’t expect anyone to treat me like a martyr though, because we all know he would do the same for me. J Sorry Dad, you’re stuck with my selfish, conditional love.

All you need is love.