Last week, I returned home from work to find my kids excitedly scurrying around the kitchen. On the counter lay cupcakes in a flower pattern, with four candles lit in celebration of my birthday. They had created an array of colorful handmade cards and paintings. My daughter had used her hard earned money to buy me a heart shaped pendant necklace and a journal with a small engraved elephant on the cover because “I know how much you love to write in your journals, Mama.” After the flurry of gift giving and card reading and hugs and kisses, they carried all my things up the stairs for me, not wanting me to lift a finger on my special day.
My heart cracked wide open at their enthusiasm and efforts. I felt a bittersweet ache in my chest, almost as if I didn’t deserve the depth of their love for me. I flashed back to my own elementary school book fairs, carefully selecting books and other trinkets for each of my family members, so thrilled to be able to buy and give something to each of them.
One of the things I love most about children is their ability to love with their hearts spilling over. Their love translates into words sung, spoken, written, shouted. Their love translates into bodies, shimmying, hugging, kissing, spinning, tackling. They have an ability to throw themselves into love with a rare abandon.
Perhaps what I admire even more is their ability to receive love. They allow themselves to be hugged, held and kissed (although begrudgingly at times). Children take love in. They let themselves be filled up without layers of resistance.
There are many things I want my children to be when they grow up. I want them to be alive, safe, healthy, happy, compassionate. But if there is one quality I want to preserve most in them, it is the ability to give and receive love the way they do now. Fully, in free fall.
As we progress from childhood to adulthood, loving seems to get harder and more complicated. Life happens to us. We experience trauma. We become scared and disappointed. We struggle to love others without condition. We want to learn from our experiences, and we fear being hurt and rejected should we trust again. We hold our love back in order to not give away too much. We build up armor that we think protects us but in fact only separates us. We question and doubt the love we are given, never quite taking it deep into our cells.
But what if we could love the way children loved, heart forward and without reservation? Yes, I know all the things that could go wrong. Yes, I know we will get hurt.
But might it be worth it?
I would rather embody love, all of life a dynamic process of giving, receiving, exchanging love, even if it means a badly bruised ego and crushed spirit every once in awhile. I would rather touch and be touched, laugh completely, cry from deep within, if it means feeling the vitality of connection and the electricity of a soulful moment.
We can keep ourselves protected within our own prison walls, or we can be free. Within our jail cells, we are safe from hurt because we will never make true contact with the outside world. Someday I, and perhaps you, will look within for the key of courage. In our escape, we will be vulnerable, yes…but oh so alive, remembering how we once loved like a child.