When I worked at a day care in high school, we had a baby named Owen who would stay with us a few days a week. An intelligent, alert, curious, and all together delightful child—I was incredibly blessed to see Baby Owen grow and learn to sit, then crawl, then walk. One day, as the “big kids” were playing in the backyard, I was alone in the playroom watching Owen struggle to toddle through the mess the other children had made. Owen liked to be held only when he decided it was necessary to have a bird’s-eye-view of the room, and this was not one of those days. Owen was ready to adventure across the great unknown that was the playroom, even if it meant risking life and limb (unless Jillian pulled the fist size toy out of his mouth, of course). So there went this beautiful baby, off to discover new things.
And Owen, he did the most miraculous thing. Every single time he would fall—onto his bottom, onto his hands, occasionally onto his head, tripping over plastic airplanes, grasping at the cushions of the couch, catching the toe of his shoe on the shag carpet—he would simply glance up, twist his head like the wise little owl that he was, and crawl to a spot with a little more room. Then he would stand up and try it again.
He did this for hours.
And I thought to myself, Why is this so hard for the rest of us?
I think of this story often, but never so often as when I hear the term “unconditional love.” Owen’s story is what it means, to me, to love unconditionally. I think we have an incorrect definition of unconditional love. It doesn’t mean “I love you no matter what you do.” It actually means “I love you no matter what I do.” It is a promise to choose to love, even when the only love we can manage is a faint glimmer. It says that whenever we find ourselves falling, we will find a new place to stand, knowing full well that we will fall again.
I love when I am joyful. I love when I am dissatisfied. I love when I am frustrated. When I am anxious. When I am hopeful. When I am exhausted. When I am optimistic, clueless, self-confident, terrified.
There have certainly been times when I have not embraced this, and there will be times in the future. But only by promising it to myself can I ever hope to actually accomplish it.
I will stand back up. With the understanding and acceptance that I will fall again, that I will hurt again, that I will be disappointed in myself, in others, that the circumstances I wish for may never be, that my expectations may never be met, I will stand back up.
So there it is. I’m laying it all out on the line now. Goodnight, world. I love you.