She didn’t show me either. No grand gestures. No small ones for that matter. No kisses or hugs. No cards made at school for Mother’s Day. No birthday presents wrapped in crayon covered tissue paper. She didn’t help out or ask how I was doing. She never even said thank you. So how do I know if she loved me?
Sometimes early on, as I held her she would smile. In those moments my world only extended to the crook of my arm, the safe haven in which she lived. Nestled in my lap she would relax her posture and her breathing would slow. Hey eyes would drift and she would fall asleep in my enfoldment, softly cooing against my chest. Contentedness. She loved me. This is how I knew my love was not unrequited. It couldn’t be told or shown to me, I had to feel it, and I just knew.
My every waking moment I spent caring for her, attending to her needs. Happily foregoing showers, curled hair, or freshly applied make-up. That’s what unconditional love is. It’s something that we discuss incessantly in our society, but not something we practice much of in return. Instead, we spend so much time qualifying what our ideas of true love are, that we forget to put them into practice when they are not self-serving. True love-unconditional love that is, is never self-serving. The terms are mutually exclusive of one another. Unconditional love involves making a choice, and choosing to place someone else before or above yourself is the exact definition of not serving yourself first at all.
We place many conditions on the love we claim to have for others. We put on their shoulders the responsibility to be deserving of receiving our love. Of our spouses, children, parents, friends, we decide first whether they are worthy of our love before we give it, then of how much, to what extant, and finally, we continually reevaluate that worth as time goes on. Through our circumstances and experiences, their actions and behaviors, our expectations gradually evolve. Sometimes for the better, often for the worse.
By holding our love back from freely loving without condition we also hold ourselves hostage from the ability to receive the same love in return from others: to receive unconditional love, you must know how to love unconditionally. As human beings we all fall folly to the trap of qualification by nature. A vicious cycle of lack of love emerges. Unfortunately this is what we know to be the norm. We become so comfortable with these deficits in our lives that we no longer recognize them as such, rather view them as standard operating procedures.
Have you ever asked yourself, by accounts of your own behavior, if you would live up to the standards and stipulations of love in the eyes of others? For true love to reign, shouldn’t the expectation of qualification simply fall away? If the output of one does not begat love from another, and so on, would our paltry justifications of eye for an eye still not eventually make the world blind?
So how do I know I have experienced unconditional love? I have given my all, every fiber of my being to someone who could do literally, nothing for me. Someone who could never repay me. Someone who couldn’t even say thank you. Someone who never told me she loved me, though I told her so all the time. It was never about what I was receiving from her, I was about what I was giving, but she also never placed any standards on my behavior to receive her love either. I expected nothing in return, yet my ability to love was strengthened, my capacity for love was deepened, and my heart was made fuller by it all. Yes, I have experienced unconditional love. Most certainly I have. And I have no doubt that if she could, she would have said she loved me too.