Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love lessons

When I think of love, I think of my grandmother.

Ever since I remember myself, my grandma, my Babka, had always been the most important, critically vital, person in my life. And she continues to be even after her death two years ago. Why? Because she loved in a very particular and special way.

Each day, as long as I remember myself, wouldn’t officially begin until I heard her warm gentle voice. Especially in the past 15 years, speaking with her on the phone every morning was almost a religious experience for me, a form of meditation. She would pick up the phone and the warmth and kindness would start spilling right into my soul. Grandma would say: “Hello my little sunshine (solnishko), how are you today?”

It requires a lot more than a blog entry to describe the amazing woman my grandmother was. But if I must, I would say that she was a Power House, she was legendary and stoic; she was a doctor, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a wife, a grandmother. She worked two or three shifts, cooked three meals a day (sometimes more, if my grandfather made a face at her blintzes, she would drop everything and start making new ones or at least would start frying onions, which, as is well known, makes EVERYTHING taste better). My grandmother also kept a journal of our daily spending, religiously entering every “kopeika” spent to make sure we don't run out money at the end of the month (which happened on occasion). She also cleaned, did the laundry (we had an old washer but no dryer), ironed the clothes, did grocery shopping (which was a “unique” experience every time involving hours of waiting in line)...basically she was the embodiment of every woman of the Soviet era. She, a professional, a respected doctor, worked equally hard as any man during the working hours (or harder!) and then did everything a woman was expected to do at home during the rest of the hours. In Russian there is a saying (loosely translated) as “A real woman can stop a galloping horse in its tracks and can fearlessly walk into a burning house”. That's pretty descriptive of my grandmother's life force and capabilities. She was also stunningly beautiful, turning heads (literally) until the last days of her life.

Grandmother taught me many things: how to understand time, how to brush my teeth, how to turn the stove on, how to cook, how check blood pressure, how to defend myself, how to sew on a button... But the biggest lesson I learned from my Babka she hadn’t really “taught” me. She simply exemplified it, she lived it. Love (with an intentional big L) was her form of creativity, her gift to the world, to everyone around her and, especially, to me.

What I learned from her by example was that there are two kinds of loves. The first kind is when you love someone for YOURSELF. It’s a self-centered love, it asks questions like “what have you done for me lately?" It’s often possessive, demanding, and internally focused. This kind of love would include such words as “me,” “for me,” and “what about meeeeeeeeeeeeee” (not always in that order).

The second kind of love is when you love someone for HIM/HERSELF. It’s very simple. You just love – no ifs, no ends, no buts, no reasons. Just love. Pure, uncomplicated and without expectations. It’s kind and gentle, and at its core there is a clear mission statement “I love you. No strings attached.” It says things like “what have you done for yourself lately?” “I am happy when you are happy.” And it includes words like “you,” “for you” and “what about you?”

My grandmother loved me like that, for ME. It shaped my life. Experiencing this Love helped me recognize it and appreciate it in my spouse (who from the first day loved me for me). Being the object of such amazing phenomenon is really hard to explain. It needs to be felt. It has to be seen. What I know for sure though, is that a lot of it, if not everything, is in the eyes.

A few years ago, I was watching Oprah. Toni Morrison was a guest on her show, talking about literature and family matters. I’ll never forget when Toni Morrison said: “No words can express to the children how much an adult loves them…No. It’s all in the eyes.” “How so?” said Oprah, intrigued. Morrison continued: “When children look at an adult’s face, they are looking with an internal question mark. They are asking ‘are your eyes smiling at me with joy?’ If your eyes don’t smile, don’t light up when they walk into the room, no matter what is said, it won’t make a difference. Love is in the eyes…”

Well, my grandmother’s eyes lit up the whole Universe EVERY SINGLE TIME “I walked into the room.” Her eyes always answered my internal question with a wonderfully cheerful resounding “YES, I LOVE YOU.”

And the truth is that it’s not just the children who need this kind of Love (with the big L). We ALL do. Don’t we? We all crave it. We want to be seen, we want to be understood, we want to be cherished, we want to find the joy of love in the eyes of the people important to us. We want to hear the resounding, unquestionable “Yes, I love you, no strings attached.”

Sad to report, but I often fail to light up in the presence of others. Shame on me for often defaulting to be in the first camp of the selfish, self-centered and un-kind love. I often catch myself NOT following what I know is the right, if not the only way, to love. Shame on all of us who are hoarding the good stuff in the depth of our souls.

Being far from perfect and not a big believer in quick transformations, I am going to commit that at least for today, with the image of my grandmothers beautiful smiling eyes watching over me, I am going to “let it all hang out.” At least for today, I am going to imitate the woman who taught me the meaning of love and pour the LOVE out into the Universe, selflessly and with joy! I am going to open up a tent in the camp “Love” (with the intentionally big L) and put up a flag (it will probably be the color of lavender).

And when my eyes meet yours today and I read your internal question mark, I am going to answer it with wonderfully joyful “YES, I LOVE YOU”.