The political atmosphere is fraught with tension as people everywhere react with angst. Taking sides, arguing with friends and colleagues, unpleasant discourse is overtaking both public and personal encounters.
I do not recommend shying away from this offensive reality, but I think we need to balance it. In this toxic environment it seems imperative to be reminded of the good that does exist even – or especially on – the micro level. We might not be able to directly challenge those “big” issues head on, but we can attend to the personal ones. We can gain satisfaction, healing and stability from engagement with the local and personal elements in our own venue.
Recently, I was pleased to spend time with my family, reconnecting with children and grandchildren, with their patterns of love and familiarity. That love so freely given is very nourishing and I recalled my early years when I was so worried about being a new parent. I asked my favourite anthropology professor if she had any helpful hints for me. She wisely said: “Just hope you love them.” Strange but profound advice lately supported in studies that show children who aren’t loved don’t grow.
In so many ways this insight challenges all our stereotypes and clichés. So often we assume all mothers love, that all children are loved. But we know that isn’t so. Our correctional system is loaded with young and old who were not loved. Not all women who give birth are capable of being mothers. Not all men who bestow sperm are able or interested in being fathers. Somewhere we have created myths about parenting that leave many children out in the cold, literally. Our social workers and psychologists know this. It is up to the rest of us to connect with the reality and elude these crass phrases and empty designs.
And what is this growth that love fertilizes? It is not mere physical growth, it is of course all forms of human growth; social, spiritual, creative, mental, everything!
Our challenge then as a society, as families and as persons is to find ways to stimulate love of children. This we can do. Instead of bewailing the larger almost impossible to fix societal problems, here are things we can do: slow, individual, one on one, daily, weekly items for our agendas.
But there is a caveat. Love is not so easy to bestow. Love is not a feeling, a gooey-mushy-feel good-emotion, it is not wording you just say. It is most definitely not – as the movie A Love Story would have had us believe – “Never having to say you’re sorry!”
Love is hard work. And it takes time, effort and indulgence.
In Save Me the Plums, Ruth Reichl, food critic and editor in chief of Gourmet magazine writes: “Because all the talk about ‘quality time’ is utter nonsense; children don’t need quality time. They need your time. Lots of it. And they let you know it.”
It is not possible to love someone, anyone, but especially children, without expending a great deal of time in exploring and expanding that relationship. Time and effort are necessary. Nothing replaces that exertion, not even great gifts. One’s wholehearted presence and involvement are needed and it is exhausting. I once heard a rabbi commend his congregants on success in marriage – just give your wife a gift every day or every week, that’s all it takes! Oy. On the other hand, I know a parent with a carpool rule; no cell phones. Time together is time to talk about your day and mine. Listen, learn and love.
According to Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik love only emerges in the second story of creation when humans learn to share their entire being, every part of themselves existentially. Then they can be as one flesh. We join with our children in love as God’s creations when we share all of our selves, all of our parts. This is the hardest thing to do, it is the most rewarding. Children need love to grow. So do we.