The Hardest Easiest Thing | by Holly Lewis Hudley

The Truth is I love you.

The Truth is sometimes it’s really hard. 

The other Truth is sometimes it’s easier than breathing.

That sums up parenting. Really just about any relationship I’ve ever been in. There are a lot of ways I’ve said ‘I love you.’  Through gritted teeth or with a wide open smile. As a last ditch effort to keep someone near. To the grandmother with a whiskery chin and papery kisses. ‘Tell grandma you love her, Holly. Go on...give her some sugar.’ To the gray faced dog of 16 years with his head on my knee as he took his last breath. To my kids when they are sleeping. Or awake. Or pounding their fists in frustration. Or every time they run to me after school, arms wide, no matter how the morning plea of “Put on your shoes” crescendoed from benign to borderline frenzy! 

A friend told me that whenever her kids are being insufferable pains in her ass, she closes her eyes, holds up a finger and says, “Hang on. I’m just reminding myself how much I love you.” I need to put that small mindful practice in my pocket.

It’s the hardest easiest thing, Love.

A saying attributed to the Buddha is, “The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.” It’s not out there somewhere that love is found, but right here, within. Love must extend outside of us, it must be shared, in order to be experienced. But dang. Can we get real for a minute? Loving everyone? Like literally everyone? That’s hard. 

In Brooke’s last post she renamed God LOVE. (Thanks Brooke! In my last post I toyed with how to greet all of creation. I will try, “Hello Love!”) To me that means love is all things - the beautiful, the sacred, the unholy, the destroyed and broken, the creative and whole. The truest capital T truths are those which are universal. Love is. It is because of it that I’ve ever been able to hold fear at bay and cross the threshold of curiosity and acceptance. When a life long friend came out, and I already loved her, it was easy to keep loving her even though the small god I had been taught about said she was wrong. Love led. When I got an immediate crush on Joel Kelley in 5th grade even though nothing in my small reality told me interracial love was okay, it paved the way for falling for Josh 20 years later. Love led. When I started teaching 20% of my beloved students turned out to be undocumented, and domestic law taught me they were less than Americans. I didn’t see them that way before I learned their status. Love led. Wherever relationship exists, evolution of thought, belief, and action is also possible. I’m beginning to sound like this is easy...just love! That’s it! That’s all you have to do! Well if you lived with me you’d know I don’t always do it well. The idea is easy. Being it...that’s different. We have an incredible example of what it looks like to Be Love in Jesus. I take shelter in the fact that Jesus was just hitting his stride in what would have been considered midlife 2000 years ago! What do we do when loving gets hard?

Idea #1: Love does not mean approval. 

I once heard the dharma teacher Tara Brach tell a story of a monk who’s compassion contribution in the world was to meditate every day over the criminal files of the most dangerous inmates in a maximum security prison. He didn’t know them. He didn’t approve of the murders, rapes, or pedophilia they committed. He didn’t say I love you, therefore what you did is okay. He said I love you anyway. He dared to see himself in them...and vice versa. 

There are several people in my life I put in the metaphorical file folders. I hold their faces behind closed eyelids, and I try to say, “I love you anyway.” On certain days it’s through gritted teeth.

Idea #2: “Sometimes love is fierce”

Kali is the Hindu goddess of Time, Creation, Destruction, and Power. She is also worshipped as the Divine Mother. She is fierce. She is Ultimate Love and Feminine Energy. The word Kali shares meaning with “the fullness of time.” As I understand it, the fullness of time ain’t always pretty. In one moment it’s the first fern unfurling in the perfect light of the sun. In another it’s a planet sized meteor crashing into the Yucatán to wipe out the dinosaurs.

Recently during a particularly fraught time in life, I felt untethered from my family of origin, a lonely star with no planets to orbit in its light, or perhaps the planet who drifted off course. Before I realized the importance of this fibrous tear in the geometry of my individuation, I was in suffering. I did not know how to love and let go and create boundaries all in the same breath. Boundaries felt mean, incongruous with love. One of my best friends acted as my Kali, my protector. “Hol,” she said in her sweet Carolina accent, “Sometimes Love is fierce.” 

In keeping with such wisdom, if I were to define my role as Mother, it is not only to help shepherd my kids into the fullness of their beings, but also to create structures and safe boundaries within which they can thrive. This means I have rules and say no and lots of emotions fly around between us all, but within that my kids have a lot of creative freedom. In a blessing, John O’Donohue wrote, “As water takes whatever shape it is in, so free may you be about who you become.”

Water cannot take shape if it does not have a container. We could have no oceans without land, no rivers without canyons, no bayous without walls. So too we would have no self to become without a body. Often Kali is pictured standing on Shiva, her consort. He, blissful and detached, represents pure formless awareness while she, with her tongue lolling, arms waving, hair wilding, represents form, eternally “contained” by that pure awareness. Within the container she is liberated to step into the fullness of her being. 

Sometimes....Love is fierce. 

Idea #3: Love does get angry

I would wager that every single one of us has heard some version of 1 Corinthians 13 at a wedding or three. “Love is patient and is not irritable or resentful...”

Oh Lord. Help me now.  While I sloppy grinned glassy eyed and said I do to all these things at my wedding, I failed at “love is not irritable” and got mad at Josh the very next day. I didn’t stop loving him, but I was irritated. I don’t resent it, as I can’t even remember what it was about, but I remember thinking Paul was wrong about the Love not being angry bit!

Then, years later, when we had three kids within 22 months, I felt angry and irritable with them. More likely I felt alone and overwhelmed and totally not enough, but it expressed itself as anger at times. I had also never felt love so wholly that I might fly apart as I did for them. I feel  anger often. But I have never stopped loving them. Not ever. I suppose what matters is what I do with anger, how I act on it. Have I yelled? Yes. Have I regressed to feeling 2 years old and throwing a toy truck on the floor in a moment of complete overwhelm? Yes. Have I come back and said, “Forgive me if I hurt you in my anger?” Daily. Cue the newly adopted spiritual practice of pointer finger in the air, other hand on hip, eyes closed: “Hang on a sec. I’m just reminding myself how much I love you.”

If I did not love my brown skinned brothers and sisters, if I did not fiercely love my brown skinned husband and sons, I would not feel angry about systems and ignorant behaviors that continue to harm their psyches and bodies - systems kept in place by my white skinned brothers and sisters. If I did not feel angry I would not feel compelled to participate in restoring justice. As for those who commit acts of injustice, I will put them in my stack of manila folders, place my hand over their faces, and say, “I love you anyway.” Best go ahead and put my own self in that stack. To echo the wise words of Thich Nhat Hanh:

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate, and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.   ~From the poem Call Me by My True Name

1 Corinthians goes on to say “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” The important words to me are all things. LOVE (aka God) is big enough to hold all things, including fierceness and anger. Love will help us direct it into a fuller and truer expression of our being if we allow it. 

Last night after the Astros lost and whittled their first place lead down to one measly game, I wore down my adrenaline by reading until 2am. Jacob, a character in the book Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer wrestles with his Jewish identity, the particular in betweenness of his particular midlife, the dissolution of marriage, and his 3 boys who he loves so overwhelmingly “it couldn’t fit into {his} body.” In Hebrew Scriptures, Jacob, which means “heel grabber,” was renamed Israel, which in turn means “wrestles God.” Using Brooke’s logic, I could rephrase that as “wrestles Love.” Foer writes, “‘Only one thing can keep something close over time: holding it there. Grappling with it. Wrestling it to the ground, as Jacob did with the angel, and refusing to let go. What we don’t wrestle we let go of. Love isn’t the absence of struggle. Love is struggle.’”

Love is the Hardest Easiest Thing.