She died a famous woman denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power
Zephyr often comes into my bedroom early in the morning to sift through my clothes, deciding what she might want to borrow. Sometimes she asks, and sometimes she just usurps. Sometimes I ask her to take them off, sometimes I say sure, go ahead, and sometimes I look the other way, pretending not to notice she has on my new t-shirt or leggings or boots.
Sometimes she just wants to use my sink, because the hot water comes out quicker. She often asks me to braid her hair in the roughly ten minutes we have left before rushing to school. I still need to choose an outfit, or I want to apply my make-up, but I look at her when she speaks. I watch her as she toys with her golden hair, a coy supplication that melts me. I love this girl. No matter how she looks at me, no matter what words she uses to ask, no matter what time it is or what I have left to accomplish, I braid her hair.
I know this won’t last. I know the backwards-side-french-braid she requests is only a phase, and she will grow out of it. I know she will not always live with me, that she will not always steal my clothes, that one day she will have nicer things of her own. So I ask her what style she wants today; I pause my own routine, and I braid her hair. I haven’t once said no.
I have been told that love shouldn’t always be like this. Sometimes we are supposed to say no. But my love for her isn’t complicated. It isn’t fraught with compromise and worry for how she might take advantage of me or our bond. As her mother, I have provided structure and discipline throughout her childhood, and I have set high expectations, but my love for her isn’t fraught with worry for the future. She knows who she is and how to ask for what she wants, and she freely accepts attention and praise when they are offered to her. I know eventually she will stop asking me to braid her hair, stop asking for my hot water and clothes and for sips of my morning coffee, but that won’t be the end of us.
I wish all love was as straightforward.
My friends say I love too easily, too forgivingly. They say that I let people take advantage of me and I don’t fight back. They say I never get angry, that it’s not healthy to withhold wrath from those who hurt me.
They are undoubtedly right.
I don’t give love in order to receive love. Sometimes I love those who love me back. Sometimes I love those who hurt me. One love isn’t greater than the other. The practice of loving is the practice of loving. Love is its own reward, regardless of the outcome.
Breathe in, breathe out.
I don’t think it is in spite of, but rather, because my mother so tragically taught me that love is a weakness that I refuse to withhold my love or require people to earn it. Unlike Zephyr, I may struggle to accept love, but I offer it unabashedly and completely, and I no longer see this as a source of shame, but as a source of strength. What I used to hate myself for, I no longer work to change. Yes, I love those who hurt me. And yes, sometimes that gives them license to hurt me again. Does this sometimes cause me to suffer? Yes.
As the Buddha says, life is suffering. (Or as Westley says to Buttercup, “Life is pain, Highness. And anyone who says anything else is selling something.”) To deny suffering is to deny reality and to suffer more. Loving someone who doesn’t love you back is painful.
But maybe not as painful as not loving.