Written on May 13, 2014 at 5:29 pm , by Family Circle
We were watching Sleeping Beauty recently when my kindergartner pointed at the unconscious princess on the screen and said, “Mama, what’s wrong with her?” (Like death and taxes, princess movies can’t be avoided, especially by mothers of little girls.) My older daughter, Tish, 9, replied, “She’s sleeping and waiting. She can’t wake up till she finds true love.” Amma looked right at Tish and demanded, “Well, how’s she going to find anything if she stays asleep?” I laughed and thought: Excellent point. Then Amma asked me, “Mama, what is true love?”
I stopped laughing and stared at her. It seemed clear that my usual response—Let’s Google it!—wasn’t going to cut it. Amma’s thoughtful question required a thoughtful answer. I promised to get back to her and then pondered her question all day: Mama, What is True Love?
Sleeping Beauty got it halfway right. True Love is what wakes us and allows us to start living instead of just surviving. But I’m not convinced that life is a quest to find that singular soul mate who “completes us” (as Disney, with help from Jerry Maguire, may have us believing). I’m afraid this is a setup for bitter failure, because no one will ever complete us and nobody makes us happy. Our state of mind is more of an act of will than an uncontrollable result of circumstances and other people’s behavior. Happy people are not those who have found one perfect person to love: They are those who have found a way to truly love life—in the midst of all its imperfections.
At dinner that night I told my girls that as human beings we need to fall in love—with life first, which is the greatest relationship they will ever have. I explained that True Love is a decision some people make to trust, to always look for the good, and to consider every failure or distressing experience a necessary part of the journey. They don’t expect a prince to whisk them away because they don’t want to be whisked anywhere. And they don’t lie down and go to sleep. They stay awake and engage because they believe that life is ultimately on their side, even when it causes pain.
“Why does it have to hurt? Why does it have to be hard?” Tish asked me. “You know how math is your hardest class right now, but it’s also where you’re learning the most?” I explained. “It’s like that. Life is about learning, and we learn best when things get hard.”
This led to a discussion of the difficult things we often face. We talked about life’s ups and downs and excitement and dullness. We talked about how folks come and go without warning and often surprise the bloody hell out of us with their selfishness and their selflessness.
I asked my girls how they imagine they might respond to the beauty and brutality that life will ultimately put before them every single day. I firmly believe it is best to talk about these inevitable happenings before they happen—because I don’t want it to ever be a surprise. Nor should they view it as something personal. No matter who we are or how many rules we follow perfectly, there will be great pain and loss and joy and triumph. Life happens to all of us, whether we want it to or not.
My Amma must have been pondering the same thing because she wisely said, “I think we have to keep trying to love life even when it hurts our feelings.”
So we thought together about what we can do to keep loving life even when it hurts our feelings. The fix isn’t to seek out a new drug or drink or car or dress or diet or prince. Nor is it to curl up and go to sleep. No, we keep our feet on solid ground and we find the people, things, activities that make our souls sing, filling us up with beauty so we can make it through, even during our darkest moments.
And that beauty should be spread far and wide—in friendships and mountains and poetry and bike rides and work and art and always, always in service to others. You may find it in your children. Your dog. That majestic tree in the front yard. Deep breaths. Bluegrass music. Your partner. The ocean. Books. Yoga. The quilt your mama made with her own two hands. For me, these things are all my soul mates. It takes the whole world to fill me up, to “make me” happy. I’d never pin that job on just one person.
My girls and I agreed together that our best partner is the one who will most lovingly and supportively witness our journey—and the one whose journey we find most worthy of witnessing. And that, in the end, is the beginning of a truly beautiful relationship.
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