How a community of teachers showed me the true meaning and value of unconditional love
This morning, as I drove and the sun rose, the song “Good Life” by OneRepublic came on. I used to play this song for my oldest son when he was really little - too young to really understand the words. I’d play it for him and dance around the room, holding his tiny self and telling him he was going to have a “good good life”. Now he’s 10. He is full of exuberance and joy and believes in magic and knows inherently that he is going to have a good good life.
The song also brought me back to my years in college. I remember wonderful times with friends. I remember barbecues, too many nights at bars, lots of silliness, hiking in the mountains, camping, tubing, sitting in the sunshine reading, riding my bike or walking home at 2am, singing to myself out loud because I was so happy. During those years, I was full of an inner sense of expectation and excitement for my life ahead. I knew it could really be a good good life.
The young, if they are lucky enough to always have enough to eat and a safe home, and a loving environment, can begin life beaming with hope and delight at the path ahead of them. I was one of these young adults. I was masking a deep pain from the loss of my mom as a teenager, and the subsequent empty space and need for comforting, deep accepting love that was lacking after her death. But most of the time I didn’t feel the pain. I’d go on walks and hikes and wonder at the amazingness of the world. I’d daydream of my life ahead and be certain that I’d marry my true love and travel the world and be wildly successful in any endeavor that I chose. I knew that everything would come easily to me and that my life would be one happy moment after the next.
It has been 20+ years since those times. I have had wonderful moments. I did take some amazing trips, I found and maintained wonderful deep friendships. I have two children that I could never have imagined when I was younger, who fill my life with more depth than I ever expected. It has not been the exact life I anticipated. I did not marry my true love. I married because my pain caught up with me and I found someone who I believed couldn’t hurt me badly, and who I liked enough to hang in there with; someone I believed to be safe. I did not have incredible success as an actress or singer as I’d dreamed. I bounced around between jobs in order to make ends meet, and then stayed home with my kids for as long as I could. A few years ago when my marriage imploded and the reality of how much he could hurt me landed in my face, I lost all hope for a good life for a while. I lost my inner optimism and I fell down into a very dark hole. My understanding of the goodness in the world and my sense that everything would be ok, vanished.
But somehow, the world kept spinning. When I was at my lowest, new people entered my life: people who showed me kindness that I had not ever experienced before; people who showed me the meaning of real, unconditional love. I came out of a marriage filled with judgement and conditions, and landed in a place where the people loved me just because I was me. In this new community, I was surrounded by people who believed that there was inherent goodness in everyone. When they met me, they didn’t expect the worst from me, they naturally expected the best. They knew, when I didn’t, that I was worth loving, and trusting. They, who had fairly recently just met me, allowed me into their warm and comfortable and safe community. This is a school community. This is an environment of teachers and administrators who also love children in this way. I was welcomed in and invited to learn how to love in this way. At a moment when I could have shut down my heart and become jaded and bitter, I was given a chance to truly open. I was given a space in which to softly and safely cocoon myself while love held me gently, so I too could learn how to love unconditionally.
Now, I’m in training to become one of those teachers. I am learning about the meaning of this kind of unconditional love, and I’m learning how to use that understanding to help children carry it within themselves, into their adult lives.
I am often overwhelmed with gratitude for those who showed me what I'd only felt as a young child from my mom; the true value of unconditional love - love which is given gently and freely, without anything required in return. Because of them, my heart is open, and my way forward is brighter. This could really be a good good life.