Doctor and author Rachel Naomi Remen always knows how to make me cry. I loved her insights before I was a mom, but I don’t know if it’s hormones, tiredness, or just the extra tenderness that mommyhood brings out in me, but I need to keep tissues around when I read her.
The latest story I read in her Little Book of Kitchen Table Wisdom is one I really want to share. It reminded me that all of my obsessing about the big, huge responsibility of raising a child, especially my worries about how her childhood will impact her view of the divine, of whether or not the universe is friendly, is likely a whole lot of overkill. The simple (but is it simple?) task is to love my daughter unconditionally. Period. No exegesis needed. Here’s her words:
All love is unconditional. Anything else is just approval.
Approval is a form of judgment. When we approve of people, we sit in judgment on them as surely as when we criticize them.
The life in us is diminished by judgment far more frequently than by disease. One moment of unconditional love may call into question a lifetime of feeling unworthy and invalidate it.
As a child I spent many summers alone on a deserted beach on Long Island, gathering shells, digging for little clams, leading a far different life from the city life I led the rest of the year. There was great peace in these summers, a new ability to be without people and yet not alone, and I have many good memories of this time. Every morning the sea would wash up new treasures—pieces of wood from sunken boats, bits of glass worn smooth as silk, the occasional jellyfish. Some of my most vivid memories concerned the beautiful white birds that flew constantly overhead. I remember how their wings would become transparent when they passed between me and the sun. Angel wings. My heart followed them and yearned for wings to fly.
Many years later I had the opportunity to walk this same beach. It was a great disappointment. Bits of seaweed and garbage littered the shoreline, and there were sea gulls everywhere, screaming raucously, fighting over the garbage and the occasional dead creature the sea had given up.
Disheartened, I drove home. It was only later that I realized that the gulls were the white birds of my childhood. The beach had not changed. In the absence of judgment, many things can become holy.