Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
When I was in Grade 10 I gave an oral presentation on Mother Teresa. While my classmates gave speeches about how they were going to be the next Wayne Gretzky, or why sleeping with multiple partners before marriage is a good idea (yes this was an actual thesis statement), I spoke about altruistic love.
I began with Saint Teresa’s famous quote “We cannot do great things, only small things with great love.”
I can’t remember a thing about the rest of my speech. But I’m sure it was full of passion and fancy words I found in my Merriam-Webster thesaurus. And I’m sure it did little to sway the hearts of my friends.
14 years later, I am only beginning to scratch the surface of what it means to love. I’m learning it has little to do with eloquent speeches and more to do with my day to day, minute by minute choices. Choices where the most loving path is the hardest one to travel, and where I mess up more than I don’t.
When racism and hate crimes, terrorism and suicides flood the news, and our communities, I think about why I make a choice to love others. And what it comes down to is this:
I love because someone has loved me first.
When someone in my life has reached out a hand to me, I have been given a taste of something beautiful. Something that supercedes myself, and my circumstances, my hopes and my failures. When someone shows love to me, there is something deep inside of me that comes to life. It is a power beyond understanding, beyond words. It is a quiet, soft, gentle movement, but it is strong. My heart remembers each smile, each hug, each question of concern for me. These simple acts have left a mark on me and because of this I do the same.
I give because I know what it is to receive.
I listen because I know what it is to be heard.
I forgive because I know what it is to be forgiven.
I am a friend because someone was a friend to me.
And the terrain of my heart has slowly begun to change. When someone leaned in while I spoke, or sent me that text, or brought me a meal, when I was wrapped in a hug, or asked how I was doing, I became a little bit lighter, a little more free. In these tiny moments of my life, though they are unseen to the men and women behind news cameras, mountains in me have begun to move. Mountains of greed and mountains of pride. Mountains of hurt and mountains of shame. Mountains of anger and mountains of jealousy. You don’t think we have that power? Let me tell you now, my heart, once a mountainous wilderness, has become an open country. Small things can move mountains, I am living breathing proof of this. We can do the seemingly impossible. Our actions are not inconsequential.
My son plays baseball on Monday mornings. After the hour long practice the kids make a circle around their coach. She tells them what an amazing job they did that day, practicing their batting and waiting their turn. She places a sticker on each of their hands. Then she tells them they need to do one more thing before they go. They need to stand up, find a friend, and give them a high-five and tell them they did great that day.
Maybe us grown-ups need to become more like the 4 year old wearing the over-sized jersey. Maybe the best thing we can do today is show someone that we see them, and tell them we think they’re pretty special.
Our lives may be more ordinary than that of a missionary nun, but that does not make our actions any less extraordinary. What you and I choose to do for one another matters. Whether we act in love or hate, we are changing each other’s hearts. Let’s not be mountain makers. Let’s search within ourselves for that great love Saint Teresa spoke about and share this with each other, crumbling mountains in the process.
But this is where I would slightly disagree with her quote. When we act in love, this is no small thing.
This is a great thing. It is, in fact, the greatest thing we could ever do.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. – Martin Luther King, Jr.