All about me a whirlwind of leaves, grass, and dirt swirled through the air. I stood in the center of it, cutting great swaths of manicured homogeny through the individuality of nature. The machine I was holding made a deafening noise, mindless in its monotony. Choking clouds of blue smoke belched out from it in spurts, and holding it shook me so hard that my arms had gone numb.
I was wedged between the wrong side of chain link fence and a copse of pines on top of a hill, literally cutting my way out through the underbrush. This was because my employers had decreed that both sides of the fence should be equally bland, and so I had made the difficult trek around the fence and through the forest to get to the other side. Until starting the machine I’d actually been enjoying walking through the forest.
My job was hardly a love affair. I wasn’t a rat in a maze of identical cubicles, but then neither was I an artist. Instead, I destroyed what I loved most. It was a bit of a mixed blessing. Sometimes I got to work in the dirt with my hands, coaxing life from the earth. Other days found me destroying life that someone else decided hadn’t grown in the right place. Even though a lack of college had twisted my passion for nature into an hourly wage, at least I had a job, and a man’s job is his bread.
Now that job had me struggling with an unwieldy stick of steel and fire while trimming the underbrush. The dense pines pressing in only complicated things, trapping exhaust from the machine and making it difficult to see where I stepped. But then something amazing happened.
Despite the noise and choking smoke, the tiniest of wrens flew out from the pines and landed on my finger. Before my mind even registered what had happened, the little bird looked up at me, chirped a single, barely audible question, and flew off.
It was in that moment, after the bird was gone and I realized what an amazing and impossibly random thing had just happened, that I understood something deep and profound about love. You see, we’re all in the exact same position I was in that day. We just don’t see it, because modern life is really just a big stage.
We’ve grown so good at playing our parts in the show that we forget how little of it really ever changes. Because of that, we forget to love the things that matter. Instead, we fall in love with the props. Then we wonder why our hearts get broken when what we loved was never even real. I only noticed it because of a little bird.
That bird was most likely scared, and confused, but then, so is love. It’s also messy, and often ugly. It screams, and yells, beating us in the chest one minute and then begging for attention and understanding the next. Caring about someone else enough to truly love them is a complicated affair. In choosing to do so, we’re forced into a process of discovery, and as any scientist will tell you, discovery is often violent and painful.
With love though, it’s just as likely to hurt us, because loving someone teaches us as much about ourselves as it does about the person or thing we’re in love with. Just as I’d found my love of nature twisted into a job, and that job had me destroying the very thing I loved, so our love of others is also twisted into something else by an uncaring world.
When you need to pay the rent and feed babies, morals are meaningless. Passion no more feeds a child than morality will keep him or her warm, but love is there. In fact, it’s everywhere, even when we can’t see it through the smoke or the trees around us, and it’s amazing.
Like a wild bird perched on the finger of a boy as he destroys his love in order to be a man, it asks us why. Why the hatred, the trouble, and the noise? Sadly, like that little bird, love is all too often gone before we even realized it was on our finger.
Then we’re left standing in the mess of what was. Our minds wander to what could have been, and that makes us hurt. The reality, however, is that life and love are what we make them. Love isn’t about taking care of your needs any more than it is about someone else taking care of them for you. Rather, it’s about you taking care of yourself in order to be strong enough to take care of someone else’s needs.
Unfortunately, many people think that they can just choose who they love. They ignore the facts of every other aspect of life, and cling to their dream, but they can’t have it. Ask anyone who tried to love someone who wasn’t in love with them. It just doesn’t work. You don’t get to choose who you love any more than you get to choose who loves you. The problem is that we live in a fantasy world where girls get Prince Charming and boys get a Princess, yet this is pure fantasy, and every day of our lives is proof that things just don’t work this way.
Think about it. Children don’t get to choose their parents, who in turn don’t get to choose their children, yet they love one another. Even with divorce, abuse, and everything else that can go wrong in a family, parents are still expected to take care of themselves so they’re able to provide for their children. This is sad, really, because too many people are never taught how to be that strong until circumstance or broken relationships throw them into it. They don’t know what love really is, leaving them emotionally and spiritually starved.
Many times these people confuse infatuation with love, approaching it from the perspective of a child. Everyone knows a child believes that if they love something enough, it will love them back. That’s because their world perspective is unconditional love given from their parents, which the children in turn reciprocate, but it isn’t the same. It’s absolute not a two way flow. The parents do all the work, and children are princes and princesses, but they see this as the way love is given and received. It is everywhere as they grow up, teaching them that the world operates the same way. When they’re adults, they pour their faith into the fantasy they were taught to believe in, without ever really understanding love.
Love is that bird. It’s a completely unexpected moment. None of us can choose it any more than I chose for a little bird to land on my finger. Spending your life looking for the perfect partner would be like me spending mine aimlessly wandering forests with a roaring machine in my arms, waiting for another bird to land on my finger. It simply wouldn’t work. Rather, it’s what you do that counts. You need to make a choice to love. What you get out of love is more about what you’re willing to put into it than what it starts out as.
Think about it. You plant a tree, but you don’t imagine it to grow according to any real specification, other than perhaps ‘woody and green’. When you grow vegetables, you have no idea where they’ll end up flowering, or the exact shape and size your tomatoes are going to be. Likewise, prince charming isn’t going to be on a white horse. He’s going to be the guy who thanks you, or who offers to help you, without expecting anything, and all the real princesses are going to be beautiful on the inside, no matter what their outsides look like.
Keep this in mind the next time you’re smashing your way through something you love in the name of your job, your beliefs, or the people you believe you’re being strong for. Think back to the heart of that person who landed on your finger out of nowhere, and imagine what you’d do if they flew away right now, before you even realized what you held.
While you’re at it, take a look at an old couple in love. Don’t ask yourself how they got there. All you need to answer the question is right in front of you. They got there because they made a choice to love what was in front of them, no matter what it grew to become. They stayed in love, because they understand that true love, real love, is never what you expect it to be.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a child, a parent, a husband, a wife, or a lover. All that matters is that you give love a chance to be whatever it will be, without forcing it to be what you want, or destroying it in the name of providing a better life for it. Sometimes, life just is, and living is enough. Your idea of happiness isn’t necessarily going to make someone else happy. Compromise, understanding, and forgiveness are what love is really all about, and it starts in our own hearts.