By Kelly Wickham
“When do you know you’re in love?”
I remember asking my mother that question when I was a young girl. It’s a common question, I think, for children to naturally wonder about that even if they’ve grown up in a home where love is common, affection is often given, and their comfort and safety are secure. My own children each asked me this question, too, once they were old enough to comprehend the verb “love”.
When I first became a mother I was surprised by love and how much of it I felt, and also by how much I had to give. That’s a nice surprise about being a parent, but it makes me wonder when else that happens. We move in and out of relationships as growing humans, and find ourselves in places where the people we meet awaken something in us that was previously dormant. For instance, I know how much I loved my friends growing up as an adolescent, but I never expected to love my adult friends the way I do. That has been a surprise of love that I didn’t know was coming.
Another way I’ve been surprised by love is with the people I work with and the students who attend my school. As a brand new teacher in the early 90s, I recall an older administrator in my building whose advice to me was never to hug my students or let them know I cared about them. That seemed contrary to the connections I was already building with them and it made me pull back from them. It took me a few years to realize this was a mistake and that it was okay to open my heart up to them. Many of them keep in touch with me to this day and we make coffee dates or have dinner or even attend Christmas parties together.
As a classroom teacher, I asked myself that adolescent question: How do I know if I love my students? Is it okay that I feel so strongly about them? My answer came when I attended the first funeral of a student and I bawled uncontrollably because I gave myself permission to simply feel for them. I cried for all the dreams I wanted for his future and all the tender moments I witnessed between the friends who came to mourn together.
Since then, I have attended more funerals than I care to admit. Students who have been in car accidents or succumbed to cancer and even one who slipped in a parking lot and fell on his head the wrong way. One funeral, for a popular basketball player, made me realize something about the love we experience with our teenage friends: these are things that will never leave them. It was not just the loss of the young boy, wither, but the caring moments I witnessed them sharing with one another. Many of them had never even been to a funeral before and didn’t know what to do so the adults, me included, took them by the hand to show them how to view the body and give condolences to the parents. It was by watching one such young boy that I realized that withholding love from someone with whom you spend an inordinate amount of time isn’t really the way I wanted to go through life. After that, I decided to love all of them and make it a conscious choice and to give freely what I had. I haven’t regretted that decision since that time.
Let love surprise you. When you give in and make the space in your life to care for people you’ll find that they grab a piece of your heart that was meant for them.
When have you been surprised by love?