It’s a pet peeve of mine—when people toss off I love you’s when there is no love or even consideration in their actions. Sometimes we accept it anyway—the dishonest, inauthentic, mediocre. Maybe we’re afraid not to—we don’t like confrontation or don’t want to be alone. Sometimes we have come to expect so little from life, from ourselves, from others, that we begin to think rote gestures and cliched phrases are love. We buy into synthetic appearances—like genetically-engineered food that looks good and ships well but tastes awful.
And I was thinking about how often a kind or humorous comment or even a smile by a friend or stranger has turned a bad day around for me. Yet when I am upset or afraid, and carrying these feelings around like cumbersome necessities, I’ll miss or ignore the simplest opportunities for kindness. Here are some thoughts on love in deed.
Let us not love in word, but in deed and in truth.
I John 3:18
Too late I understood
That love is not in the blood,
But in every simple kindness I denied
To those to whom I owed humanity,
Just because they were day by day beside me.
Kathleen Raine, The Oracle in the Heart
Love the earth and sun and animals,
Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks,
Stand up for the stupid and crazy,
Devote your income and labor to others . . .
And your very flesh shall be a great poem.
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
And here is an excerpt from the wonderful play The Weir, by the Irish playwright, Conor McPherson. It embodies the idea of love via conscious, simple kindness.
I just kept walking. There was a light rain. I just kept walking. And then I was in town… And I ducked into a pub. Little dark place. Just one or two others there. A businesslike barman… And I put a pint or two away. And a small one or two. And I sat there, just looking down at the dirty wooden bar. And the barman asked me if I was alright? Simple little question. And I said I was. And he said he’d make me a sandwich. And I said okay. And I nearly started crying—because, you know, here was someone just… and I watched him.
He took two big slices off a fresh loaf and buttered them carefully, spreading it all around. I’ll never forget it. And then he sliced some cheese and cooked ham and an onion out of a jar, and put it all on a plate and sliced it down the middle. And, just someone doing this for me. And putting it down in front of me. ‘Get that down you now,’ he said. And then he folded up his newspaper and put on his jacket and went off on his break.
And there was another barman then. And I took this sandwich up and I could hardly swallow it, because of the lump in my throat. But I ate it all down because someone I didn’t know had done this for me. Such a small thing. But a huge thing in my condition. It fortified me, like no meal I ever had in my life.