“Explore and expand your capacity for love and forgiveness. Love people who are unlovable. As G.K. Chesterton said, “love means to love that which is unlovable, or it is no virtue at all.” Who in your life is unlovable? What would loving them look like? How would it change you?” --Patti Digh
I just finished reading David Sheff’s remarkable book, “beautiful boy.” I hesitated for many months before reading this book, because I did not know if I could stomach it. If I could survive it. If I could relive it. But alas it kept popping into my consciousness and finally someone handed me the book and said, “it’s o.k. to read.” (I was also inspired by Sunrise Sister’s thoughtful book review here.)
You see the book is my story. It is my son’s story although the names have been changed as well as the drugs…well some of them anyway. It is a remarkable book. At times I felt like I was inside the pages. In fact, I had been inside the pages. Again, the places had been changed but the memories and emotions were the same. And as I read the quote above from Patti Digh’s 37 Days, I thought of my son and how many people deemed him along the way “unlovable.” I think of the judgment that has come our way. Of the many people that said “I would have given up on him long before now. How do you do it?”
And, today I think of the amazing gift that my son has given me. Because, yes, he is my flesh and blood and that alone (at least for a mother, I think) makes him lovable, but for many years and many moments he presented himself to the world as unlovable. And so I return to Patti’s questions: “What would loving them (the unlovable) look like?” “How would it change you?” and I return to my response: It is an amazing gift. It is worth the risk to love.
I am in no way the same person I was that gave birth to my own beautiful boy just over 19 years ago. I am not even the same person who bought him a puppy on his first day of grade school or the one who home-schooled him when he was 12. I am not even the same person who woke up this morning. Because, you see, my son, “the unlovable”, shook me out of my complacency. He taught me about pain and anger, about hatred and forgiveness, about fear and love.
He sent me on a path (unknowingly) toward wholeness. Loving him looks like a miracle. It looks like new breath…new life. It has changed me profoundly and taught me how to love the unlovable, beginning with myself.
I returned to school at nearly 50 years of age to pursue a career totally opposed to my ‘prior life’. (This kind of change was something I never dreamed I would do while I was “sleeping.”) I latched onto a verse. “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” I learned that I had to start with myself and that God would be alongside me in ways I never could have conceived. Before I could love my neighbor or my son or the unlovable, I had to learn to love myself. And so for me, “loving the unlovable” began a circular journey back towards myself and toward the 'unlovable.' And, the circle grows larger and larger every day.
And so, today I thank my own beautiful boy. I honor him and love him and am so grateful that I never gave up on either one of us.
So, I pose to you Patti’s questions: "What would it look like to love the unlovable? How would it change you?" Would you be willing to find out?