Love is an emotion, certainly. But the feeling comes most often through small and precious acts of service to the beloved. The smallness of the act is actually important: it says to the person—I think about you a lot; even in these little, minute moments. The preciousness is equally profound—I know you. I know what you love and what makes you excited—and through these small and precious acts we create our most enduring relationships, and change our own character.
When I was 15 years old, I first became aware of the power of these tender acts of love. I heard about a “Laser Beatles Show” at the local planetarium in Salt Lake City. To say that I was fanatical about the Beatles is like saying that Stephen Hawking is pretty smart. It was beyond anything I will admit to. If the Beatles were mentioned somewhere on TV or the radio, I had to record it. If there was a t-shirt with an image that was somehow remotely connected with the Beatles, I had to buy it. I had their songs memorized and I was trying to learn them on the piano, I’d read their biographies, memorized their facts, even bought their solo recordings post 1969 (oh, Ringo). I had Paul’s picture in my locket. In keeping with this fetishness, it was obvious that I was going to that laser show.
The problem was, it was in Salt Lake City and I lived an hour away. So I told my mom that we needed to go up to Salt Lake that weekend with some of my friends and she needed to drive us. My intensity about this project was such that I didn’t extend the courtesy of asking—I just demanded. I was giddy with excitement and planned the evening with three of my friends. We all met at my house and my mom cheerfully got in the car and did not even attempt to quiet our teenage hyperactivity. She drove us the hour to Salt Lake, I’m sure we ignored her for the entire ride up while we were talking about our movie star or rock n’ roll crushes, and she found us a place to park near the planetarium.
I was beyond control by this point; we went into the planetarium to buy our tickets when we discovered, to my horror, that they were sold out for the 7:00 show. There was a 9:30 show if we wanted to wait, but we could not stay out that late. I was so disappointed and embarrassed—I had promised my friends a great evening and I could not deliver. My mom, standing in the background, suggested that we go look around the mall next door and get something to eat. “The night is still young; you don’t need to waste it on wishing you could be here.” So we left. Our spirits soon buoyed, as teenagers’ spirits do, and we were skipping along the street, arm in arm, singing something silly, making fools of ourselves and having a great time. Then I noticed that my mom was lagging far behind us. In retrospect, I could see that she may not want have wanted to be associated with us and our “exuberance”, but at the time, I suddenly realized what she had done for me that night. She had given up her Friday night to be a chaperone to a gaggle of hyper teenagers in Salt Lake City. She had been ignored all night, and she walked behind us so that she wouldn’t cramp our style as we were having a coming-of-age night as an independent group of friends in another city. Why did she care so much? How could she give so much, especially when I gave nothing in return? With tears surfacing, I called to her to catch-up and link arms with us. She refused—“No, you guys have fun! I’m too slow to keep up with you anyway!”
I could not bear to see her alone back there–the first time in my life that my love for someone else had completely overcome my personal desires. I forgot the Beatles. I wanted this night to be for my mom. My love was touched into action by her love for me. She was happy to see me happy and my happiness hinged on seeing her happy. That is a beautiful cycle. That is the nourishing and sustaining love of every great relationship.
After we looked through the mall, we ate at Wendy’s and I got a salad. I was sitting next to my mom and she got up during the meal for a minute. When she came back, she had a warm, newly-purchased breadstick in her hand. She gave it to me. Breadsticks are my favorite food group and she knew it. She also knew that I did not have enough money to buy one for myself when I ordered, but I wanted to be independent. Again, the tears welled up in my eyes and my heart overflowed with love for the woman who loved me and could sense exactly how to bless my life, as she has done since the day I was born.
It was just a breadstick and a ride up to Salt Lake City, but for some reason, at that moment in my life, it was an amazing spiritual experience. A lifetime of charitable acts flashed through my heart and it was beyond what I could bear with composure. I wanted nothing more than to make her happy. I wanted her to know how much I loved her and that I noticed and appreciated and valued everything that she had done for me. I just wanted to hug my way into her beautiful soul. That night, I learned that charity truly begets charity.
That day flashed through my mind just a few months ago when I was taking my own little girl, only 2 years old, to the grocery store for a special Mommy-Daughter time. She is the middle child, and it is a rare treat to have her all to myself. That day, she had adopted a little pebble as her toy of choice. A totally unremarkable pebble, but it was hers and she wanted to bring it with her. So up she went, into the grocery cart, and she set her rock on a little ledge in the cart where I stowed my wallet. After checking out, we bumped our way from smooth grocery floor to sidewalk to asphalt and she started crying because she lost her pebble. I thought—“Did she just notice it was gone? How long ago did it fall out? There is no way we are going back through the entire store looking for that rock. Choose any other rock on the planet! They’re all the same!” But as we were pulling out of our stall and passing by the entryway of the store again, I noticed a little blip on the paint near the asphalt. Could that be her rock? I quickly pulled over, jumped out and examined the pebble—it WAS hers! Her joy in receiving the rock matched my joy in being able to give her the little, precious thing that she wanted.
When it comes to showing love, it doesn’t really matter who loves you—what changes you is loving others. We go to the action films with our men, we hand wash the pink plate every meal because we know it will make the little diva’s meal taste so much better, we endure months of Saturday parades for our marching band participants (even when parades are a violation of the Geneva Convention in our mind), we learn all about dinosaurs so we can identify them on the fly for our budding paleontologists. We buy breadsticks and find rocks. We give of our selves, piece by precious piece until we are intertwined with those we love—our favorites are their favorites; their successes and sorrows make us weep. We love and know as we are loved and known. At that point, our love has evolved beyond emotion—it becomes a part of our being and character. As the wise Liverpudlians knew decades ago: All you need is love.