Unconditional love really exists in each of us. It is part of our deep inner being. It is not so much an active emotion as a state of being. It’s not ‘I love you’ for this or that reason, not ‘I love you if you love me.’ It’s love for no reason, love without an object
~ Ram Dass
Close both eyes; see with the other one. Then, we are no longer saddled by the burden of our persistent judgments, our ceaseless withholding, our constant exclusion. Our sphere has widened, and we find ourselves, quite unexpectedly, in a new, expansive location, in a place of endless acceptance and infinite love.
~ Gregory Boyle
Love immense and infinite, broad as the sky and deep as the ocean – this is the one great gain in life. Blessed is he who gets it. ~ Swami Vivekananda
The pueblo comes alive on Sunday nights, even in the oppressive heat of summer. As nighttime falls, the pulsating sounds of Banda music and the old time romantic strains of Vincente Fernandez fall into an uneasy harmony with the chirps of geckos and the buzz and hum of cicadas. All around life is expressing itself, born into and out of the thick, still ocean air. Everything, it seems, is sweating.
The backs of my hands and the back of my neck drip and shine as I take each item of clothing out of the laundry basket to hang on the line. I know that they won’t dry overnight, in this heat, in this overwhelming humidity, but there are so many loads to do, I just keep moving them along. They are not my clothes I am folding. They are the little clothes of two little Australian boys, two newish friends, who have been essentially deserted in this dusty town by a father who, overwhelmed with PTSD after fighting multiple tours in Afghanistan, one day left in a cab saying he would come back soon – the boys have not seen him since – and a mother who seems to be doing all she can just to stay alive, including sending the kids off daily to find work for food. Two little boys who told me that, at first, they were uncomfortable with being touched or hugged, and who, in just a few hours changed their tune completely and asked for hugs as they left, bellies full with their first meal of the day so late tonight, boys who, after being hugged once each, opened their arms again, saying, “One more for the road?”
As I pull each piece of clothing out of the basket – a ripped and stained tee shirt, a ragged pair of pants, Spiderman pajamas, all impregnated with the tell tale smell of homelessness, a stain and smell that mocks my little washing machine, taunting, as if to say, “I dare you to forget whose clothes you are washing,” – as I clip each one to the line to sway in the symphony of sound that fills the night, I feel engulfed in a love so powerful it makes me feel faint. I pause for a moment, allowing this profound love for these little boys to wash over me, through me, fully bathed in a love for them that is so complete, so penetrating, it feels as if my sweat itself has turned into this love, being generated from both within and without, covering every inch of my body, filling every corner of my consciousness. I reach my hand deep into a tiny pant leg to pull it right side out and a thought hums through the night into my heart, “I have a heart shaped uterus.”
I sit for a moment, leaving a pile of damp clothes in the basket, suspended in time and space as my mind retreats backward several years, back to when I was trying to have a child of my own. The dark night, heavy with moisture, always reminding me of a pregnant sky, just waiting to birth a torrential downpour, changes for a moment as I allow myself to be transported to a very different place.
I am at Seattle Reproductive Medicine. The walls are high with floor to ceiling windows and a winding, open, light wood stairway. The entire building smells vaguely chlorinated, like the smell of a fancy hotel lobby that boasts its own waterfall, or some gigantic aquarium, fish swimming endlessly, trapped in a world that is and is not their own. I see the green of well tended potted plants, and the emotional shades of all the people coming and going, all in different states of waiting, some nervous, others giddy or optimistic, some heart-broken, others despairing or resigned. I had been in all of those places, and finally in the end, after walking into that lobby countless times, after swimming in that reality for a year, maybe two, maybe more, after being poked, prodded, counseled, cajoled, anesthetized, and awakened, I knew that world was not mine and I never wanted to climb those stairs again.
The kids ask me, “Why don’t you have children of your own?” I tell them that we tried, that we wanted to, but it just didn’t work out. I don’t tell them that I might have been too old, that I might have had polyps, that I might have just been infertile, that I had a heart shaped uterus. They nod as if they understand. And maybe somehow they do.
During that time of grappling with infertility, the heart shaped uterus was the most poetic thing I heard, that poetry holding a drone note against all of the other beautiful and ugly things I heard at the same time. “God has another plan for you,” “You are the best aunt!” – the consolation prize I called it – or, and yes, this is true, “You are too high strung to have a child, you should relax and things would be different,” or from those good old yoga folks, “You are too pitta. Maybe you should change to an Ayurvedic diet.” Funny though, the one that always got me the most was one that was never said directly to me but, at a time when I was most sensitive to these sayings, was one that I heard often: You can never know love if you don’t know the love of a mother for her child. Look it up. You’ll find it in articles, speeches, memes. And yet, while the intellectual side of me knew that was probably one of the more ridiculous things I had ever heard – what about fathers? What about adoptive parents? What about people who choose not to have children? Will they really go through their entire lives not knowing love? Can the hubris really be so great as to believe that there is this one type of love that is bestowed only upon those of us sattvic or smart enough to bear our own children? – even as I knew the impossibility and conceit of that thought, something within me still withered in the wanting.
And yet, some part of me also knew that I had already known that love. Something in my heart always pulled me back to the first time I had that experience of ultimate, profound, unconditional, “I would die for you” love. I was eighteen years old and had been named the godmother of the first grandchild in our family. I recall even now as if it were yesterday, holding Nathaniel in my arms, tucked inside the long woolen trench coat that was one of my early 80s fashion mainstays. We are standing on a hill next to the farm where my brother and his wife lived, they themselves only in their early twenties. It is a cold fall day and Nathaniel’s nose and cheeks are cool and red, his breath warm against my neck as I protect him inside the fortress of my coat, pressed against my chest, against my heart. To this day, nearly forty years later, I can close my eyes and feel the wash of that moment, that knowing, “I love you more than I have ever loved anything in my life.” There would be many more of those moments to come, my other nieces and nephews, my neighbor children here in the pueblo who call me their “segunda mamá” and now these little Australian boys. That feeling of care so profound, that desire to protect so fierce and that possibility of loss so humbling.
And yet, I came to understand more fully what it was that I wanted in my own child, and why I still carry grief and longing, although now more tender, more faint, more integrated. What I wanted was one that looked like me, one that I could shape, that I could mold, one with whom I could have a certain type of intimacy, one for whom I was the center of the universe. One who, at the end of the day, was my creation, and therefore reflected my own ego. I wanted an attached kind of love, I wanted them to need me and only me. I didn’t want to be segunda mamá, I wanted to be primera mamá.
This is a natural desire, and one that is conditioned – biologically, but also very much socially. I began to untangle this desire, this particular longing, the first time I got to be in the presence of my beloved teacher Ram Dass. I remember walking into the room where he was and nearly falling to my knees. The love he was directing toward me was palpable, almost too much to bear. He looked at me with that penetrating look of love that is the hallmark of his teachings, and then said to me, before any formal introduction, “I love you. I love you so much,” and held my gaze, unselfconsciously, the way a parent gazes on their child, not afraid to lock and hold eyes, almost as if it would burn to look away from something so beautiful. “I feel that, Ram Dass,” I said, and knew already in that instant that I had been changed by this moment, but the depth of this absolute, unconditional love. But then Ram Dass turned to the wall and placed his hand on it. “I love this wall,” he said, and then rubbed his hand along the smooth plastic of his wheelchair, “and I love this chair.” He looked up an waved his arm through the warm tropical air of his guest house where I was staying, and said, “I love all of this.” His eyes sparkled and shone, and he returned his gaze to mine, smiling “and I love you.”
I wasn’t sure what to say, or do or think. Suddenly, but just for a moment, his love for me felt cheap, mass produced, calculated. His love for me was, just for that passing second, no longer special – was there really no difference between me and the wall, the chair, the air?
But Ram Dass was teaching me one of the most important lessons my heart has ever heard. That there is another kind of love – without attachment, without ego – an impersonal love that is not cold, or distant or calculated, in fact, it is unbelievably pure and profound because it has no boundaries, it has no limits – it transcends our ego identification, our pleasure or distress with our “creation.” It is a love that allows our hearts to break open for all of humanity, for children who come into our lives, hungry for food, hungry for touch, hungry for care and kindness. In some ways, it may only be because we have limited ourselves by directing or experiencing that kind of love only in relationship to our own children, that we come to believe that it is they – the object of that kind of love – that is generating that capacity for that particular breed of love within us, and with that belief, the belief that others who do not have children will not experience it. In fact, it may be that the meme could change, “You can never know love if you know the love of a mother for her child, because you will be led to believe – through that experience of attachment – that it is the only way to experience the depths of pure love.”
But who wants that meme? Who wants to argue over love and who can experience it and how? We can’t ever know another person’s inner experience anyway. What we feel as the somatic experience of love inside of ourselves might be exactly the same or wholly different from the way another person’s inner life reveals itself through sensation.
We can all know, feel, and be brought to our knees by the experience of loving and of being loved. We can train ourselves out of the belief that one love is more than another and allow ourselves to simply experience love in its own purest expression. We can all cultivate within ourselves the imperative to act out of and into this love in ourselves for and from others, we can see that the whole of humanity longs for the same thing – to be loved, to be nourished, to be fed, to have their clothes washed and hung and their dignity restored, to be seen as the most precious being ever to exist, simply because they are, not because they are yours.
A heart shaped uterus – a bicornate uterus – is a uterus that has not formed the way most do. Instead of being pear shaped, it dips in the middle, forming a heart shape. This heart shape can make it more difficult to retain pregnancies because the embryo finds nowhere to attach. A heart shaped uterus defies attachment. A heart shaped uterus is an “anomaly,” defined as “something that deviates from what is standard, normal or expected.”
I have finished hanging the clothes. The geckos still chirp and the music still plays. Sounds of roosters, and laughter and familial joy float all around me, as if mirages coming up from the heat, even this late at night. My skin is wet, from the laundry, from sweat, but now too from the rain, just beginning. The sky, so overfull with its creation, has now birthed a down pour, and the clothes just hung are now smiling under the soaking rain, they themselves now something that deviates form what is standard, normal or expected. Clothes hung out to dry in a downpour at night.
But I am comfortable with this. Because I know the yield will be something even cleaner – these clean clothes, still holding the grit of their tiny difficult lives – being washed and purified in this rain. I sit on my porch and watch the rain pour down, my heart on the verge of exploding with love for these children, for this opportunity, and for my heart shaped uterus that has allowed me to know a secret of the universe – something that deviates from what is normal or expected – the knowledge that this depth of love is for all of us, right here, right now, that we need only to open ourselves to, to stop telling ourselves the limited story of what love we are capable of and for whom, and to allow ourselves to receive this most precious gift of all – that this capacity to love and be loved is as close to us as our own sweaty skin, we need only lean into what deviates from the standard story.
I am back to the moment when the boys asked me why I did not have children of my own. They all look me, somewhere between uncomfortable and compassionate. Finally one says, “Maybe you weren’t supposed to have kids so you could look after all of us.” “Maybe,” I say. Then the younger one – just ten years old – follows up. “My mom says some people are not supposed to have kids because God has a different spiritual path for them. I think that God has different path for you, Molly. I think this is your spiritual path.” He spools another forkful of spaghetti covered with bacon and jams it into his already full mouth. “Maybe,”I say.
The rain pours down, my love rises up, the music still plays and I know that this experience of love is as deep as it gets. And I am full.