On my second trip to Australia, I was in a Melbourne restaurant with several friends for dinner when one of them, an Australian, went with me to pick out a dessert. There was this gloppy mess of a cake and I asked Susan what it was. “Oh, that’s very Australian,” she said. “It’s sticky date pudding.” As she would later say, it’s mostly made up of butter and sugar (plus some dates). While looking quite like a messy cake, and obviously very sticky, it’s a wonderful dessert that I easily fell in love with.
Life is messy but nothing is messier than love. I think of that sticky date pudding, and the sweetness of the cake and smooth texture. But also the gumminess of it on the fork, the plate, and your hands if you’re not careful. We expect that love will be perfect, that when we love someone we won’t hurt again, and we won’t fall out of love with them. Some of us grew up dreaming about fairy-tale love or fairy-tale families that loved us. We thought about how love would conquer all, how love would make everything perfect, how once we found that perfect person to marry, all would be great. There would never be another worry because love would take care of it.
Love is work though. Sometimes we want to wring the necks of people who love (be honest, you know it’s true!). It forces us to reach outside our comfort zones, to do things for the people we love even though it’s difficult for us. We become better people because we love and force ourselves to take part in it. While we enjoy the sweetness of it, we also must get the fork and the plate dirty if we are to truly grasp the full meaning of what it is to love. And be loved. We must reveal our whole selves to be loved. Many songs have lyrics that say something along the lines of, “I’ve seen the best of you, now I want the rest of you.” We don’t often realize the difficulty of revealing everything about us if we are to be loved. Dust bunnies under the couch, chipped nail polish, and all.
The reality of love is that it appears on our doorstep at our house, dressed as the white glove lady, while we stand there waving our hands and looking at the mess in the house saying, “But I wasn’t ready for you!” Love doesn’t come when we want it to. We might think we have to work more on our career, that we aren’t fully recovered from a previous relationship, or that our lives just aren’t where we want them yet if we are to let love in the door. But love comes to us when it’s supposed to. The universe’s timing is perfect even though we often don’t understand it.
Love doesn't come when we are ready nor can we use an all-purpose cleaner to keep it shiny and new. Love doesn’t work that way. Life is unexpected and love comes in unexpected places. My friend Jeff said to me a few weeks ago that the element of not knowing is what makes life so great. I thought about banging my head on the table, thinking of the many unknowns in my life. I long used up that all-purpose cleaner trying to control love and make it perfect. Or at least make it the perfect love I dreamed of. Love can hurt. Sometimes it makes us hurt the people we love or the people we love hurt us. It comes to us when we don’t feel we are ready although it has a reason for appearing. And we might not understand that reason as we step on the road to travel with it.
In times of loss and change, it’s easy to overlook the love in our lives. As I heard last week, sometimes we have to love people for what is best for them, not always easy for us though. We have to let go of our own needs and wants for someone else’s. That can be extremely difficult when we feel pain for what we have lost, for what has changed, for what we aren’t sure is next. That’s because, love, like life, is messy. And that’s what makes it worthwhile. Just like sticky date pudding.
Michelle Linn-Gust, Ph.D., is an international author and speaker about finding hope after loss and change. She is the author of several books including Rocky Roads: The Journeys of Families through Suicide Grief and Ginger's Gift: Hope and Healing Through Dog Companionship. Her first book, based on the suicide of her younger sister Denise, Do They Have Bad Days in Heaven? Surviving the Suicide Loss of a Si..., inspired siblings around the world in their survival after a loved one’s suicide. She is the President of the American Association of Suicidology and lives in Albuquerque, N.M. Read more about Michelle at www.michellelinngust.com.
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