I'll tell it to you straight: I don't deserve the love I have been shown by my "beloved community."
Now, before you get your panties in a twist, and start shaking your heads sadly, or shouting, "YES YOU DO!" at your computer screens, or frantically typing out your replies of "You are a person of worth and value, how many times do I need to tell you!?!"...please hear me out. Seriously. You can argue with me in the comments section when you're finished.
The thing is, I don't deserve this love. I have done absolutely nothing to earn it. There is not a rational reason I can point to and say, "yes, see here? According to the Official Karma Record, I have exactly 476.25 Karma Points, which made me eligible of 3 acts of little love or 1 act of Big Love, so it DOES look like I was due for some love. That must be the reason." The fact that I have received -- and continue to receive -- love from this community is literally beyond what I can understand. I've tried. I keep trying. And my thoughts keep coming back to: I don't deserve it...and yet it's there. It's just there.
Perhaps it's because I am a behavior psychologist and I like having data: I LIKE being able to graph rates of behavior and make decisions based on that data. I like being able to predict what behaviors will happen. I am good at looking at the antecedent (what happens before the behavior) and the consequence (what happens after the behavior that either maintains or extinguishes the behavior) and determining why the behavior is occurring, and what you/I /we can do to make it continue or make it stop. My head understands behavior.
And my heart -- my heart understands gratitude, and she understands how to Be With, and she understands listening, and witnessing, and being present. I like to think that she understands giving love, and she understands loving. She understands whole-hearted ways of being in this world, and she understands being present with the good, and the bad, and the ugly things together.
But I don't understand this love. I don't deserve it. I didn't earn it. There is nothing I could possibly do that would make me worthy of love like this. I'm driving myself crazy, trying to understand the how of the how, and the why of the why, and I can't seem to get to either. Yet even as I struggle, the love is there. It just is. As though it were the most common thing in the world, it's there.
To put it bluntly, love like this scares the shit out of me. It makes me want to run away. To disappear. To be there in community one day, and then to never come back. I want to get out before I lose it, before it's taken from me, before everyone realizes I'm not really worthy of it after all. I don't want to go through the pain of losing that love -- and that surely will happen, given that even its very presence is not rational. I convince myself every week that I will go to church, and suddenly, inexplicably, I will be alone. I steel myself for this possible reality every week -- and every week that it does not occur, I feel tremendously blessed. Lately, I've tried to convince myself that I will go, and I attempt to remain apart. I'll just go quietly and leave, I think. I won't talk to people, I won't engage. I'll just sit quietly and leave.
But then people come to me and say things like, "I didn't get a hug from you...my week would have been 'off' if I didn't get a hug from you on Sunday."
And I tell them, "you're right," because they are, and I am pulled into engaging, and loving, and letting myself be loved again.
From my vantage point in the choir, I can look around and see the faces...or at least the back of the heads...of many people I know and love. I can watch the simple acts of love and kindness that are done over, and over, and over again on Sunday mornings: hugs. A hand on the shoulder. Questions asked. Conversations had. Smiles, and laughter, and tears, and everyone just being together in all of the hustle and bustle of singing, or setting up, or setting out snacks, or just standing or smiling or sitting together. I watch the faces of the children as they leave for their classes, and I marvel at the way they wait for one another, or grab a sibling's hand to help them through the gaggle of children leaving together. I listen to the words of love and belonging that are said every week, and this week, in the middle of all of that, I had a startling revelation. A revelation that may be controversial. A revelation you may not want to hear me say, but I'm going to say it anyway. (Again, arguments are welcomed in the comments section below).
Sitting in the middle of the alto section today, what I realized was that I was right. That I could stop the struggle of trying to figure it out: I'm not deserving of this love, this community, this gift of friendship. In fact, none of us are. As I looked around, I realized that none of those incredibly beautiful people -- not a one -- was not deserving of love and community, and yet, certainly, there were many people there today who have experienced isolation, and pain, and harm at the hands of another. Looking at the beautiful people in front of me, I realized that although none of them would ever deserve to be harmed or hurt or lonely or unloved, it has surely happened to many of them. This, perhaps, is just the other side of that coin: just as no one is deserving of pain and harm and isolation, none of us are deserving of this love. In order to be deserving of love, there must be some who are not -- or there must have been a time when I or others were deserving of hurt and betrayal and pain. I don't know about you, but I cannot believe that's true.
So what I was struck by today was the fact that we are here, together, in this beloved community anyway, loving in spite of the fact that we have felt unloved, and being loved in spite of the fact that we do not deserve it.
This was, strangely, the most comforting thought that could have come to me today: it is a fact that we are not, actually, deserving of this love and community and support and care. None of us -- not one of those many, many beautiful faces I looked at today -- none of us -- are deserving of the love I have been shown, or of the love I watched them show to one another, or of the love that I feel for them. And that is precisely why it's there. The fact that we don't deserve it...that we can't earn it...that is why they do it. Why we do it. That is why we show up, and sit together, and sing, and listen, and learn, and share, and why we ask about each other's lives, and why we learn to be with one another. We don't deserve it. We didn't earn it. We do it because it's necessary. Because if any of us are going to hope to travel through this life, we are going to need to have loved and been loved.
Earlier this week, I was able to articulate the terrible paradox I seem to be living on the wrong side of: before you know deep betrayal, or hurt, or violence, you never imagine that it could happen to you. After you know deep betrayal, or hurt, or violence, you can't seem to imagine life happening any other way. Yet, in spite of that, I can also be loved, and be shown kindnesses that swallow me up in their warmth and holiness. It doesn't make sense. In fact, it's actually really confusing, and no matter how hard I try, I will not be able to tease apart the how of that how or the why of that why. It is irrational, and undeserved, and scary as hell, and also beautiful, and precious, and everything that I want for the world. It doesn't make sense and that is, exactly, the thing that makes it right.
Even after that moment of clarity, and even after this writing and thinking, I still feel very much like I want to run away. I still feel very much like the best possible solution would be to pack my bags and move on before the fact that I don't actually deserve this becomes widespread knowledge.
But I won't. Yet. Instead, I'll try to sit with the knowledge and consideration that I don't deserve it. I can't. It will not make sense. And yet, it exists, and it is precious, and it's the only way to get through this life, and it is mine for the moment if I choose to step inside it.
There is no how of the how, or why of the why. It is irrational, and that fact, and that fact alone, is precisely the thing that makes it right.