“What if you could see that love is always here,
Living right inside–would you change your mind–
Why do people love you? Do you think that it’s the things you do?
No–it’s what you are.” -Charley Thweatt
I wonder if the most important lesson we can offer a child, the one that should be at the beginning of what we teach, is simply this: I see you. I love you.
Of course, that’s a hard lesson to teach, so I often try to put more words around it. I say, “You, as you are, are enough–enough to be respected, enough to be loved, enough to be.” Or, “I see the gifts you have for the world, and what you have to give is important.” Or perhaps, “You are brilliant–brilliant in the old sense, in the way that means full of light.” But at it’s heart, I think it comes down to love.
I have plenty of my own flaws, I fall short a lot, and there are still people who love me. Their love is not a reward for my actions. It’s removal is not a possible punishment for my mistakes–if it were, I’m not sure it would be love. Love, I think, is never earned. Love is a being thing. It’s something we are, when we choose to grow that way. Their hearts are open to me. I’m grateful for that–and to be honest, I’m awed, and inspired, and sometimes a bit bewildered.
It’s less bewildering when I think about the people I love. My love for them is a response to what they are. I don’t love them because they do what they do, but because I I see in the distance, like the edge of a continent I’ll never explore, the fullness, the realness of them. (Sometimes I choose to see that; sometimes it happens, like a storm breaking). Montaigne says that the only real explanation for friendship is, “Because I am I. Because he is he.” For me, I think, this love goes past humans. I have a stone I’ve carried with me for years, and I love it because it so fully is. Of course, everything that is exists just as fully, but I carry the stone because it reminds me of that. When I really feel the bark of a tree, I love it. When I hear the falling rain, I love it. And when I see you, when I see you as the unknowable world that is you, I love you.
I think this might be the most important lesson, because once we know that we are loved, we can share our own love. Once we know that we matter, we can respect our own gifts enough to share them with the world. Once we know that we are valued, the value of other people doesn’t need to be a threat–it can be part of our celebration.
So, my friend: may you see the value of everything around you. May you keep offering your gifts to the world. And may you remember that you don’t shine because of what you do. Brilliant means filled with light, and you shine for the same reason a candle does, or the sea at sunset. You shine because that is who you are.