By Mary Boutieller
If we are wondering what we small, insignificant beings can do in a world that seems to sometimes spin out of control, it is both simple and profound—we can love, each in our own small way.
As we begin another year, I’ve been pondering what this life is all about. Why are we here, what in the world are we doing with our one and only precious lives, is there a purpose to all of this, or is it as some people say, “We are born, we live, we die, the end?” As I look back over the previous year, I have experienced both joy and sadness. I’ve seen massive good in the world and tremendous hurt, pain, and tragedy. In this country alone, the nightly news is so awful that I can’t bare it on a daily basis without wanting to numb out my feelings. It feels like we have become a nation wrought with gun violence, hate crimes, addictions, intolerance, disasters—both natural and manmade—and more. So I keep coming back to the fundamental question: Why are we here? What is our purpose? What can I do as a small and insignificant human being to make any difference?
The answer, it seems, is actually pretty clear to me…I can love. I can reach out of my protective shell and care about others; I can recognize my own demons and try to find compassion for myself and for others. I can love—in spite of the pain or the desire to curl up and hide in hopes that “it” will go away; I can look in the mirror and look out at those in front of me and seek understanding.
There are examples of love all around us: a wife who sits hour by hour at her husband’s side while he waits for a lung transplant; a volunteer who serves dinners at the Salvation Army; grandparents who upend their lives to take in and love a grandchild; the Hospice nurse, all nurses, all volunteers, all teachers; people who lend a helping hand without looking for compensation; strangers who smile at you or say a kind word or give you a hug at just the right moment.
Poet and author Anne LaMott said this: “Love has bridged the high-rises of despair we were about to fall between. Love has been a penlight in the blackest, bleakest nights. Love has been a wild animal, a poultice, a dinghy, a coat. Love is why we have hope.”
I remember reading a newspaper story a long time ago about a driver who accidentally hit and killed a woman who was crossing the street with her husband. As the tragedy unfolded and the driver cried in horror at what had happened, the husband, a devout Christian, held him and said something like this: There is nothing more we can do for her; lets you and I pray together for ourselves and our own healing. I’ve remembered that story for so many years—finding love, forgiveness, truth in the midst of pain and loss.
Recently I read a story in a book called Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver, about such love. The story took place in the hills of Lorestan Province in Iran, where a lost child was found alive in the cave of a bear. The parents of the child had left him in the care of a young girl while they went out to work in the fields. Imagine their horror as they learned that their young child had wandered off and was missing. They and the other villagers started to search, moving further out into the rocky outskirts of the village in hopes of finding the child. It was cold and dark and there were lots of creatures out there, including bears. Many of the villagers gave up and went home, trying to convince the father that this child of his was gone. But he did not give up. He convinced several villagers to keep looking over the course of several days, until they found themselves near some of the caves inhabited by bears. As they entered one of the caves, they heard a small cry—the boy was in the cave and so was a large bear. To their surprise, what they found was a mother bear, who had maybe lost her own cub, and who had nursed and protected this little, vulnerable child and kept him alive.
As I read this story, which may be a parable and not a “factual” account, my heart was moved by the unspeakable power of love: the love of the parents and their unwillingness to give up; the instinctual, maternal drive of the she-bear as she fed a helpless, hungry child. True story or not, it reminded me of a kinder, more gentle, hopeful world.
Another story of love took place in the worst of circumstances: a mass shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 people dead. A newspaper article talked about the “Jewish nurse” who treated the shooting suspect, Robert Bowers. The registered nurse, Ari Mahler, was on duty at the hospital that day, panicked with worry that his parents could have been victims in the shooting. And then the shooter was brought to his hospital, needing care. Can you imagine?
When asked how he could have treated this man, Ari said this: “Love. That’s why I did it. Love as an action is more powerful than words, and love in the face of evil gives others hope. It demonstrates humanity. It reaffirms why we’re all here…I could care less what Robert Bowers thinks, but you, the person reading this, love is the only message I wish to instill in you. If my actions mean anything, love means everything.”
I am continually humbled by this message of love when every instinct would be to run, to hurt back, to turn away. I’ve kept this article and have read it several times, as a reminder of what love is and what it can do.
There are examples of love everywhere; we only have to open our eyes to it. And if we are wondering what we small, insignificant beings can do in a world that seems to sometimes spin out of control, it is both simple and profound—we can love, each in our own small way. We can find the strength to reach out, begin again, and be better angels, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in the world.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said this, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Love yourself, seek grace and understanding, show love, and be love in your own unique way. Let go of grievances and imaginary separations and choose to make this world a better place, one simple act of love, of kindness, of compassion, at a time. This is who we really are, and this is why we are here.
Mary Boutieller is a Registered Yoga Teacher through Yoga Alliance. She has been teaching yoga since 2005. Her work experience includes 22 years as a firefighter/paramedic and 10 years as a Licensed Massage Therapist. Mary’s knowledge and experience give her a well-rounded understanding of anatomy, alignment, health and movement in the body. She is passionate about the benefits of yoga and the ability to heal at all levels through awareness, compassion, and a willingness to explore. She can be reached at: SimplyogaOm@gmail.com.