I’ve been thinking a lot about unconditional love these days.
Love that never asks, needs, wants. Love shared without expectation.
Other before self. Love that never ends.
God’s love. A parent’s love. A puppy’s love, when its whole world is Y-O-U.
The most fortunate of us receive the gift of unconditional love from our parents. As parents, it’s the greatest gift we give our children: “I’ll love you forever and always. No matter what you did to the car.”
Unconditional love - so selfless, so profound – guides, inspires, shatters. The power of a bond so deep transcends life itself.
Throughout the pandemic, unconditional love has moved our world to tears. Essential workers, heroically and selflessly risking and sacrificing their lives for others humble and awe those of us who quarantine at home, unable to assist. Unconditional love also breaks our hearts as loved ones die alone in hospitals or nursing homes, and families mourn in seclusion.
Unfathomably, our country and world is also reeling from the shocking inhumanity of police officer Derek Chauvin. With vicious, depraved indifference to human life, Chauvin, - whose job description is to protect people’s lives and property - presses his knee into George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Mr. Floyd, handcuffed and prone on the pavement, pleads; bystanders shout; three police officers assist; a seventeen year old films. And Officer Chauvin murders.
For decades to come, George Floyd’s murder and the protests that ensued will be etched in our collective minds. We’ve long witnessed systemic racism that sucks the peace, faith, hope and life out of so many Americans and our communities. More audacious by the day, this intolerance is so abhorrent, it has superseded the devastation of losing 105,000 American lives and 40 million jobs. In pursuit of justice and change, Americans – and citizens throughout the world - march in the streets; taking a stand regardless of the possibility of contracting the Covid-19 virus, that, like centuries of racism, is unchecked, easily spread and lethal.
The devastating drama and trauma sparked by a murder in Minnesota echoes the excruciating months of quarantine. Again, those of us not doing the essential work of saving and protecting lives feel a need and desire to do something for our fellow citizens bearing a tremendous burden. But what can we – the majority of us - do or say to mitigate centuries of death, murder, violence, racism, discrimination, and grief perpetrated on minorities? How can we even begin to wrap our hearts, heads and arms around the anguish, fury, fear, exhaustion, and hopelessness endured by so many of our fellow citizens?
Surely we can march, listen, advocate, educate, vote. But trying to crush the instinct to discriminate and hate based on one’s race, ethnicity and/or skin color is like attempting to escape a black hole. An equitable, just, colorblind society cannot be legislated. Laws won’t change a person’s character or heart.
Perhaps the horror of George Floyd’s death, immortalized on film, has the potential to change both laws and hearts. Because amidst nine minutes of hatred and torture, there is a miraculous moment that bears witness to the power of unconditional love.
“Please, please, please!” “I can’t breathe…” “I’m about to die!” Mr. Floyd pleads.
And then: “Momma! Momma! I’m through.”
Confronting death, George Floyd calls out to the woman who gave him life. The mother who died two years earlier, on the same calendar day. As a mother, I can’t help but feel rage and anguish hearing Mr. Floyd’s plea, acceptance, and silence, as no one is there to defend and comfort him. As a child, blessed with 51 years of a mother’s unconditional love, I hear this plea and weep for humanity, wishing for the comfort of my mother’s hug.
Few of us should have been privy to that sacred moment. Yet, knowing that in the final breaths of his life Mr. Floyd longed for the source of his life, I felt the sacred transcend the darkness.
It got me thinking about love. The unconditional sort, like the eternal link between George Floyd and his mother. This shock to our moral core made me realize that the greatest gift we give our children is not unconditional love. The greatest gift we give our children is teaching them to love unconditionally.
In this long week of reflection and grace, I’ve just begun to answer one of my questions: What can I do about the centuries-old plague of injustice and violence perpetrated on and endured by so many of my fellow Americans?
I can’t change centuries of institutionalized racism. I can’t change the hearts and minds of the millions of Americans who support and defend a president who encourages and glorifies racism and violence. I can march, listen, advocate, educate, vote. I can keep trying to love unconditionally – even the racists and bigots.
And in this pivotal moment in time, I can call out the awesome power of unconditional love, so profoundly revealed in the last moments of George Floyd’s life. This moment demands that all of us wield this power: raise our voices and defend, our consciences and listen, our hands and protect. This moment demands that we share this power with our children by teaching them to love unconditionally: to think of neighbor as self, to see heart and mind instead of color of skin, to celebrate our differences and understand that every human being is worthy of dignity, love, and life.
Essential work, this.
Thankfully, all of us can do it.