How do you love the man sitting two seats away from you on the subway who’s blasting music through his earphones? All you hear is static and the broken beats to a song you don’t even like. It’s just so annoying. You want to sit back in peace – and concentrate your on the book you’re reading. But the music is too loud.
How do you love the security officer at the airport, who for as far as you can tell was only put on this earth to make your travel more unpleasant? Surely, his bad mood is directed only at you. He makes you wait in a line a moment longer. He complains because you didn’t take your belt off before going through the x-ray. He “randomly” selects you for additional screening.
How do you love the woman smoking a cigarette on the street-corner, who asked you for the fifth time in two weeks if she could have a bit of change? Her clothes are worn and smell funny. She’s always there. No matter what you give her, she’d most likely be back on that corner the next day. And the next.
How do you love the woman sitting nearby at the coffee shop, who, from the fragments you hear of her loud conversation on the phone, appears to have nothing in common with you. Not only do her beliefs not line up with yours, they run completely in the face of what’s most important to you. Nothing she believes makes any logical sense. She’s crazy. You’re sure of it.
How do you love your significant other after you misunderstand the intent behind their words and assume they’re attacking, berating, and disrespecting you. You get into an argument. The last thing you want to do is show love to the one you love.
How to love yourself when after failing again and again – never managing to achieve what you’re aiming to do? You call yourself a failure. You say you’re worthless and unlovable. You look so inferior in comparison to the perfect looking outer shells of everyone else.
There’s more to the old words, “love your enemies,” than appears at first glance. It’s easy to think of enemy in vague or distant terms. I imagine someone who does some great and terrible crime to me – someone so full of hatred and anger. And in that fantasy, it’s not so hard to love that person. It’s not personal. It’s not real.
But then there’s everyday life.
There are people who annoy me. There are people I disagree with. There are people I’m close to who hurt me, and I find it nearly impossible to show love to them in the moment. There’s myself. How do I show to love to everyone, even when it’s personal – especially when it’s personal? Is it even possible?
It’s easy to look at the difficulty and challenge and say that such love is impossible. We set ourselves up for the task of going from no love to complete love in an instant. We expect a miraculous transformation.
Yet like almost anything else that’s worth attaining, learning to love people takes practice. We get better at showing love by showing love in everyday circumstances.
Sometimes that practice is offering a brief prayer of compassion to that stranger on the subway. You wish that he’ll enjoy his music – that it will be a source of pleasure and happiness. You wish him a wonderful day.
Sometimes that practice is shifting from disparagement and judgement to curiosity. You start to wonder why the person acts the way they do and believes the things they do. You explore. You ask questions. You try to learn from them. And you discover that once you cut through the layers, you both have more in common than you’d initially thought.
Sometimes that practice is showing a small kindness despite your frustration. You let your actions initiate the feelings. If the person is deserving of your attention, then surely they can’t be a terrible person. Then surely they are lovable.
Sometimes that practice is breathing for a few seconds – pausing long enough to recenter yourself.
Sometimes that practice is remembering a time when you felt similar to the other person. You remember what it’s like to feel lonely, afraid, or unwanted. You see how deep down, their pain and struggle isn’t that different than yours. Everyone wants love – to be seen as human.
Sometimes that practice is remembering that the other person matters more than the argument you have with them – that it’s better to be be happy than to be right.
Sometimes that practice is showing an extra measure of grace. Yes you’ve failed, but it’s OK. That’s in the past. You can move on. You can create a different story for yourself.
The practice doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be all-encompassing. We learn to show love in small ways. But step by step the lens we see people through begins to shift. Love becomes a bigger and bigger part of our identity.
And given enough time, maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to love anyone.