by Julia Steiny
In the Old Testament, when God tells Abraham's wife Sarah that her deepest wish to have a child would come true, she laughs. Hard to imagine laughing at God, but surely she had some bitter feelings about how out-of-the question a pregnancy seemed for her. She said, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?" Those of the Judeo-Christian tradition know that she did conceive and bear Isaac. She did "have pleasure."
I doubt there is a greater pleasure than having a much-wanted child. To boost the survival of the species, Biology has installed a powerful set of instinctive feelings designed to deliver selfless, adoring care to the next generation. I was blown away, as a new mom, juggling fussy twins no less, by the oceanic love that washed generously over the whole messy business. Ever since, I've felt that having a child is far more like being in love than being in love. That's no small statement since I married for cucu, romantic love and no other reason.
The ancient world often underscored important ideas with a story of a miraculous birth. Dionysus means "twice born," and in his case the second time was from the thigh of Zeus, indicating that divine connection.
New Testament tradition has it that Mary's parents, Anna and Joachim, were outcasts because their community interpreted their barrenness as a sign of divine displeasure. After 40 days of separate prayer and fasting, angels told each of them that they would not only get their wish for a child, but that she would be special. So thrilled, they embraced publicly when they reunited at the Golden Gate for one of the only kisses recorded in the long Biblical tome of domestic and political stories.
Kings and conquerors could build great monuments to underscore their importance. But regular people depended on more accessible and less expensive miracles to emphasize key points they needed to impress on their children. Human love is an impressive miracle and remains so today, however trivialized by the media. As a child and education advocate, I wish the sweetness of human interconnection could command more attention and discussion. Honestly I feel radical and exposed just bringing it up now, even at Christmas.
Because of course, in the paradigmatic homeless scenario, Mary brought forth her first-born son who, tradition has it, was bringing a message not just of love, but of the triumph of love. However much humans and institutions have distorted and abused love itself, the message itself stands strong: Love is the best response to all dilemmas. When looking at adversity through the lens of love, the resolution will go better for all involved. No matter how daunting the challenge.
At a recent wedding, a nervous friend of the bride's read the famous passage from Corinthians. In it Paul writes: "Love never fails." That day I was hearing it for the umpteenth time, and as if for the first. "Love never fails?" Oh, but it can and does, I thought. I struggle these days with an unrequited love in my own family. Families fight. Disconnections and misunderstandings take root, and love can seem nowhere to be found. Of course, that's the point of the passage in Corinthians, that love is work, done intentionally. It's patience in the face of conflict, kindness in the face of slights, forbearance in the face of insults. If we buckle down to the work, in time, love doesn't fail. Once they're past the blush of romance or childbirth, humans often have to love on purpose, mindfully, even when they don't feel like it.
Whenever I'm feeling badly treated, maligned, or, let's face it, merely having had my buttons pushed, loving back is still the best remedy for what ails me. No, it's not easy. But it never fails. It acts as healing ointment for any bruised heart, and leaves the door open to positive possibilities. There's no guarantee that love will bring about anything as miraculous as a full-on resurrection of badly-damaged relationship, but it does ensure some degree of redemption, every single time.
Because no matter what, the message of the season is right: love is miraculously healing. Teach kids love by modeling it.
Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal's education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she's been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, seejuliasteiny.com or contact her at [email protected] or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.