I sat in the middle of a town square yesterday, legs stretched out in front of me to ease my discomfort. Pain had overwhelmed my body, to the point where I had to sprawl out on the open pavement, but on my face, I wore the largest smile. I was filled with an incredible feeling of peace and love, and I was happy.
There I was, watching my child play, hearing my friends talk, and viewing strangers mill about with their families. We were all individuals, all disconnected from each other, yet we were linked by the desire to seek out the community, and to be a part of the thrum of humanity. It was a feeling that seemed to wash over that place. We were our own little bubble-filled society.
To me, it looked glorious.
I didn’t know if anyone else viewed the square the way I did; I didn’t know if the contagious atmosphere of love that seemed to pull us together was felt by anyone else. But, when I turned my smile to others–the man who had offered to play ball with my child, the man’s wife, who was playing with their child in the nearby fountain, the boys who ran up to watch a little toddler wobble about, and the group of women sitting in the grass, taking in the afternoon sun–they responded in kind. For a moment, we shared and basked in that happiness.
Had we been in a different situation: sitting in a group of like-minded individuals with shared beliefs, or behind the anonymity of social media, the situation would have changed. It may have even felt hostile. Because our beliefs, political stances, opinions, and personal life goals weren’t clear, the airy venue afforded us the unconditional advancement of kindness. The only thing we felt–the only connection we had–was through methods of happy smiles, carefree attitudes, and genuine waves of greeting.
See, when love overflows the heart, troubles of the world seem irrelevant. Isn’t that how it should be? Isn’t that how we should be living our lives? We seem to get caught up in complaining and distrusting people who don’t think how we think, people who don’t do what we want them to do, and about people we don’t like simply because they may have one thing that doesn’t fit our perceptions of a homogenous ideal.
If we only open our hearts to love people who think and believe like us, if we only accept those who willingly accept our ideals without question or argument, then life becomes complacent, and our hearts become hardened to the very concepts we believe we’ve molded our life around. Tolerance is not conditional to the things we want others to believe, and our heart is not loving when it is filled with hateful disregard for those who live differently from us.
And how different are they, really? Murderers, rapists, and pedophiles aside, all of our hardships in life look the same, though they don’t always occur at the same time. We all deal with hardships. We all deal with loss. We all get harmed, hurt, broken, and beaten. Life helps with that. We cope with stress, we let the battles overwhelm us, and we struggle to remain upright throughout the day.
Until we collapse, like I had, on the pavement of the town square.
Not one person on this planet is free of strife and worry, but when it consumes us–if we let it consume us–that’s who we become. We stop permitting ourselves to have a contagious, love-filled heart, and we become embittered to life. The moment anger is allowed to grab control and strengthen into unmitigated hate, we lose who we are as people.
There was only one man I saw this in last night. Whenever I smiled at him, he averted his gaze, and his lips pressed down into a thin line. He’d been staring at me throughout my time in the square, watching me talk and laugh with a friend, seeing our children play together, and hearing my interactions with complete strangers. Strangers who bid me goodbye as they walked away, hearts as happy as mine. What this man also noticed, because I couldn’t hide it, was the stilted way I walked, the awkward way I stood by using my hands to climb myself into a standing position, and the mindless way Mr. M and our friend reached out their hands to move me from sitting to standing when we were ready to leave the square. Through it all, he noticed my pain with a frown and an aside glare. Perhaps he distrusted my pain due to the smile on my face, but I am not one to wallow in self-pity when I have so much to be thankful for in life.
The moment we show anger or hate toward others is the moment we forget that we’re all on this planet together. We forget to be mindful of showing respect and gratitude, believing that our purpose is to do anything other than to love one another. Perhaps it’s worse: we only want people to show unmitigated love toward us, but we are unwilling to give that same respect back to them.
When hate creeps in, choose love. When doubt surfaces, turn to love. When a friend or colleague makes a claim you don’t like, choose love. A love-filled heart is contagious. It spreads hope and humanity, and is extended into our daily lives when troubles overwhelm. It is extended into our actions, our words, and our minds. Be mindful, be aware, and be diligent in the guarding of your heart. It is only when we choose love that we choose life.
As I walked away from the town square on legs that threatened to crumple under me, I was thankful for my moment away from the negativity and hate on social media, and thankful for the compassion and kindness I found in complete strangers. Thankfully, that wasn’t an anomaly in my world.
Thankfully, because I know a love-filled heart is contagious, these interactions are the expected.