Several weeks ago, a friend of mine and I were having a polite disagreement over the phrase “unconditional love” and whether or not it should be offered to anyone. The argument was: no one is perfect, and conditional love creates a carrot/stick approach to any kind of relationship. Will you always forgive a cheating spouse, a lying co-worker, and embezzling employee? Love he said, should have responsibilities. Love should have consequences.
While I agreed with his premise, this idea of unconditional love still seemed to haunt me. It is something you should feel in your younger years, but as someone who suffered from neglect as a child, I can’t pinpoint a single moment in my life where I’ve ever had it. It was always conditional, and we siblings were never much a concern or a priority to our parents.
I’ve always been envious of those with close familial relationships, especially the ones with hovering, loving mothers. I immediately had an image in my head of a hypothetical mother in her advanced age, driving to prison to see her son who had been wrongly convicted of murder and was waiting for the death penalty to be administered. I shared this metaphor with my friend, who immediately quipped, “See … if she had made him earn her love, he might not have been in a place where he would have been accused,” to which I countered the influences of school, neighborhoods, social groups have on children that are quite out of the reach of even the most dutiful parent.
I continued my story … the mother would trudge up to the prison every weekend – rain or snow – and she did this for twenty years. They would let her in the room; he would be sitting in chains waiting for her. Her face would light up the moment she saw her son. Where some saw a hardened, bitter man, she could only see a golden haired little boy, smiling up with her with a handful of weeds and wildflowers. She would sit and pick up the receiver with one hand, and place her feeble hand against the glass; and he would do the same, and for those few moments, whatever had gone on in his life, the wrongs, the rights, the loss of hope … he was only her son. Nothing more or less.
And she was his mother. She would start talking about all the things going on in the family, and his eyes would tear over as he would remember the cousin or aunt she was talking about. And then, she would pull out a family bible – tattered and marked up, and read from her favorite of the Psalms. A tear would fall from his eye as she gave him hope … even if it only lasted until the guard walked in and ended the visit.
“Every mother would do that,” my friend reminded me. “That isn’t the definition of unconditional love!”
“Your right,” I said.
Imagine for a moment, I continued, that things were much more different. What if he had committed that murder? What if he had not been wrongly accused? Might not this mother in particular still be found going to that prison every weekend – when all other family had disowned him and all of his friends had forgotten him. She would place her hand on that same glass, and he would still melt as her eyes smiled at his. She would catch him up on all the family goings-on, and pull out the family bible, and lead him through her Psalms, and maybe even the Lord’s prayer. He would never go home. He would never see the light of day again. Her job, and she knew it and believed it with all of her heart, was to be his mother … to make home however life allowed them to.
To me … even in those darker circumstances … her actions would never be perceived as condoning the violence he had perpetrated against someone else. No one could ever doubt her motives. She was simply … a mother, visiting her son. She didn’t see a criminal corrupted by society or hardened by the world … all she could see was that golden-haired boy that she had loved since the day he was born.
“… And, that, my friend,” I said proudly, “… that mother is the definition of unconditional love.”
Recently, I’ve had the honor and the privilege of adopting three grown boys in Second Life, and while I haven’t had the honor of being their father during their very real lives, I often feel an urge at every moment to make them happy, to protect them, to be anything and everything that they need in our virtual world. I’m hoping I can follow that mother’s example … and love each of them completely … unconditionally.