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If I forget their names can I still love them?

What does love require of us?

Last night I had one of those long, sweeping, vivid dreams that take us on a roller coaster of emotions. Toward the end of the dream I had a lucid moment where I was aware that I have a family that I love with all of my being, but I could not in that moment remember who they were.

I remember feeling their presence all around me but their forms and faces evaded me. It was not a scary feeling because I knew I was surrounded by their love and felt their presence – but I was incredibly curious about them. As I transitioned out of sleep and into wakefulness I felt a question emerge:

If I were to forget the names and faces of my family, would my love for them be any less meaningful?

Wrapped up in this question is my own value as an individual. And what about my life’s work? What about the goodwill I have fostered over the years? What becomes of our reputation if even we cannot remember it? What becomes of our legacy?

We are so much more than our personality

As I laid there pondering these questions, I recalled a story I heard Sean Stephenson share. You may be familiar with Dr. Sean Stephenson from his TED Talk on self-esteem. Sean was born with brittle bone disease and was not expected to live beyond his first 48 hours. He is 3 feet tall, uses a wheelchair and has broken virtually every bone in his body at least once, so his message about self-esteem is particularly powerful.

Sean describes a time when he was taking his dog for a walk and accidentally pulled over his wheelchair which broke many of his bones and fractured his skull. For months afterward he suffered memory loss which he found to be more frustrating than any broken bone. Sean describes himself as being able to overcome his physical limitations but employing his considerable wit, which he felt fleeing him also. Without his sense of humor, insight and effusive personality, what did he have to offer the world? What he found was that he was so much more than any of that.

The ground of our being

As I reflect on this dream I am comforted by Sean’s realization that he is so much more than just his sharp mind and his deliberate actions. We have value far beyond what we feel we can offer to those we love and the wider world. Wherever we are: riding next to our beloved, sitting on the other side of the world from them or drifting somewhere in between worlds in a lucid dreaming state, we have value and intrinsic worth that is not tied to our actions or even our words. I recall the words of Thomas Merton:

In the deepest ground of our being we remain in metaphysical contact with the whole of that creation in which we are only small parts. – Thomas Merton

Remember this the next time you judge yourself against someone else or the next time you note the contrast between where you are and where you want to be.

There is only love

When we feel judgmental of ourselves it is vital that we recognize that judgment for what it is. The judgment that makes us feel inferior is not love but fear. Fear is ego-based and separates us from love. Knowing this can give us great discernment in which thoughts we choose to believe and which actions we choose to take. If a thought invokes fear then we can know immediately that this thought is not based in love – and we can choose to not believe it.

A gentle nudge/kidney punch toward love

This dream, as all dreams, came to an end as I felt a gentle nudging toward wakefulness. The nudging became more powerful until I realized it was not a metaphorical nudge but a very physical one – my 10-month old son was repeatedly kicking me in the lower back. I no longer needed to be reminded of who my family is, and the feeling of being surrounded by love remained. I hope that I can remember this lesson and I hope that you will too. To rest in the ground of all being even when buffeted by the winds of insecurity or a literal kick to the kidneys.