Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Love of a Child

While reading through the second volume of Frederick Buechner's autobiography, Now and Then, I ran across an amazing quote that is one very eloquent demonstration of how powerful the love of a parent for a child can be. It's definitely worth posting here and sharing with everyone; I'd be interested in any comments from readers here who are also parents.

"'He who loves has fifty woes ... who loves none has no woe,' said the Buddha, and it is true. To love another, as you love a child, is to become vulnerable in a whole new way. It is no longer only through what happens to yourself that the world can hurt you but through what happens to the one you love also and greatly more hurtingly. When it comes to your own hurt, there are always things you can do. You can put up a brave front, for one, and behind that front, if you are lucky, if you persist, you can become a little brave inside yourself. You can become strong in the broken places, as Hemingway said. You can become philosophical, recognizing how much of your troubles you have brought down on your own head and resolving to do better by yourself in the future. Like King Lear on the heath, you can become more compassionate. Like the whiskey priest, you can become a saint. But when it comes to the hurt of a child you love, you are all but helpless. The child makes terrible mistakes, and there is very little you can do to ease his pain, especially when you are so often a part of his pain as the child is also a part of yours. There is no way to make him strong with such strengths as you may have found through your own hurt, or wise through such wisdom, and even if there were, it would be the wrong way because it would be your way, not his. The child's pain becomes your pain, and as the innocent bystander, maybe it is even a worse pain for you, and in the long run even the bravest front is not much use.

"What man and woman, if they gave serious thought to what having children inevitably involves, would ever have them? Yet what man and woman, once having had them and loved them, would ever want it otherwise? ... To suffer in love for another's suffering is to live life not only at its fullest but at its holiest ... The small beat up face I saw for the first time that January morning in 1959 actually was the face of the world if I'd only had a saint's eyes to see it with."

5 comments:

anita said...

That is just SO very beautiful. And this especially:

"What man and woman, if they gave serious thought to what having children inevitably involves, would ever have them? Yet what man and woman, once having had them and loved them, would ever want it otherwise? ... To suffer in love for another's suffering is to live life not only at its fullest but at its holiest ... "

I'm writing as someone who is not a parent. Someone whose life did not present the opportunity to begin a family. Complicated reasons for that to be sure, but that is the case and I believe it to have been for the best.

I so often think of my own mother, who had six children, and lost two: one at age 25 to the effects of severe mental illness and other at age 34 to cancer. She kept so much of that pain (and, of course, guilt) buried deep inside her. I cannot possibly imagine the horror that was for her. But she got through it. She was a truly amazing, lovely, sweet, yet, at the same time, tough-as-nails person. I wish she was still around because I know she would have been extremely moved to read this piece.

Thanks for posting it.

Matt said...

Anita, I would definitely recommend you read the multiple volumes of Buechner's autobiography. I think you would definitely get a great deal out of them, particularly knowing some of your family background.

julieunplugged said...

"That small beat up face I saw for the first time that (June) morning in (1987) actually was the face of the world..."

My oldest is about to go off to college, moving into an apartment on Sept. 1. He'll only be downtown so I can pop in on him if I want to from time to time... but to see him go out into the world is different and the same as what I expected...

It's the same in that I remember that feeling in me and I relished it. But it's different in that I am beyond a part of my life that I can never get back, and I have that sense in my heart of letting go that I didn't really know until faced with it.

And the idea that seeing your baby is the point of connection to the whole world of humankind is just breath-takingly true. :)

Thanks Matt for a beautiful post.

Julie

Matt said...

Julie, I've been one (for quite some time) to wonder how things are going to be years down the road in my life. I've thought about my children growing up and leaving home somewhere, and can't comprehend what it's going to feel like.

However, if I had my way, my little girl (and soon-to-be born second child) would stay about 3 years old forever:-)

Judy EJ said...

Matt, as a parent myself, I echo the thoughts and feelings shared in Frederick Buechner's book. I have had to stand back as a parent and watch as the child that I have born struggled, and then not be able to say the right words or do the right thing to make that suffering better. Once a mother has born a child, she is eternally linked with that child and his or her joy and sufferings. The same is true of fathers, who can hurt just as much or more so than the mother. Not being able to help or hold your child when they go through their struggles causes deep pain to a parent who loves their child deeply. It would seem that as the child grows older and appears to have less need for the parent, that pain felt by the parent would lessen, but it does not--it actually gets deeper. When a child is born, it seems that the love a parent has for that child is a much as it will ever be, but actually, God makes that love grow, mature and get deeper with time. So, when the adult child suffers, the pain felt by the parent is even deeper and most times more intense than when the child was very young. I share this from experience as a parent who has struggled greatly and who understands the pain shared by all parents for their children.