My two year old daughter continues to be an amazing teacher for me as well as a gift in my life. The other day my daughter was expressing a great deal of anger and frustration. Her mother was out of town for five days and separated from her for the first time in her life. After connecting with her mom on the phone a bit, my daughter was inconsolable. Her heart ached, as all our hearts ache, for her mom, for one of her primary attachment figures. She was kicking and screaming and throwing herself on the floor and expressing her anger and sadness and longing in such loud and big and full way. I tried to pick her up to soothe her but she would kick and scream and squirm out of my arms. She did not want to be held and she did not want to be physically soothed. I was not sure what to do.
We were in the living room and she was pouting and crying in the corner by her toy chest and I was on the couch. Her heart ached for her mom and my heart ached for her, for this new pain of separation and longing she was discovering, for this fresh loss of innocence. The world can be an awfully painful place and things do not always happen the way you hope and this is a hard lesson for a little girl of two to learn. I looked at her in the corner and without quite knowing what I was doing I just began to let the ache in my hear speak and I empathized with her. I let her know that I understood that she was sad, terribly sad, and she desperately longed for the comfort and love of her mother and it is so hard and painful when people we love go away and she was also angry about this and frustrated and her heart hurt and she wanted the hurt to go away and she wanted her mommy to come back and hold her and the emptiness and longing hurt–and I went on, just letting the words come out as they needed to, just allowing my words to hold her with their tender softness and just allowing her to be where she was, to feel what she was feeling, to let her know her feelings, her longing was not too big or too much and that I would be present with her. After a few minutes of this, she began to calm down and she eventually came over to me, sniffling, and allowed me to hold her and hug her and to soothe her physically.
My daughter reminded me that what she wanted, the space and the permission to be where she was emotionally and to have someone be with her without putting any demands on her to be in a different place, is what we all want and long for. We are also all carrying that incredible ache in our hearts, for our lost mothers and fathers, our lost lovers and friends. To be human, I think, is to learn to live with the tremendous ache of our longings and the inevitability of our losses. How can I be with my own longings and losses and aches the way I was able to be there for my daughter that day, and how can I be with my clients and friends and my wife in that way and how can I teach others to be with themselves and the ones they love in this tender, soft way?
My daughters energy that day, her longing, her ache, was so alive, so huge, so powerful–it was hard to imagine how such a little body could hold so much alive and electric energy–and when I first picked her up and was wrestling with her, trying to hold and soothe her, I think I was inadvertently communicating that I was afraid of the bigness of her feelings and I wanted to somehow shut them down. It was not until I made space within me and then within the room and my connection with my daughter for the fullness of those feelings and acknowledged them, that something shifted in her.
I want to remember this longing that my daughter and this incident reminds me of, that we all long to be met in the deepest places and aches in our hearts, that we all want to know we are not too much, that our wounds and needs are not too big, that there is room in the world for the bigness of our heart’s expression. There was something about my willingness to be with my daughter during that day, to be with her and love her even when it was hard, that made my love for her grow even deeper. I think the landscape of deepening love is full of moments when we wonder whether we are big enough, strong enough, capable enough, to love, when we doubt we have the capacity to open to the pain and needs of our beloveds. Yet, that is the practice of love, to learn to open to the fullness of life, in all its rawness and sorrow and joy. In moments like the one with my daughter, life is calling me to be present, to open my heart, to find out how big the love in my heart can get. Can I heed this call? Can we all heed this call?