Wisdom is like the full spectrum of light revealed through a prism; beautiful, spectacular, yet born of the ordinary.
When I was twenty-six years old, I snapped at my father with harsh words. We were sitting in a crowded Starbucks around the corner from Washington D.C.’s Superior Court, awaiting the first day of the murder trial for a friend who had been killed two years before. My father had traveled to Washington to attend the first few days of the trial, in part to support me, in part to bear witness to justice for my friend. My father is like that; steadfast, righteous and honorable, like a rock planted in a riverbed, unmoved by rushing currents and shifting tides. I do not remember exactly what caused me to snap at him, only that it was a momentary release of hot anger, profound stress escaping like steam from a kettle’s whistle. As soon as the words flew off my tongue I felt guilt and shame burrow into my gut. I apologized several times, but after my third or fourth apology, my father folded his NY Times in half, looked across the table, and said, “Brigid, I’m your father. Don’t worry. I forgave you before the words left your mouth.”
The impact of his words was immediate and lasting. Guilt and shame washed away. In their place, a feeling of profound security settled in. The notion that my words and actions were incapable of altering his love for me, or his capacity to forgive, was extremely comforting. It was comforting in the moment, but it also altered my consciousness about the nature of unconditional love and forgiveness. Now that I have kids of my own, I think of my father’s words often. I want my kids to feel the same sense of security that my father gifted to me that day in Starbucks.
Which brings me to my daughter.
She is only three years old. Her mind is like fertile soil teeming with optimism, curiosity, and an ever-constant ache to please Mommy and Papa. Yesterday she had a tantrum at the park; it was a monumental meltdown after a long day with her grandparents, water sprinklers, and a pickle from the farmer’s market. It culminated with the tinkly song of Mr. Softee’s ice cream truck parked just beyond the swings.
“Mommy,” she whined as we walked towards the car, “I want ice cream!”
“Absolutely not,” I responded. “You’ve already had a pickle. That’s enough treats for one day.”
“But a pickle is not a treat!” she wailed as I strapped her into the car seat.
Later, over dinner, I asked her if she felt better and she said yes, but then ducked her head away, perhaps still angry, perhaps a bit embarrassed. Perhaps feeling a bit of guilt at having screamed so loudly at me. So I asked her, “Indira, how big is the sky?”
“So big, Mommy,” she responded, her eyes wide, her chubby arms outstretched to measure the bigness of the sky.
“Well,” I said, “Mommy’s love for you is bigger than the sky. I never stop loving you.”
She looked at me, her eyes ever-wider. “Mommy do you love me with every feeling?”
I felt a small lump lodge in my throat. My eyes watered. My little girl was my prism. “Yes, honey. I love with you every feeling.”
“Even when you’re upset?”
“Yes, even when I’m upset. I love you with every feeling.” Then she asked me for more grapes.
What a simple truth. Yes, of course I love my children with every feeling – joy, anger, frustration, hope – yet how easy is it for a child to assume the love stops when our faces darken in disappointment? Would I have even considered this notion of loving with every feeling had she not asked the question? Probably not. I was attempting to transform my daughter’s comprehension of love and she in turn transformed me.
Life is an ever-changing, fantastic journey. Made even more beautiful, and transformative, by the prisms in our lives.