My son was learning to love unconditionally: "It's good that you exist, even when you no longer bring me pleasure or utility.”
A while ago, we took our dog Dogo to the vet, who told us it was time to put him to sleep—that he was already very old, and would only be a problem to take care of.
“I’ll never do it, and I’ll take care of him forever!” exclaimed my 8-year-old son, with great determination to save our pet.
The truth was that we all loved Dogo, who from puppyhood and during his prime gave us pleasant company, being funny and playful. In addition to that, he gave us valuable service as a zealous guardian of our home.
Now, he was almost blind, with several teeth missing and very little energy. He spent a lot of time lying down and had painful lesions as a result, in addition to other varied ailments due to old age.
“But, son …” I tried to argue, agreeing with what the veterinarian had said.
My son scolded me vehemently: “For me, it will always be good that Dogo exists, and he needs me!”
A light went on in my conscience, and I understood.
Loving implies caring
My son was learning to love with the noblest disposition of which a person is capable by saying, “It’s good that you exist, even when you no longer bring me pleasure or utility.”
Moreover, the determination of his attitude could be interpreted as saying, “In your limitations, not only do you not cause me discomfort, but because of you I can continue to go out of myself towards your goodness, and that makes me grow and be happy. I also know that my love makes you happy, and that’s all you need to keep on living.”
You are mine, and I am yours.
And indeed, he lovingly took care of our dog so that he would be as comfortable as possible without ever feeling alone. In a mystery of love, Dogo, making an effort, wagged his tail and returned his love with licks, until one morning he no longer woke up.
Through his pet, my son learned a sublime lesson that he will later experience in his relationship with people — especially with the person he may eventually choose as his spouse: the truth of authentic personal love.
This capacity for selfless love is part of our being, and it allows us to love beyond the pleasure or utility that our beloved’s existence can provide us. It transcends our senses alone, to grasp other people’s deepest value, their deepest truth, for which they deserve to be loved in themselves and for themselves.
It’s a truth that can be expressed with words such as, “I don’t love you because having you around brings me pleasure; I don’t love you because it’s useful for me that you exist; I don’t love you because I need you to exist to satisfy my needs. I love you just for being who you are. How good it is that you exist in and of yourself! I offer myself to help you to bring to fullness the best of yourself.”
“Therefore, I will love you in the fullness of your attractiveness and capabilities—and I will love you no less when, in the twilight of your existence, you find yourself devoid of everything, in the limits of old age or illness. Devoid of everything but the ability to give and receive love when you need it most.”
So deep is this need to love and be loved that many sick and elderly people languish in the absence of love. Their health declines and they leave us before their time. With love, they could have lived longer, like the end of a lit candle that is consumed and melts away in the process of giving light.
Authentic personal love can rely on the strength of the spirit to love in a deep and authentic way, by which we perceive and love someone in the proper measure of their being and truth.