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August 1, 2021

Stop expecting “Forever”—the Challenge of Non-Attachment in Love.


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What if we stop expecting forever?

Today we dropped my daughter’s foster kitten back off at the shelter.

We’ve had her for five weeks, which seemed like a lot longer. She had her quirky habits we had all gotten used to: hiding in the dollhouse, jumping on the dog’s tail, meowing her screechy meow early in the morning when she was hungry.

The director of the shelter was at the front desk when we arrived. She told my daughter that fostering is a really important job and that everyone cries when they return their fosters.

It is an important job, an essential task, to be able to care for something—to let yourself love it—knowing it will leave you.

Instead, most of us tell ourselves it will last forever. We make a bargain with our heart: 

“Let your guard down, give freely, and I promise it will never end.”

After all, the best feelings come from a pure place that has longevity. But we miss the point: change and loss are everywhere—at each stage. It’s the one constant that we pretend doesn’t exist.

A friend just told me about her grown daughter’s heartbreak:

“We told her that life is preparing her for something better, that everything happens for a reason.” 

I couldn’t help myself: 

“Does it really? Isn’t some loss just straight loss—without a silver lining?” 

When parents or circumstances or unborn babies or loves leave our lives, sometimes it is the worst pain we will ever feel. Time may make it less acute, but not better.

So, what if we truly embrace the idea of continual loss? What if we get up at a religious service and all name our losses of the week? What if we cry more openly, more often?

What if we stop making life-long commitments, only to get destroyed when the inevitable happens? What if we tell couples to expect miscarriages, tell kids that pets will die, affirm that what makes you fulfilled and happy today may not in five years? What if saying goodbye and adapting to change were a skill we actively worked on?

My daughter, through her tears, says it is a bittersweet day; she will need a few days to recover. Her mission hasn’t been to hold on, to attach for the long haul.

It was to give sustenance, to snuggle, to play in the joy of a pouncing kitten for a few weeks, to delight in watching her grow and gain confidence, and scare the rabbits on purpose. (Yes, there are too many animals in our house!) She understood, from the beginning, that nothing was promised in return.

And that is the perspective that may save us, making this life a bit softer: nothing is promised—no marriage, no child, no stability. 

Anything and everything that comes into our life is a gift that will, at some point, leave.

Our challenge is to love anyway—lightly, cognizant of its fragility.

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