“Do you love me?” she asked, breaking the silence between us.
This was Rebecca, the 50 something year old sister of one of the women in my community. Rebecca suffered mental disabilities, lived elsewhere and was visiting her sister Lily. Rebecca had heard my name spoken at home and had expressed a desire to meet me.
When Lily told me about her mentally challenged sister and asked if I was willing to meet her, I will admit I had some hesitation. I had no training in this. Also, hitherto I had understood my own gift to people as being able to listen deeply and then articulate my insights from such listening. How would I communicate or proceed with someone unable to share their thoughts with me?
Nevertheless, I agreed. On that morning, Lily ushered Rebecca into the room where I meet people and settled her down. A few minutes of preliminary introductions and simple exchanges later, Lily left us alone, as Rebecca had requested, saying that she would be back after 30 minutes.
After Lily left, I asked Rebecca a few questions to put her at ease but she was not particularly interested in answering them and I only got mono-syllabic replies. After the initial attempts, seeing that she was reluctant to enter into a conversation, I let it go. We were quiet, and I now wondered what to do. We still had at least 25 minutes more to go.
The silence continued, making me a little uncomfortable. Several different ideas crossed my mind on how to break the silence but none seemed good enough.
So I simply watched and waited. All of a sudden, it was then that she said,” Do you love me?”
I sat up, surprised by her question, yet happy to break the silence, “Yes, yes, I do”.
I waited, expecting, hoping, more would follow.
We lapsed into another silence. From the corner of my eye I glanced at the clock: 17 minutes more.
I realized there was nothing I could do. Rebecca was clearly the leader here. My anxiety about making a conversation happen subsided, now replaced by another thought process. Did I really “love” her or was I just saying what I thought she wanted to hear? What did I even know about her to love her other than her connection to Lily and her disability? What was “love” anyway? I struggled with some very basic questions.
Then I remembered a definition of love that one of my spiritual teachers in India had once shared. He had said love is a stand you take to keep your heart open regardless of what your head said about the other.
In this case, saying I loved her meant saying yes to keeping my heart open to Rebecca although my head was still struggling. That understanding settled me down. I decided to ignore my head trying to understand and communicate with her. None of my attempts had worked anyway. I shifted to my heart instead and to my commitment to stay connected and open.
A few more minutes passed. 12 minutes more.
Once again, into the silence, Rebecca spoke. The same question: “Do you love me?” Once again, this time more slowly and feeling it more genuinely, I replied, “Yes, I do love you, Rebecca”.
I open my heart a little more. We return to the silence. It was a relief not having to think of what to say or how to counsel someone on finding peace in their lives as I often did during my sessions. We had naturally found peace by not engaging the head.
I notice I am more relaxed and feeling happier within. The room is so quiet, not just on the outside, but in the purity of our simple presence with no struggles or thoughts between us. All I can hear is the sound of our breaths going up and down and the gentle ticking of the clock in the background. Tick, tock, tick, tock….
7 minutes more. Time to recharge the air. Rebecca again asks,” Do you love me?”
I reply, my voice gentle and steady, “Yes, Rebecca, I love you.”
We returned to enjoy the love between us. I sensed the complete absence of judgment as we sat there as one. The clock had been silenced and time stood still.
My mind seemed to have been long lost in the languorous depths of the peace we shared.
There was a knock on the door. 30 minutes had passed. Lily was back.
Drawing myself out I went through the next steps, embracing Rebecca and bidding her good bye.
After they had left, I sat in wonder and gratitude for the new teacher that the Universe had sent me - in a whole new unexpected form and role. And the lesson: the importance of simple unconditional love and connection expressed through wordless communication.
Human beings are “social animals” which means we are wired to want connection with one another, to feel safe, loved, and ultimately, loveable.
How much of what we “normal” people do is aligned towards that objective? We work hard, earn money, gain knowledge, post things on social media and so on, all so people “like” us. We are driven by this need at very deep levels but pretend it does not exist, wish it did not. Yet our deepest angst comes from the same need.
The way I saw it, Rebecca’s greatest “disability” was her greatest gift. Instead of spinning out and talking about other things, she came straight to the heart of the matter. To the heart of all matters. In her asking me the question that most of us would think is too “needy” to ask another, she unabashedly sought what she needed. And when I said yes, she quietly received it, without question, and let her needs be met.
She was the wise one. Perhaps the disability was within me and so many people I know who live in their heads and spend so much time seeking escapes or answers instead of accepting and addressing the need to be loved, to connect with hearts wide open.
I have since wondered many times how it would be for us all to do this exercise. Just sit quietly with another, not raking up the past or asking for promises about the future; only asking simply the most important question there is: Do you love me? And to sit there together like we did that day, saying yes, believing yes, and opening our hearts to that yes in that moment. I imagine it would be a very healing and empowering exercise.
~ Offered with deep gratitude to the family with whose permission I share this story.