It’s so easy as the child grows to lose sight of this. Now what we call love gets confused with accomplishment and appeasement. Now the child can disagree with us, can argue with us and criticize us. Now we can we worry about that child’s choices, about the people they date and the careers they choose. It is so easy to let what we call love to get mixed up in all of this, to mistake that feeling of relief when we finally decide not worry about them for the peace inherent in loving someone.
Sometimes it felt to me as if Sawyer had been sent to earth specifically to teach me the meaning of unconditional love. For years, I felt as if he was saying, “Will you love me even if I do this? What about this? What if I say this or don’t do that? What if I don’t achieve anything? What if I don’t care if I don’t achieve anything?”
It was not an easy question to answer. I wanted him to stop doing certain things and start doing other things, to just behave more or less like all the other humans. And sometimes it seemed that the only tool I had in this little war was my love, which I could withhold until his will had bent to my wishes. Fortunately, he was incredibly stubborn. By and by I learned that he would only agree to meet me in the space opened between us by unconditional love. I didn’t actually care what he did. I only wanted him to be happy, and I could not always understand where he found happiness in what he was doing.
And sometimes I didn’t understand where I found my own happiness. How easy it was to mistake my conditions for the happiness I did or did not feel. I got an acceptance letter and I am happy; a rejection letter and I was sad. In such a world, I was a slave to the conditions in which I found myself, a pinball bounced from place to place, my happiness the sum total of the pieces life has given me.
Love creates conditions, it does not respond to them. If those children called autistic teach us nothing else, it is that love—that feeling within me that is both content and curious, that is both awakening and at rest—is waiting only for my attention, not the happy popping of champagne corks. No condition is so horrible, impoverished, or hopeless that love would simply pack up and leave. Indeed those very conditions, like the child who retreats within himself, are often the shadows in which the light of love can shine brightest.