When I asked myself to come up with examples of unconditional love, I always think of people first. I think of my children and giving birth to them. I think of the amazement of holding them in my arms for the first time. When I looked into their eyes I felt unconditional love to the extreme. At that moment I was swept away. I would do anything for them. Anything!
Then, as I track my thoughts, they expand to animals. I had this stray dog that I loved when I was in my twenties. Today I ride horses and right now there is this feisty red standard bred gelding I am crazy about! If you asked me if I loved him I definitely say Yes! He isn’t easy to ride and he gets really silly. I fell off a few weeks ago and my back still hurts a great deal. It was my fault, not his and yes, I still love him!
If you’ve had a pet, I think you would agree that people show unconditional love to animals. But do animals show unconditional love to people? Some folks would say that you are too close emotionally to your pets and animals to be objective. Behaviors pets exhibit aren’t examples of love but conditioned response. Folks could argue that your dog or cat doesn’t love you at all but they are faithful to you because you are feeding them and giving them a warm place to live. Pets seeming to love you are just probably exhibiting basic communication and pack behavior. Dogs wagging tails and cats rubbing your legs are common language for Feed Me Now.
But does Unconditional Love exist in the Universe without human involvement? Without us? Is it in the fabric of life itself?
Spending as much time in the woods as I do results in being blessed in seeing some incredible things. Wild animals aren’t dependent on human interaction so they are not influenced by us. This past spring I watched a fox family for three months. I have over a thousand video clips of these foxes and I spent hours watching them, especially the mom and the pups. The scene that comes to mind when I think about Unconditional Love with animals is when the father fox would return home after being gone all day. I never figured out where he went but he would return at dusk, slipping in quietly through the shadows. When he arrived at the den, the pups always went crazy. They would come bursting out of the den or running in from all directions, pouncing on him, running circles, licking his chin. The joy in the greeting was so energetic, so uncontainable, I can’t define it as anything but Love. He rarely had food in his mouth when he came in. If he did, it was ignored until the greeting was done. He would stand and take the ambush with patience and then, when the pups calmed down he would move on, sniffing, checking things out. The pups often followed for quite a while, attempting to tackle him and play. The female would also come running when the male would come home and she would sometimes dive to the ground in front of him, laying on her side looking up at him, tail wagging very much like a dog. And they would touch noses. It looked like Love to me.
But this next example was the one that sold me on the idea that Love exists as the fabric of the Universe. It did not take place in the woods at all. It was on a highway. It haunts me to this day and I still find myself pondering over it. I was driving home on the highway one evening and there was plenty of traffic coming from both directions. On the other side of the medium strip, I noticed cars slowing down, just slightly. Break lights would go on and then the car would continue. As I got closer I saw something I have never forgotten. On that three lane highway was a mallard duck. Her ducklings were following her and they were trying to cross the highway. Several ducklings lay dead already. Horrified, I watch as she waddled across the lanes, would get more than half way, and then as a car approached, she would turn and go back the way she had come. The oncoming car couldn’t see her or the ducklings until it was too late. The ducklings would try to turn fast and follow but they were spread out a good bit and though the mother duck would be in the next lane by the time the car arrived, not all the little ones would be there with her. I watched the ducklings die. As another car approached in another lane, she would turn again, heading back to the middle of the highway stretch. The ducklings would then turn to follow and it would happen again. And again. Back and forth, back and forth she went. She kept trying to lead them to safety but she wouldn’t stick to one direction long enough to get all the way across.
I slowed down and realized I was screaming out at her. “Keep going! Oh my God, just keep going! Please don’t turn around!” And then as I approached parallel to it all, I watched her turn back again…
There was no place to stop and I knew deep inside that even if I could pull over and run back, what would I do? Jump into the highway and wave my arms and hope all the cars in all the lanes would stop? I was filled with the feeling of utter helplessness. I was wracked with emotion as I drove away from the scene.
Then it hit me. She could have flown off. That mother duck, she could have flown off, you know, and left them all behind. But she didn’t. She stayed to the end trying to lead them off the highway. She literally stayed to the end.
Today when someone says the words Unconditional Love, I always think of that duck. I haven’t told but maybe one person this story because it sits so heavily in my heart. It is a sacred story. I have often wondered if I loved enough. Enough to stick with my loved ones and friends, my colleagues and companions, enough to stay with them and die with them if needed. The humbleness I feel now when I look at a duck or any of nature’s creatures is deep and bottomless.
Unconditional Love exists. In all things. Within each of us, I am sure, but also in all the life around us.