The Nuance of Choosing Love
(*Trigger warning: gun violence*)
Today—May 1, 2020—is an interesting day for me, an anniversary of sorts but not one I ever wished to start.
A year ago today, one of my hospice patients threatened me at gun point. Although I escaped physically unscathed, I have never sobbed so hard or felt so much fear as I did that day.
Based on my spiritual beliefs, I used to think we have a choice every moment of every day between love and fear, and that it’s up to us to choose love.
But last year I learned we don’t always have a choice. Sometimes fear is automatic and necessary. Fight or flight is part of the human experience for a reason. It’s meant to protect us, and it most definitely protected me one year ago when I made an adrenaline-led exit from that patient’s home.
Sometimes fear sticks around longer than it should, but even then it isn’t usually a choice. Fear can become a physical, embodied experience. It can invade our sleep and daydreams. It can make innocent people into emotional triggers. It can make innocent pastimes into jumpy and adrenaline-filled activities (I never realized how many movies and tv shows have guns in them until this past year).
And yet, even when my bodily fear persisted, I realized the choice between love and fear remained possible on a spiritual level. For instance, I realized:
I could choose to treat my fearful body with fear and force it to keep going; or I could choose to treat my fearful body with love and give it a rest (Personal Connectedness).
I could choose to view the US State where I lived with fear and immediately leave because of their lax gun laws; or I could give myself time to recover and make the decision to move out of love (for the Pacific Northwest, for my family whom I wanted to live closer to, for the values I want to live by) (Environmental / Community Connectedness).
I could feel sorry for myself, wallow in self-pity, and question why this had happened to me; or I could trust the Universe and believe that my life and my career were meant to go in a different direction (Transcendent Connectedness).
Most of all, I could choose to forgive my patient (Community Connectedness). Every time I thought of him with anger I could replace those thoughts with “love love love love” or “I could see peace instead of this.” I could choose to remember he was dealing with his own fear, that his lifelong career in the military had instilled a fear so deep that he thought his hospice chaplain was a burglar. I could choose to forgive him because I didn’t want a dying man living with another regret (I passed on the message of forgiveness through another hospice worker). Moreover, I could choose to forgive him because of love for myself, knowing that the burden of fear-based unforgiveness would be harder to live with than the challenge of love-based forgiveness (Personal Connectedness).
And so, on this most unusual of anniversaries, as I celebrate that I am alive and well and a lot less fearful than I was a year ago, I also recognize there is now more nuance to my spiritual practices. I have come to understand how many things we cannot control in life, including automatic, physical reactions; but I have also learned that with awareness, we can find the spaces where we do have a choice, and in those spaces we can lean into Connectedness and still choose love.