Just as a mother would give her life
To support her one and only child,
Just so, should we boundlessly open our hearts
To support all living beings.
The Buddha, In his Teaching on Impartial Kindness (The Metta Sutta)
A woman returned to the Wednesday Morning Class at Spirit Rock Meditation Center carrying her sleeping child after a several months’ hiatus. She had attended class regularly during her pregnancy and the group greeted her with enthusiastic congratulations and, as is our habit, we had a formal announcement of the child’s name and everyone offered blessings. The mother said, “I am thrilled with this baby and I was certainly prepared for her birth. Everyone has been excited for me and with me. No one told me, though, that by having a baby I would be mortgaging my heart for the rest of my life.” There followed a hearty confirmation from the group: “That’s exactly right!” “You said it!” “It never finishes!” “I thought when my babies were no longer infants it would be forever easy, but seriously, it gets worse!”
I don’t think it gets worse. I think it gets different. My children are all in the fifties. My grandchildren are almost all adults and the possibility exists that I might sometime get to be a great-grandparent. My kin are all dear to me, not anyone less than others because of numbers. I think of my kin reflexively when I see photos of parents and children in situations both celebratory and dire because I intuit, through my own experience with kin, how I might feel in similar circumstances. I have one heart but I think, as the Buddha taught, that a heart can hold as many beings dear as it can think of.
When I teach The Metta Sutta and come to the lines about a mother cherishing her child I often stop and say, “Just as a parent…” Whoever has committed to caring has “mortgaged their heart.” I think, though, that committing to caring is the most gratifying and satisfying thing a human being can do.
An old Nat King Cole song says, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” Loving is always the surest heart consolation, whatever the circumstances, but having it returned is a great blessing and having a special day for saying, “Thank you for caring” is a lovely tradition.