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Starting Point

Love found in life of holes


At 3-and-a-half years old, my daughter Cara loves to question. I say it, she questions it. She sees it, she questions it. She hears it, she questions it. “Why?” “How come?” “When?” “Who’s that?” Whenever she goes into one of her litany of questions, I’m reminded of the bumper sticker that reads: Question Authority. She’s got a gift for it. So determined is she that she reminds me of the widow in Luke’s gospel (18:1-8) who wore down the judge with her persistence.

Just the other night, in an attempt to gain a few more minutes of freedom before bedtime, she asked a good one. We’d just told her to stop jumping on the bed. Wanting to divert attention from herself, she looked at her mother and asked, “Mommy, why do you have holes in your T-shirt?”

Far too young to be told the workings of laundering clothes and what may or may not happen when using too much bleach, my wife responded, “Because sometimes your Daddy hugs me so tight that some of the love inside me comes out.” I smiled at June after she said it. Cara got a real serious look on her face. She was taking her mommy very seriously.

I couldn’t help but think that my wife, though wanting to get our daughter to bed as painlessly as possible, had chosen an apt metaphor for love -- a holey shirt. To love, to become vulnerable, is to open ourselves up to a life of holes. In offering ourselves in relationship to others there is always the possibility that our love will not be returned in kind, but rather rejected and rebuffed.

C.S. Lewis, British author and Christian apologist, captures this well in his book, The Four Loves, when he writes: “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to become vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safely in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless space, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

If my years of marriage and parenthood have taught me anything, it is that there can be no authentic love without the possibility of pain and suffering. With that possibility though comes the opportunity for great joy as well. In either case, holes are the result. Spouses miscommunicate, say hurtful things to each other, forget important dates. They also communicate immense love with a simple touch. Bring a smile with a single word. Save the day with a timely reminder.

Likewise, with parenthood, the person I want to be for my daughter and son is not the one I am. Freedoms given them are often misused. Molehills become mountains. On the other hand, patience is rewarded generously. Their love is unconditional. All of us have fleeting, or should I say forgiving, memories. With each day that passes, it becomes increasingly clear that the only way to a life of holiness is through the holes.

At the end of the evening, after the stories had been read and the prayers said, Cara looked at me and asked, “Daddy, will you hug me really hard?” So I stretched out my arms, put them around her, and squeezed her as hard as I could. Once. Twice. Three times.

We’re still looking for the holes in her pajamas.

Mike Daley teaches theology at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati.

National Catholic Reporter, September 13, 2002