By Michelle Riddell
“Simple, but not easy…” –The Big Book
Step 1: Love yourself. Love your strengths, love your flaws, love your effort when you fail and your giant streak of procrastination. Love your body at its fattest, its sickest, its weakest. Love your worst decisions, your selfish twenties, your break-ups and divorces. Love thirteen-year-old you whom nobody else could; love addicted you, promiscuous you, you at rock bottom. Love pregnant you, anxious you, infertile you—and do it so fiercely that self-protection is reflexive.
Step 2: Love your parents. Love what they gave you—be it twenty-three unmated chromosomes or the bounty of a happy and secure life. Love them whether they abandoned you, adopted you, or stayed and made it worse; love what they sacrificed for you, or took from you, or promised disingenuously. Love them because they’re frail and old and can’t hurt you ever again. Love them because they died before you had the chance to make things right. Love them because they’re here right now, supporting you as always.
Step 3: Love your kids. Love your kids when they’re unlovable, when they’re biters, bullies, or sneaks. Love them when they consume your every waking moment and don’t appreciate what you’ve given up. Love them when they do immoral things, wicked things, unspeakable things. Love them when they’re gross and sullen, disrespectful or rude. Love them when they refuse to wear dresses or get D’s in math. Love them as they came to you: helpless and naked. Love them when they need it, and love them even more when they claim they don’t.
Step 4: Love your friends. Love your friends when they lie to you or speak a painful truth. Love them when they strike at your weak spots, because they know you so well. Love them when they grow beyond the borders of your bond, when they pull away to reach for more, when their successes outnumber your own. Love the friends who measure and compete, the ones who never call you back, and the ones who move away and break your heart.
Step 5: Love your neighbors. Love them when they’re loud and messy, when they cross the line, when their dog comes over, and their grass grows too tall. Love them when they disapprove of you behind your back, yet still wave and feign politeness. Love them because you share a village and know each other’s children. Love them because no matter your differences, you ultimately want the same thing: to live in peace.
Step 6: Love the anonymous. Love the hackers, the brick throwers, the credit card thieves, the senders of hate mail, and vindictive callers. Love the stalkers, the sheet wearers, the hang-ups, and trolls. Try to imagine the extent of their suffering, its duration and its depth. Someone convinced them they are irrelevant, invisible, and that the only way to be noticed is to make spite a priority. Find compassion for their cowardliness and their lonely isolation.
Step 7: Love the violent. Love the killers, the rapists, the abusers. Picture them as children being trampled, humiliated, violated beyond comprehension. Picture the horrors that brought them to a place in their lives where death seems like a reasonable option. Acknowledge the existence of spiritual pathology and the lethal perception of powerlessness. Pity the Omar Mateens, the Adam Lanzas, and the Brock Turners. Pity a mind so full of hate that it taints all the beauty in the world. Rouse your pity, for it is a potent antidote to fear.
Step 8: Love the mothers. Love the mothers of the violent and the mothers of the victims. Love the mothers who are martyrs, warriors, saviors, and enablers. Love the mother of the boy who asked your daughter for naked pictures. Love the working mother, the guilt-ridden mother, the mother who was deemed unfit; love the teenage mother, the postpartum mother, the mother who forgets her baby in the backseat of a hot car. Refrain from judgement with the understanding that a mother’s mistakes are already magnified exponentially. Love her because she bears life and its burdens, and because, like you, she is both eager to let go and desperate to hang on. Love the mothers because they have the most to lose, and their love—our love—transcends everything.
Born and raised in Detroit, Michelle Riddell now lives with her family in rural mid-Michigan where she happily braves her husband’s penchant for DIY projects and her daughter’s passion for wildlife-as-indoor-pets. Her publishing credits include Sammiches & Psych Meds, Parent.co, The Good Mother Project, and Club Mid. In addition to being a reviewing editor at Mothers Always Write, Michelle is a substitute teacher at her daughter’s elementary school where she tries very hard not to embarrass her. Find her on Twitter @MLRiddell.